Amendment 2 Affects All Floridian Consumers and Property Owners

 

Election Center     Constitutional Amendments     Endorsements     Election Guide     Early Voting Reports

 

Carrie O’Rourke, the Florida Realtors Association’s Vice President of Public Policy, recently sat down with us to discuss Amendment 2, its impact on Florida’s consumers and their property, and how to get involved in educating other voters.

“It impacts every Floridian. Not only from a consumer side, but it keeps that stability and that security in the business place so that small businesses can plan and they know what their property taxes are going to be year over year,” said O’Rourke.

 

Vote Yes on Amendment 2

Amendment 2 prevents excessive property taxes and ensures that Florida remains an affordable place to live, work and do business. To learn more about the amendment and how it affects Floridians, check out the Florida Chamber’s Constitutional Amendment Guide or visit Everyone is for 2 here.

 

Targeted Tax Reform Will Make Florida More Competitive

A competitive and equitable tax system creates jobs and strengthens the economy. The Florida Realtors® say that while getting there will be a challenge, a business-friendly tax climate can be achieved.

Carrie O’Rourke, Vice President of Public Policy for Florida Realtors®, said the Florida-only business rent tax should be the first piece of legislation to be eliminated before Florida can move forward. With the recent Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, companies are able to invest more in their companies and employees. O’Rourke said the benefits of the tax cuts could bring business to Florida, but the business rent tax could negatively impact those decisions.

“First, let’s get rid of the business rent tax. Not only is that an issue that prevents our businesses from expanding and growing, but it also is a detriment for those companies that are looking to relocate to Florida,” O’Rourke said. “Everyone is aware of what is going on with Amazon and everyone wants an Amazon center in Florida, but it is something to consider and it plays against our ability to receive that.”

According to O’Rourke, both the Florida Chamber of Commerce and Florida Realtors® have been addressing the issue for a several years. Combining efforts has helped create even greater awareness of the problem among legislators.

 “I think two years ago we really started to work together with the Florida Chamber in pulling together all of the business associations in Tallahassee to really work together. It was because of this partnership that we were able to get the legislature to understand the importance of this and realize that when you give a dollar back to a business they are not going to spend it, they are going to reinvest it,” O’Rourke said. “Our partnership with the Florida Chamber was absolutely critical. We were able to put some of the right pressure points on to make sure that we at least got the cuts started, which was a .2 percent cut last year and it reflects $60 million statewide.”

The Florida Realtors® used their 2018 Mid-Winter meetings to discuss the business rent tax and other legislative issues that are on the horizon. The three-day event was held in Orlando on Jan. 24-27.

“We were very lucky this year that our mid-winter meetings coincided with session so it was a great time for us to give an update on what our legislative priorities are and where they are in the process,” O’Rouke said. “We were able to focus on what’s happening with the business rent tax, the assignment of benefits bills that are out there, affordable housing and overall protection of private property rights through the vacation rental bill.”

The takeaway, O’Rourke said, was one of optimism. Existing home sales in Florida were up 1.2 percent over 2016 sales levels, and 2017 sales levels of existing condos and townhouses are up about three percent year over year. The statewide median price in both sectors is up about eight percent compared to a year ago.

“Things are looking good for Florida at the moment. I had one member who had a closing every single day from the beginning of the year. Our economy grew in 2017 and that momentum is expected to continue this year,” O’Rourke said. “We’re seeing a slight uptick in prices, but it’s still a competitive market. The only downside we are seeing is inventory, so there are just not enough homes on the market to keep up with the demand.”

O’Rourke said the principles of free enterprise will guide Florida to a more secure and sustainable future.

“A healthy business climate leads to healthy communities and that’s what we are all about,” O’Rourke said. “When businesses are successful, it creates opportunities for employees, their families and so on. Free enterprise is absolutely critical to make sure that all of that is a reality.”

Calling on Lawmakers to Protect Florida Consumers from AOB Abuse in Florida

 

WATCH video from the press conference.

Consumer Protection Coalition: “Time to Act on AOB Fraud & Abuse is Today”

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (April 6, 2017) – In front of the Florida House Chamber, the Consumer Protection Coalition, a  broad-based group of business leaders, consumer advocates, real estate agents, construction contractors, insurance agents and insurance trade groups, today called on Florida lawmakers to protect Florida consumers and pass meaningful reforms to end Assignment of Benefits (AOB) abuse in the Sunshine State.

 

“We are halfway through the 2017 Legislative Session, and it appears another year may pass without meaningful reforms to end AOB abuse in Florida,” said DULCE SUAREZ-RESNICK, independent insurance agent in Miami and member of the Latin American Association of Insurance Agents.  “Make no mistake: If the Legislature fails to address the growing cancer of AOB for a fifth straight year, Florida’s hardworking families are the ones that will lose.  Our leaders have crystal clear evidence that AOB fraud and abuse is threatening the affordability of homeownership for average Floridians.  For lower-income families and those on fixed incomes, it could literally put the dream of homeownership out of reach.”

 

In Miami-Dade County, Citizens Property Insurance Corporation (Citizens) projects that without AOB reforms, the average premium for homeowners will skyrocket from $9,847 this year to $15,859 by 2022.  An increase of more than $6,000 in five years.

