California's Department of Insurance can help homeowners who lose insurance coverage because of wildfire risk find new coverage, but it can't guarantee what the cost or extent of coverage will be under a new policy.
According to a Department of Insurance news release, "Current law does not allow the insurance commissioner to require insurers to cover specific areas."
Furthermore, the department "does not set rates" and state law requires that insurance rates be based on "demonstrated risk of loss."
The department's web site, insurance.ca.gov, has a list of toll-free numbers for over 50 insurers that write homeowners coverage that people looking for insurance can access.
Residents who can't find coverage receive a referral to the FAIR Plan, an association in Los Angeles that is "the last option for coverage that should only be used after a diligent effort to obtain coverage in the voluntary market has been made," according to the department.
The maximum for all coverage combined is $1.5 million under the plan.
"The FAIR Plan is required to write all homes regardless of fire risk, so there is an option for most insureds to find insurance," according to an email from Michael Soller, the deputy insurance commissioner for communications and public relations.
"However, we recognize that in high wildfire risk areas, FAIR Plan premiums may not be as low as what the consumer was used to paying," Soller wrote.
Homeowners who need higher coverage can try to obtain it in what's known as the "surplus lines market," which is not backed by the California Insurance Guarantee Association that covers the claims of insolvent insurers, and whose rates the Department of Insurance does not review, according to the department release.
Homeowners living in an area that has experienced a wildfire disaster or in a zip code adjacent to the disaster area are eligible to receive a year of protection from a policy cancellation by their insurer.
The state has extended that protection for people who had a total loss in a wildfire to two renewals or 24 months.
The department provides workshops for wildfire survivors to help them with insurance claims and to inform them of resources available to help with recovery.
Consumers who receive nonrenewal notices, have difficulty finding coverage, are looking for new coverage, have a question about their insurance, or have a dispute with the insurer can contact the department's consumer hotline at 800-927-4357.
"We provide the consumer with the tools and tips to navigate the residential property insurance market," Soller wrote. "We don't actually place the insurance because we are not the insurance company or the broker."
Portola Valley resident Nancy Coupal said her insurance carrier cut her off with 30 days' notice in June, but, with the help of a friend, she was able to get roughly the same coverage for the same price at a different agency by calling that agency's office in Menlo Park.
Coupal said her new company is willing to insure some neighborhoods in Portola Valley but not others, depending on how close the home is to a fire station.
"You have a policy and never have a claim, and then they say they aren't going to renew your policy because of fire risk in other areas," said Coupal, who runs a chain of local restaurants called Coupa Cafe. "I was very disappointed at how insurance companies behave."
Coupal recommended that people looking for insurance contact a local agent rather than a call center, such as the ones listed on the Department of Insurance website.
"Don't go to the call center because they may not understand the dynamics of the Northern California market," she said.