Assembly Mulls Homeowners’ Rights

Outlines Insurance Coverage Requirements

In the wake of the devastating and unprecedented damage caused by Hurricane Sandy, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver announced a bill to create the “Homeowners Bill of Rights” to protect hard hit families from unscrupulous actions by insurance companies.

He also announced a second bill, sponsored by Assemblyman James Skoufis of Orange County, requiring insurance companies to promptly process claims resulting from storm damage.

In addition, Silver directed the Assembly Insurance Committee to conduct a series of public hearings in the near future to examine the response of insurance companies in the aftermath of the storm.

“The tide of frustration is only rising for those who have already endured so much. How we react in moments of crisis to ease human suffering defines who we are as a people, and anything short of swift and compassionate action is unacceptable,” said Silver. “For home and business owners impacted by Sandy, wading through the complexities and limitations of their insurance policies following a catastrophic event is an unnecessary burden. Taken together, these measures will create more informed insurance buyers and help speed the recovery process for families and businesses.”

Silver said his office and many other Assembly members have received numerous calls and complaints from home and business owners detailing slow, incomplete and inadequate responses from insurers.

“People depend on their insurance companies to be there for them in their time of need, but too often we are hearing horror stories from property owners about poor service and inadequate settlement offers,” said Silver. “It is time to get to the bottom of this and hold insurance companies accountable for their actions. This is why I am directing the Assembly Insurance Committee to hold public hearings so that we can further develop policies that work for consumers.”

The Homeowners Bill of Rights (A.2287), co-sponsored by Assemblyman Matthew Titone, requires insurers to provide property owners with an easy-to-understand disclosure notice detailing their coverage in the event of a catastrophic occurrence; how and when to file a claim; their rights if a claim is denied or a settlement offer is insufficient; and where and how to obtain coverage for catastrophic events.

The bill also directs the State Department of Financial Services to create a Consumer’s Guide on Insuring against Catastrophic Losses and requires insurance companies to inform property owners where they can obtain it so they can be better educated and understand their rights.

“Almost 85 percent of my district including my own home and office were destroyed by Sandy and it is unacceptable that beleaguered home and business owners are stuck in limbo, unable to rebuild pending action by insurance companies,” said Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder. “It is our sincere hope that these measures will create more informed insurance consumers and hasten recovery for communities like the ones in southern Queens and Rockaway.”

Due to slow responses from insurance companies after Hurricane Sandy and, before that, Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee, Skoufis has introduced legislation (A.1092) to establish claim and settlement standards for insurance companies to follow when a disaster strikes.

Skoufis said the bill tightens the timeframe requirements for insurers to respond to claims resulting from disasters and emergencies. Under the measure, insurance companies would be required to begin investigating these settlement claims within six days, and notify property owners within 15 days as to whether their claim has been accepted or rejected, including their right to appeal if it has been rejected. If a claim has been accepted, insurers are required to pay it within three business days.

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