 

“At the beginning of the year, Citizens announced reining in out-of-control lawsuits over water damage claims and AOB abuse were a top legislative priority,” said BARRY GILWAY, president and CEO of Citizens.  “And, just a week ago, Citizens reported a net loss of more than $27 million for 2016 – our first annual loss in 11 years.  The reason is the unjustifiable explosion of water loss claims we are facing, AOB abuse and lawsuits that are seriously eroding our bottom line.”

 

Ninety-six percent of all litigation Citizens faces is coming from the tri-county area of Dade, Broward and Palm Beach.  In just the past three and a half years, Citizens has seen the average severity, or payout, from each litigated water claim rise from $10,000 to $20,000.  In 2011, just 12 percent of the claims Citizens received went into litigation.  By 2015, 45 percent have been litigated.

 

“A cottage industry of trial attorney firms, often partnering with a relatively small group of home repair vendors, are driving the vast majority of lawsuits against Citizens,” said GILWAY.  “A year ago, we were able to provide rate decreases to most of our customers across the state.  This year, 84 percent of our policyholders will see rate increases, because of this water damage claims and AOB litigation phenomenon.  Without significant statutory reforms, Citizens will be forced to pass these costs on to our customers in the form of higher rates for the foreseeable future.”

 

“I’ve seen first-hand the AOB abuse that’s happening in our neighborhoods and reform is urgently needed,” said RALPH DAVIS, local contractor and president of Streamline Roofing & Construction.  “AOB fraud and abuse is driving up the costs of home repairs and is hurting homeowners who are often unaware of the risks they face when they sign an AOB.  It’s hurting the reputation of our industry and all of the good roofing firms and other good contractors who don’t use AOBS and who want to stop the bad behavior.”

 

“Our legislators have heard testimony of plumbers getting paid kick-backs of as much as $2,500 to get a water remediation firm in the door to convince a homeowner to sign an AOB,” said DAVIS.  “That’s just plain wrong.  Florida homeowners don’t need to sign an AOB with a contractor to get repairs done, and roofers and other contractors don’t need AOBs to get paid.  The system that has been in place for years – having homeowners direct their insurers to pay us under their policies – has worked.  As a roofer who prides himself in making an honest dollar for an honest day’s work, I am calling on members of the House and Senate to step up and protect Florida consumers from AOB fraud and abuse.”

 

“As a member of the Florida Realtors, I know well that for most Floridians, their home is their largest investment,” said MARILYN PEARSON-ADAMS, vice chair of public policy for the Florida Realtors.  “Home ownership is still the key to the American dream and is vital to building strong communities. Floridians on fixed incomes are particularly vulnerable to increases in the ancillary costs of owning a home, such as property taxes, insurance and maintenance.  That’s why Florida Realtors is so concerned about AOB fraud and abuse, and is standing with the Consumer Protection Coalition in calling for legislative reform now.”

 

As an example relating to the impact of AOB abuse on middle-class families, state estimates show that in Palm Beach, coverage for a home valued at $155,000 will rise from $2,210 this year to $3,559 in 2022 without reform. In Broward, that premium would jump from $2,390 to $3,850.

 

“It is heartbreaking to see hardworking families scrimp and save to be able to qualify for a mortgage only to learn that these overhead costs end up busting-the-budget,” said PEARSON-ADAMS.  “These premium increases, mostly due to AOB scams, are already putting homeownership further out of reach for many families in South Florida and will start to impact families in other areas of the state without prompt legislative action.  Florida’s realtors, who help people achieve dreams and help fuel our state’s economy, are urging the Legislature to act.”

 

The Florida Chamber of Commerce has warned the Florida Legislature for five years about AOB fraud and abuse.  The time to act is clear:

  • Citizens has posted its first net loss in a decade, largely because of this problem;
  • The Florida Justice Reform Institute has reported that from 2010 to 2016 alone, the number of AOB lawsuits has skyrocketed from about 25,000 to over 100,000 – an increase of 300 percent; and
  • Worst of all, AOB fraud and abuse is threatening the affordability of home ownership for consumers insured by both Citizens and private insurers.

 

“Today, the Consumer Protection Coalition is delivering nearly 2,000 petitions signed by people across the state to our Senate and House leaders,” said CAROLYN JOHNSON, director of business, economic development and innovation policy with the Florida Chamber of Commerce. “These are real Floridians who want real reform on AOB fraud and abuse, and they want it now.  Our coalition is calling on Senate and House leaders to allow hearings on bills that we strongly believe will offer the best protection to homeowners and get at the heart of the AOB problem.”

 

“There is no question one-way attorney fees are key to what’s fueling this explosion of AOB litigation,” said JOHNSON.  “Plain and simple, we believe the right to one-way attorney fees should remain with the homeowner – and not be transferred to the water remediation firm, roofer or plumber who solicited an AOB from an unknowing homeowner.  The bottom line is this: If Senate and House members do not come together to pass meaningful AOB reforms this session, the AOB cottage industry will fleece homeowners even more and laugh all the way to the bank.  Expect even more water damage claims. Expect even more lawsuits.  And expect even more pain for the constituents or lawmakers, who will hand over their hard-earned dollars because of inaction. The time to act on AOB fraud and abuse is today.”

 

Also attending the press conference today were Representative Rene Plasencia and Office of Insurance Regulation Commissioner David Altmaier.

In addition to the press conference held today, the Consumer Protection Coalition recently hit the airwaves with a video and radio spot.

For more information on the Consumer Protection Coalition, please visit FightFraud.today, follow @CPC_FL and like @ConsumerProtectionCoalition.

 

# # #