The Louisiana Senate today passed Louisiana Senator Julie Quinn’s bill that could potentially protect homeowners in this state from suffering the consequences of making an insurance claim on a home containing Chinese drywall. This bill would prevent insurance companies from dropping homeowners, increasing premiums, and refusing to renew policies on homes constructed with this material. The legislation is not watertight, but if it is passed, it would provide Louisiana homeowners with some more breathing room and increased assurance that they won’t lose insurance for making a claim.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) describes Chinese drywall as an imported material that can cause a myriad of problems in homes. Telltale signs of Chinese drywall include “blackened and corroded metal,” electrical failures/hazards, and health issues (such as breathing problems and itchy skin). This drywall was installed in American homes with dangerous frequency throughout the 2000s, and in the post-Katrina/Rita Gulf Coast area in particular. It is less expensive than regular drywall and, at the time it was widely purchased and installed, its ill effects were not widely known.
Many Louisiana homeowners, in the wake of widespread media coverage regarding Chinese drywall, have discovered the presence of this material in their homes and gone on to make claims with their insurance companies. Unfortunately, a number of these insurance companies have reacted in a way that discourages homeowners from filing valid claims. Insurance companies have withdrawn policyholders’ coverage, increased the premium rates on policies, and refused policy renewals for a number of Louisiana homeowners based on the presence of Chinese drywall in their homes. Senator Quinn’s bill asserts that if such practices continue, insurance companies will be fined $1,000 for each incident. Fines would not apply to an insurance company which “allows the cancellation, nonrenewal, or increase in premium on an area-wide basis at the beginning of a new policy period.”
This development is encouraging, considering that it will encourage Louisiana homeowners to improve their property’s quality, not to mention avoid health risks, by making claims that could remove Chinese drywall from their homes. Moreover, insurance companies won’t be devastated by this potential bill, as the financial repercussions should not be severe enough to affect their actual capital, according to Moody’s Investors Service. The greatest risk to homeowners that could stem from this bill is in the assertion that insurance companies could return to their previous behavior on an “area-wide basis” when policy periods are up. Louisiana homeowners need to pay attention to these developments in the upcoming years if the bill is passed, and ensure that they are diligent about whether or not their insurance company will fault them for Chinese drywall, regardless of the fines their insurer would incur.