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Amid High Fire Danger, Some Insurers Cancelling SoCal Residents Homeowners' Policies

CHATSWORTH (CBSLA) - As wildfires rage in Northern California, some local residents are seeing their homeowners insurance policies cancelled by insurers.

The state's insurance commissioner has put insurers on notice that they are not allowed to cancel policies in areas where there has been a state of emergency declared, but that edict does not include any Southern California zip codes.

Heather Braca lives in an unincorporated part of Chatsworth. Earlier this summer, she got notice that her home insurer was cancelling her policy.

"We actually did not find we weren't getting renewed until we tried to refinance, and they needed a copy of our renewal policy since it was almost up," she said.

Braca's insurance agent called around for a new policy, but everything she could find was more than double what she had been paying, which was nearly $5,000 a year.

"It seems unfair that someone can charge you for a year, you don't have any claims and they don't pay anything out. And they get to take that money and you don't have insurance," Braca said.

In the end, Braca wound up on the California Fair Plan, which is for state residents who can't find coverage through the private market.

"The maximum limitation is that they will only cover up to $3 million in total value for each property," Karl Susman of the Susman Insurance Agency said.

Unfortunately, that doesn't always provide full coverage in high priced areas of Southern California.

Susman says that many area residents are likely underinsured, even with a private insurer, due to increase construction and lumber costs and a shortage of labor. He estimates that the average homeowner is now underinsured by about 10%.

"You're not going to be talking about thousands of dollars. You're looking at $200-$300 from being underinsured to being properly insured considering costs of construction today," Susman says.

Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara has instructed insurance companies that it is against California law to cancel a policy in the middle of a wildfire emergency, and for a year after a state of emergency is declared. However, if you don't live in one of those affected zip codes at the time of your cancellation, it's not illegal for insurers to drop you.

As for Braca, she said she understands that insurance companies need to make money, though she doesn't think the system is entirely fair.

" seems like they can drop you if they want to instead of having to answer to someone as to why they dropped you," she said.

When checking your homeowner's policy to make sure your coverage is adequate, it's also a good time to make sure you have cleared the brush around the house and property to ensure a defensible space against any potential wildfires.

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