Insurance renewals at risk after fires in Sonoma, Napa counties

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- With fire claims so far topping 3 billion dollars from the North Bay Fires, insurers are hesitating to renew policies in Sonoma and Napa Counties. That's what happened to Kim and Jeff Brown

The sound of goats roaming their property can be heard as the couple walked outside their Healdsburg home. The setting is just what they wanted when they moved here four years ago.

"It's peaceful. It's private. It's serene," said Brown.

That sentiment is echoed by Jackie Lueder who has lived in Occidental for 37 years with her husband Tom. "We love it. It's usually pretty peaceful," said Lueder.

But it wasn't peaceful one month ago when the wildfires burned about a dozen miles from their homes.

Then Jackie and Kim both received advanced word their policies with Liberty Mutual would not be renewed.

"I told them they were heartless," Lueder bluntly stated.

"We've never filed a claim against our homeowners. Not once. For any reason," said Brown.

Brown worked with her broker to find another company, Chubb. She actually signed while the fires were still raging.

"Then the company came back. We will not. We cannot do this. We will not move forward."

The denials have many on edge in the disaster area.

"Everybody is on the watch for their letter of renewal. People are pretty nervous," said Lueder.

The Department of Insurance says there is no law mandating insurers write a policy.

After the Watts Riot in 1965, many refused to insure California urban homeowners. That's when the Fair Plan was created.

The industry-funded insurance is a bare-bones policy for any homeowner who can't get other insurance.

Brown was determined not to have to settle for the Fair Plan. She began negotiating with a third company- ASI out of Florida. But she felt it would have left her underinsured."We took the policy as far as they would allow us to."

Since then, Chubb has come back with a policy she's happy with.

Lueder had luck after she contacted 7 on Your Side. She's been renewed for another year by Liberty Mutual. But she realizes every year may face a non-renewal again.

Liberty Mutual told us "unfortunately due to California's significant wildfire exposure, we have taken the difficult but necessary step to responsibly manage our overall exposure to wildfires."

The complaints about non-renewals to the state have ranged from 219 to 251 over the past three years.

Numbers for this year have not been released and the Fair Plan says it's too early to know if demand for its policy will surge after these fires.

Produced by Randall Yip
Copyright © 2021 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.