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Getting canceled: Key Biscayne is in the eye of the insurance crisis

Four beachfront condo buildings amid vegetation on a barrier island.
Matias J. Ocner
/
Miami Herald
Beachfront condos in Key Biscayne

Ilaria Cacopardo and Dr. Guillermo Valenzuela raised their three children in their Harbor Drive three-story house. But now they wonder if they can stay on the island after their property insurance premium went up $34,000 in the last year.

“This is really impacting our life,” she said. “We have to take measures to probably contain the economic hit. I don’t know – maybe selling the house.”

A woman stands in front of a window inside a home
Courtesy of Ilaria Cacopardo
Illaria Cacopardo in her Harbor Drive home. She says because of property insurance increases she may have to leave Key Biscayne or downsize.

Cacopardo, an immigration attorney, and Valenzuela, a rheumatologist, had their carrier drop them in 2022. Their new policy was more than double the cost. The last week their insurance agent informed them that their new carrier – Lloyds – are dropping them.

“We need to start all over again with the prospect of an even higher premium,” she said.

When it comes to property insurance rates, Florida has a Category 5 catastrophe with rates expected to increase a whopping 40% for 2023.

Floridians pay the highest homeowners insurance rate in the country, on average $7,788 a year, according to the insurance shoppingwebsite Insurify.

State Sen. Alexis Calatayud, who represents Key Biscayne, touted the Legislature’s role after she spoke to the Village Council on July 19. But she likened turning the property crisis around to turning a giant ocean liner.

Barrier islands like Key Biscayne – vulnerable to sea level rise and tropical storms – are in the eye of the crisis.

“The markets are very difficult – especially in certain zip codes. Key Biscayne is one of the most difficult zip codes,” said Steven Brooks, an industry veteran and president of Cornerstone Insurance

Brooks said he brokered his most expensive homeowner’s policy on the island – $180,000 a year.

“This is really impacting our life. We have to take measures to probably contain the economic hit. I don’t know – maybe selling the house.”
Ilaira Cacopardo

Floridians pay the highest homeowners insurance rate in the country, on average $7,788 a year, according to the insurance shoppingwebsite Insurify.

In July, Farmers Insurance became the fourth company to exit Florida in the last year, affecting some 100,000 homeowners. There are 14 other insurers failing.

READ MORE: Brace yourselves Floridians, the promised insurance relief isn't expected soon

The state-backed Citizens Property Insurance is the insurer of last resort, but will only insure property under $699,000, Brooks said. The median home sold price was $1.6 million in Key Biscayne, and a check on Realtor.com showed fewer than six properties at or below that number, all apartments .

Will insurance companies come back?

The insurability problems are intensifying despite a special session of Florida’s Legislature last December dedicated to making policies affordable and curbing insurance fraud.

“I do think that we will start seeing carriers coming back into the markets, hopefully sooner rather than later,” Brooks said.

“Focusing on abortion business and gun laws, they should be paying more attention to what affects us day to day – which is insurance prices."
Gregory Han

But so far, that hasn’t happened.

Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis blamed Farmers’ “wokeness” for leaving Florida. Gov. Ron DeSantis said insurance companies will come back — after the hurricane season.

Close-up of a man wearing glasses and a blue shirt.
Alex Han
Key Biscayne resident Gregory Han saw his property insurer degrade his coverage until finally he couldn’t afford it anymore.

But on Key Biscayne, the comments from state leaders aren’t being well-received by homeowners.

“I’m very frustrated with this governor who’s focusing on very minor issues when there is this huge issue,” Cacopardo, the attorney said.

Gregory Han, an islander for for 45 years, said DeSantis and the Republican-controlled Legislature have their priorities askew.

“Focusing on abortion business and gun laws, they should be paying more attention to what affects us day to day – which is insurance prices,” he said.

Han lives in an original Mackle home. His insurance company gradually degraded coverage until last year it doubled the replacement cost. “I guess if the old place burns down I’m going to have to replace my house,” he said.

Cacopardo said she is considering options, such as downsizing, so she doesn’t have to move off the island.

“I don’t want to leave Key Biscayne – once you are a Key Rat, you know,” Cacopardo said.

This story was originally published in the Key Biscayne Independent, a WLRN News partner.

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