State Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara has called on insurers to give 2017 wildfire survivors an additional year of rental assistance as they attempt to rebuild their houses amid construction and permitting delays.
Lara made the announcement during a closed-door meeting Tuesday night with a group of about 40 local fire survivors attended also by Supervisors Shirlee Zane and Susan Gorin.
Most local fire victims are not slated to be back in their homes on the second anniversary of the fires, according to the county. At of the end of April, only 7 percent of the 5,334 homes lost in the county during the 2017 wildfires had been rebuilt.
“We are continuing to push the envelope when it comes to forcing these insurance companies to be accessible and to listen to the unique issues that are being faced here in Sonoma by so many of the residents,” Lara said in remarks from Tuesday night that were made public on a livestream recording.
Local fire victims find themselves in a quandary as they are operating under a state law that only requires carriers to provide them with up to two years of rental insurance and other expenses such as storage fees and furniture rentals. State Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, sponsored a bill last year that would have provided fire victims a total of three years for such assistance, making it retroactive for those whose homes burned down in 2017.
But the insurance lobby thwarted his attempt in the state Legislature. Dodd was able to pass a watered-down version of his bill late last summer that provided a total of three years rental assistance if the homeowner faced delays in rebuilding “that are the result of circumstances beyond the control of the insured.” But the bill was not made retroactive so it will not benefit local fire victims as well as those whose homes burned in the Carr fire in Redding during the summer of 2018.
Lara’s action is not binding, although he hopes that it will put public pressure on the carriers to comply with the order. “My hope now is insurance companies will do the right thing and provide an additional year as Commissioner Lara and I have requested,” Dodd said in a statement.
Check back later for more details.
Read stories of rebuilding in Sonoma County here