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California bars insurers from dropping customers in fire-prone zones

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Los Angeles (AFP)

California state regulators on Thursday banned insurance companies from dropping customers who live in fire-prone areas, a move aimed at helping some 800,000 people across the state.

The decision calls for a mandatory one-year moratorium on insurance companies refusing to renew policies in areas at high risk for wildfire.

"This wildfire insurance crisis has been years in the making, but it is an emergency we must deal with now if we are going to keep the California dream of home ownership from becoming the California nightmare," Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara said in a statement. "I am calling on insurance companies to push the pause button on issuing non-renewals for one year to give breathing room to communities and homeowners while they adapt and mitigate risks, give the Legislature time to work on additional lasting solutions, and allow California’s insurance market to stabilize."

Hundreds of thousands of Californians in recent years have seen their fire insurance policies increased or cancelled as wildfires across the state -- driven by climate change -- have become the new normal.

Consumer groups have warned that loss of coverage could lead to declining home values and turn away prospective home buyers.

They also warn that higher premiums for homeowners and businesses will drive people away.

A 2017 California Department of Insurance report noted that homeowners who had been paying $800 to $1000 in annual insurance had seen their policy go up to as much as $5,000.

Insurance companies say the price hikes and decision to drop some customers are necessary given the more than $24 billion in damage claims paid in the last two years as the fires have become increasingly deadly and destructive.

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