SACRAMENTO, Calif. — 26 insurance companies have agreed to extend the time limits for 2017 wildfire survivors to access additional living expense benefits after Commissioner Ricardo Lara appealed to them to stand by their customers who are still in the process of rebuilding their homes. These companies represent a majority of the total losses from the devastating 2017 wildfires that struck Santa Rosa and other parts of Northern California.
With only approximately 20 percent of homes rebuilt today, many survivors have faced unavoidable delays due to the scale of destruction and construction labor shortages. Commissioner Lara approached insurance companies to honor the spirit of a new state law passed in the wake of the deadly 2017 fires by extending additional living expense, or ALE benefits, from 24 to 36 months.
“Two years is clearly not enough time for people to get back on their feet in a disaster of this magnitude,” said Commissioner Lara. “The voluntary action by 26 insurance companies to extend additional living expense time limits is a step that will bring relief to those with benefits remaining while they continue to rebuild.”
ALE coverage typically includes additional food and housing costs, furniture rental, relocation and storage, and extra transportation expenses, among other reimbursable costs. ALE benefits differ by insurance company. Some plans have a set dollar limit, some have a time limit, and others have no limits. Policyholders should contact their insurance company or the Department of Insurance at (800) 927-4357 to determine if they have remaining ALE benefits.
In the aftermath of the catastrophic 2017 wildfires, the Department, California State Legislature, and Governor recognized that 24 months does not provide sufficient time to remove debris, obtain all necessary building permits, locate and hire a contractor and multiple subcontractors, and completely rebuild destroyed homes. The extraordinary circumstances of the 2017 fires still persist today with many consumers remaining in limbo due to these circumstances beyond their control.
The passage of Senate Bill 894 (Dodd and McGuire, Chapter 618, Statutes of 2018 ), Assembly Bill 1772 (Aguiar-Curry and Wood, Chapter 627, Statutes of 2018), and Assembly Bill 1800 (Levine, Chapter 628, Statutes of 2018) increased the 24-month mandatory ALE coverage period to a minimum of 36 months if a policyholder acting in good faith and with reasonable diligence encounters delays in the reconstruction process of their home.
Commissioner Lara first made the request to insurance companies to voluntarily extend ALE benefits in May at a meeting with Sonoma County fire survivors, and he renewed it in a September letter to survivors as the two-year anniversary of the deadly blazes approached. To date, the Department of Insurance has helped more than 1,000 people obtain $100 million in benefits related to the 2017 Sonoma County fires.
“I urge policyholders who lost access to ALE benefits to contact my Department for further assistance, including if they believe their insurance company played any role in causing a delay,” said Commissioner Lara.
An example of a delay includes an insurance company taking an extensive amount of time before approving a contractor’s final estimate for rebuilding.