(8/23/2012) - Among new regulations in the pipeline to tighten the reins
on the mortgage industry's dirty tricks are provisions to restrict
Lenders and servicers force-place homeowners insurance, as well as hazard, wind and flood
insurance when a homeowner lapses on his or her own insurance policy
That forces the homeowner to pay for lender selected coverage, often at
The practice is legal, but critics charge too few insurers control the
market and lenders place the insurance unnecessarily; charge too much and
are in cahoots with insurers who pay them commissions, rebates, and other
forms of kickbacks to lower the insurance boom on homeowners.
That "monopoly" together with the fact that force-placed insurance has
become a major profit center for both banks and insurers, and the "tight
relationships between banks, their subsidiaries and insurers," were among
the factors seen as driving the excessive rates homeowners are being charged
for force-placed insurance, according to Boston, MA-based Gilman Law LLP,
which has received complaints from homeowners.
Gilman says borrowers may be entitled to compensation if it is found that
their lender engaged in unfair business practice when force-placing
insurance on their homes.
Earlier this month, insurance industry professionals at a National Association of
Insurance Commissioners said the specialized market is risky and they
should be compensated for risks associated with homes that are older,
vacant, in disrepair or located in states prone to natural disasters.
Official said the small number of companies writing the insurance isn't a
monopoly but underscores the high risk with few takers.
"You are going to find very few takers for this kind of risk going
forward" if regulators act to curb pricing, said Kevin McKechnie, executive
director of the American Bankers Insurance Association.
Lenders require that homeowners carry homeowners insurance at least until the mortgage is paid
Lenders require the coverage to protect them from the risk that consumers
typically don't have the cash to cover major losses and would likely walk
away from a heavily damaged or destroyed home or one embroiled in a legal
suit. Consumer advocates say no homeowner should be without the coverage
which protect against a range of potential losses - natural and manmade -
that could cost them their shelter.
The mandate has opened the flood gates to what critics says is another
form of abuse from the mortgage industry.
The rule says services can only charge borrowers for the insurance when
they have a reasonable basis to believe that the borrowers have truly let
their own insurance lapse and have given borrowers two notices estimating
the cost of the "force-placed insurance.
State regulators get tough
Insurance regulators in several states, including Florida, Louisiana and
Kentucky, are investigating the
force-placed market to follow up on allegations that lenders have imposed
excessive, backdated and unnecessary insurance policies on homeowners who
purportedly allowed their policies to lapse.
The force-place insurance industry has boomed during the crash,
collecting $5.5 billion in premiums in 2010, more than triple the $1.5
billion collected six years earlier, according to New
York Department of Financial Services (DFS) which, after hearings on the
issue, has asked the companies to submit new, less expensive rates.
"Our hearings suggest a lack of competition, high prices, and low loss
ratios, all of which hurt homeowners. Based on what we learned at the
hearings, it is now appropriate for insurers to propose new rates along with
justifications for those new rates," said DFS Superintendent Benjamin M.
The industry's income growth coincides with housing-industry spawned
Great Recession which left millions of struggling homeowners unable to pay
their mortgage, insurance premiums and other household bills.
Premiums for force-placed insurance can cost three to ten times as much
as the cost on a typical homeowners insurance policy, but the coverage
offers less protection, according to DFS.
For the money, insurers typically pay out less than 25 cents for every
dollar in premiums they collect, compared with about 63 cents on a
conventional homeowners policy, according to New York Gov. Andrew M.
Only three companies - American Security Insurance Company (Assurant),
QBE Insurance Corporation, and American Modern Home Insurance Company -
collect more than 90 percent of force-placed insurance premiums in New York
and are among major players in the U.S. as a whole.
"The extra expense of force-placed insurance can push a
family over the foreclosure cliff because they have no choice than to pay a
lot more for a lot less," Gov. Cuomo said.
"These hearings indicate the possibility that the rates are too high, and
for this reason DFS has ordered insurance companies to submit new rates,
which could result in savings for homeowners. It's our job to see that rates
are priced fairly and homeowners are protected from paying more than what is
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