Fort Myers retiree Sandra Carlstrom suffered extensive water damage to her home when Hurricane Irma’s 115 mph winds and flying debris left holes in her roof and outside trim. But a second – and more threatening – round of damage would occur a week later, when she received a glossy flyer in her mailbox from a contractor offering to perform a free roof inspection and repair all the damage. Three months later, no repairs have been made and worse, she’s been threatened with a lawsuit and lien on her house by the contractor – all because of an Assignment of Benefits (AOB) contract she signed with him.
Host Lisa Miller, a former Florida deputy insurance commissioner, talks with Sandra Carlstrom and her daughter Kirsten about how a loose temporary roof tarp unraveled a tale of deception and the utter panic they’ve been in since discovering the $191,000 bill sent to their insurance company for a roof replacement that should only cost $30,000. Despite a growing number of such AOB abuse cases around the state that Miller describes as almost extortion, the Florida legislature continues to be stymied on the eve of its 2018 session in passing meaningful reform to help consumers avoid “The AOB Trap.”
Describing it as a “nightmare” that’s lasted months, Sandra Carlstrom said she hasn’t been able to get her home repaired because she needs to sever the Assignment of Benefits (AOB) contract with her previous contractor before she can engage someone else to repair the damage to her roof, facia board, and inside rooms caused by Hurricane Irma’s heavy winds and rain. If not for her daughter Kirsten, a skilled Realtor® who added contingency clauses to the AOB requiring their insurance company to approve all repairs, Sandra said she would have lost all of her rights and potentially face a financial disaster from having to pay for her own repairs.
Kirsten said the first sign of trouble was when the contractor refused to answer questions and told them not to talk to their own insurance company. Upon further research, she discovered the contractor was running his business from a UPS Store post office box on the other side of the state. Although the contractor seemed very knowledgeable and claimed to know (and play golf with) the head of their insurance company, a month went by with no repairs. Suspicious, Sandra and Kirsten contacted their insurer and discovered the contractor was attempting to bill $191,000 for what should have been a $30,000 roof.
When they tried to cancel the AOB, Kirsten said the contractor refused to do so and threatened with his lawyer to put a lien on the house. If they wanted out of the AOB, there were told they’d need to pay him $15,000 for the temporary roof tarp he’d installed and his research time. “He threatened us and coerced us and involved his attorney, who threated to sue us,” said Kirsten.
Investigator with the Florida Attorney General’s office are now on the case as Sandra Carlstrom continues her efforts to get out of the AOB and “The AOB Trap” that’s held her captive for three-and-a-half months. “Absolutely never sign an AOB contract,” she warns others.
Host Lisa Miller, referring to the Carlstrom case as “almost extortion”, notes that by any measure, AOB abuse in Florida is an explosive epidemic:
• Frequency of Claims involving an AOB (up 46% from 2010-2016);
• Severity of Claims involving an AOB (up 28% from 2010-2016); and
• Number of AOB lawsuits (from 405 lawsuits in 2006 to 28,200 in 2016) are all on the rise.
Increased costs equal increased rates by insurance companies, with the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation warning that annual 10% rate increases on homeowners insurance policies in Florida could become the norm.
The Florida legislature, which begins its 2018 session on January 9, is attempting for the fifth year in a row to pass meaningful AOB reform for Florida consumers. The Florida House of Representatives has HB 7015 all ready for a full vote of its members. The bill addresses AOB abuses and enhances consumer/policyholder protections. The Florida Senate, which is where past reform bills have died, late in 2017 introduced SB 1168. It joins several other Senate bills.
Links and Resources Mentioned in This Episode:
- Lisa’s Tips on Avoiding the AOB Trap: 1) Don’t answer your door after a calamity. There’s an old saying that “People you know come to your back door, people you don’t know come to your front door.” Those you don’t know, don’t always have your best interest. 2) Don’t sign anything until you speak with your insurance company. And if you see the words “Assignment of Benefits” or “AOB” on your document, don’t sign it until you speak with your trusted insurance agent or insurance company directly.
- Another Day, Another DCA Decision (from the Lisa Miller & Associates Newsletter of 12/11/2017)
- Assignment of Benefits Resources & Consumer Alerts (from the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation)
- Florida Homeowner Claims Bill of Rights (From the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation)
- LMA’s Assignment of Benefits webpage
** The Listener Call-In Line for your recorded questions and comments to air in future episodes is 850-388-8002 or you may send email to LisaMiller@LisaMillerAssociates.com **