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Two new laws require insurers to be more transparent, flexible during wildfire disasters

 Burned and demolished foundations in rural setting.
Brian Bull
The town of Blue River, in February 2021. A new law that goes into effect in January, 2024 requires insurers to be more flexible, and transparent with homeowners impacted by wildfire.

Two laws that will require insurance companies to be more transparent and flexible to Oregonians impacted by wildfire, will go into effect at the start of the new year.

The two laws will require insurance companies to explain why they are raising rates for homeowners impacted by wildfire or dropping their coverage altogether.

They also require insurers to take efforts to harden homes against fires–such as clearing brush away from a home–into account when they set rates.

Jason Horton with the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services said parts of the new laws only apply if the governor declares a disaster. He said there are precautions homeowners can take now.

"Know what kind of protections you have,” he said. “Some people might be under-insured and their policy might be outdated with the value of their home, or the contents in their home."

The laws also require companies to provide at least some compensation if a homeowner does not know the value of what was on their property when it burned. It also allows homeowners to take three years to rebuild if needed.

Horton said many took far longer than anticipated to rebuild after the 2020 wildfires because of supply chain shortages. Many also struggled to work with their insurers, or were surprised to find their policies didn’t cover the full damage of the fire.

"[These laws] put protections in there for the homeowners that will hopefully simplify the process for them and give them more avenues to go to their insurance company with," he said.

One of the laws going into effect also bars insurance companies from using state wildfire hazard maps when considering homeowner’s insurance premiums. It’s partially in response to a Department of Forestry wildfire risk map that sparked concerns among homeowners a year and a half ago. 

After the map was released in June 2022, thousands of public comments flooded in expressing fear of increased insurance rates. The state withdrew the Department of Forestry map shortly after and lawmakers moved to create the new guideline. Horton said the new law won’t necessarily change the way insurance companies are operating.

“In our research and our communication with insurance companies, none of them were using the wildfire hazard map as a reason for canceling or raising rates,” Horton said. “The insurance companies have their own formulas and their own determinations on risks.”

Kyra Buckley reports for Oregon Public Broadcasting

Rebecca Hansen-White joined the KLCC News Department in November, 2023. Her journalism career has included stops at Spokane Public Radio, The Spokesman-Review, and The Columbia Basin Herald.
Kyra Buckley