Hurricane insurance will cost more

Hurricane Earl

There's no telling if any of the six to 10 hurricanes forecast this year will hit coastal South Carolina, but this is certain: It's going to cost more to insure homes against the potential danger.

The 'wind pool' — the state's insurer of last resort for coastal wind and hail insurance — will raise rates by an average of 9.8 percent.

'We had actually asked for more, 18.9 percent,' said Smitty Harrison, executive director of the S.C. Wind and Hail Underwriting Association.

The wind pool provides coverage as a fallback for property owners who can't get private coverage, and insures more than $17 billion in property along the coast. Most barrier island residential properties are insured against wind damage through the pool.

The wind pool rate increase has been approved by the S.C. Department of Insurance, which also approved rate hikes for State Farm, the dominant Charleston-area home insurer, and others. The wind pool increases will kick in when policies come up for renewal after Sept. 1, while State Farm's rate increases of about 3.5 percent in Berkeley, Charleston, and Dorchester counties will take effect with new policies after June 15 and renewals after Aug. 15.

'It's a hard decision to give a rate increase,' Department of Insurance Director David Black said at a recent public hearing in Charleston. 'It's the hardest thing you can do.'

And paying the premiums can also be a hardship.

'I don't know anyone whose (property) taxes are as high as their insurance,' said Richard Ellis of Mount Pleasant.

'I don't know why people don't complain more,' he said. 'People would be outraged if their taxes went up 10 percent.'

Ellis said the cost of his homeowners insurance policy with a for-profit insurer just increased by 10 percent. His home east of Rifle Range Road is in the wind pool area, but wind pool rates would be even more expensive.

This fall, wind pool premiums will rise by up to 11.4 percent for properties in Zone 1 in Charleston, Colleton and Georgetown counties. Zone 1 is primarily the barrier islands.

Rates will rise by 3.3 percent for properties in Zone 2, which includes Mount Pleasant east of U.S. Highway 17, most of James Island and a large swath of Johns Island and Edisto.

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