NEW PORT RICHEY, Fla. -- Citizens Insurance may have a sneaky new way to make you pay more, and it will put some at risk of losing their homes.
Some customers are discovering the "replacement cost" value of their homes jumping tens of thousands of dollars. Why? Good question.
An insurance estimate from Citizens puts a replacement cost on a home in Land 'O Lakes at $135 per square foot, but the builder of that very same home says it would cost just $80 dollars per square foot.
82-year-old Ruth Lauro is a mother, a widow, and a retiree trying to figure out how to keep her house in New Port Richey.
"I don't know what's going to happen. It's rough. It's rough," Ruth says. She got a letter from Citizens Insurance saying her home, appraised at $50,000 by Pasco County, would now have to be insured at $138,000. Citizens claims that would be the replacement cost if it's destroyed.
Then to make matters worse, Ruth's mortgage company decided her flood insurance should match the higher amount from Citizens -- doubling what she used to pay. That increase comes despite not having a single flood in Ruth's home in 33 years.
"I try to be happy, but then I go, 'What are they doing to me?" Ruth asks. "What is tomorrow going to bring?"
Ruth has a fixed income of $700 bucks a month to cover all of her expenses, including her $250 mortgage. However, with these changes, her mortgage will double to $517 a month.
"Where do they think we're going to get all this money? Jobs are scarce...and, you know, it's just hard," Ruth says.
State Senator Mike Fasano (R-New Port Richey) couldn't agree more. "It is unconscionable what Citizens is doing, and shame on them for even considering and doing this."
Sen. Fasano says Citizens is intentionally inflating "replacement cost" values. "In my opinion, they're doing what they're doing because they can't get the approval for the rate increases they want from the Office of Insurance Regulation."
Now Sen. Fasano is finalizing legislation to prevent Citizens Insurance from continuing to do this by allowing customers to hire their own certified property appraisers. The bill will be filed by the end of the week.
Still, Ruth needs more immediate help and the senator has already written letters on her behalf. "I was happy all along until I got the letter from Citizens...what can I say? I can't even hit the lottery!"
Citizens Insurance says they're looking into the situation with Ruth Lauro.