Fire survivors who lost everything shame insurance companies by name
SANTA ROSA, Calif. (KTVU) - Survivors of the 2017 North Bay firestorm rallied Friday evening, calling out insurance companies who are cutting them off next month.
Tuesday, October 8 marks two years since the disaster, and also marks the day that Additional Living Expenses will run out for most policy holders.
For some, losing the stipend will make the difference between being able to rebuild or abandoning it.
Sonoma County Supervisor Susan Gorin, addressed the crowd of about 100 people in downtown Santa Rosa. Gorin lost her home in the Nunns Fire and is still in the process of rebuilding.
Additional Living Expenses, or ALE, are part of a homeowners' policy under Loss of Use. The provision pays a policy holder's rent while their property is rebuilt.
Months ago, California's Insurance Commissioner asked insurance companies to extend ALE from two years to three because of the scope of the disaster.
Almost 6,000 homes were lost and only about 600 are finished, with thousands more in the pipeline.
But only two providers - Farmers and CSAA - agreed to the request.
People rallying chanted out insurance companies by name.
They are especially enraged because many of the delays in rebuilding were caused by insurance hurdles, such as waiting on out-of-state adjusters, and documenting in detail every possession that was destroyed.
Even homeowners who are close to completion, are being turned down when they petition for more time.
"We'll be done in 60, maybe 90 days max, and it means a lot to us, it's out of our pocket," said Coffey Park survivor Luann Scally.
"We got a phone call today saying 'you know, October 8, you're done.'"
The Scallys, like so many homeowners, encountered delays caused by weather, shortages of manpower and materials, and the sluggish pace of permits and inspections.
"We can document every single step, and we've been on it, we've been diligent, but there are a lot of things out of our control," said Jim Scally.
"This means we have to pay our rent and our mortgage all together." A representative from the California Department of Insurance told the crowd the agency has handled 1,000 fire-related complaints and won $100 million for customers in disputes with their insurers.
"The 24-month time frame is an arbitrary number," Joel Laucher told KTVU. He noted that the firestorm was the impetus for new state law that requires three years of ALE after a major disaster, but the law is not retroactive to 2017 because insurance companies lobbied against it.
Shaming the companies seems to be survivors' only recourse, hoping public pressure will mount.
"Where's Jared from State Farm when you need him?" shouted Sonoma County Supervisor James Gore as the crowd cheered.
"I still have State Farm, and Monday morning I'm going to switch my insurance!"
A change.org petition "Help California WIldfire Survivors" has collected more than 8,000 signatures urging insurance companies to extend their ALE timeline.