Berkeley Hills residents denied homeowners insurance due to wildfire risk

Maya Valluru/Staff

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Berkeley residents living in the hills near Tilden Regional Park were denied homeowners insurance and renewals on their previous plans due to fire risk, as first reported by Berkeleyside.

According to Berkeleyside, insurance companies such as The Allstate Corporation notified homeowners of their coverage cancellations and cited an unwanted risk of exposure to wildfires. The insurance company did not respond to The Daily Californian’s requests for comment.

Insurance companies have the legal right to deny coverage to individuals under certain circumstances, according to Joseph Lavitt, a campus professor who teaches insurance law and torts at the UC Berkeley School of Law.

“Although an insurer may not discriminate based on invidious reasons, and in some instances, like health insurance, insurers may be required to insure certain individuals,” Lavitt said in an email. “Insurers can and do choose their insureds.”

According to Berkeley Fire Department, or BFD, spokesperson Keith May, the Berkeley Hills are at risk for wildfires.

May added that BFD recommends all residents of the Berkeley Hills prepare for a possible need to evacuate, practice using an evacuation route and stay aware of the environmental conditions.

“The City of Berkeley faces an ongoing threat from a very likely wildland fire along its hillsides, where wildland and residential areas intermix,” May said in an email. “A WUI fire can move with breathtaking speed (and consume) hundreds of structures in an hour.”

Those denied homeowners insurance are not necessarily without options, however. The California Fair Access to Insurance Requirements plan exists to be a “last resort” for people whose other options for homeowners insurance have been exhausted.

“I have heard from many local communities about how not being able to obtain insurance can create a domino effect for the local economy, affecting home sales and property taxes,” California state insurance commissioner Ricardo Lara said in a press release. “This data should be a wake-up call for state and local policymakers that without action to reduce the risk from extreme wildfires and preserve the insurance market we could see communities unraveling.”

Katherine Finman is a news reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @KateFinman_DC.