Florida insurance companies going to new heights, using planes and drones to scrutinize roofs

Better Call Behnken

You likely will have no idea until you receive a cancellation notice; AI companies photograph Florida homes every 90 days

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – If you see a plane or a drone above your house, it could be from your insurance company.

Many insurance companies are upping their game when it comes to minimizing their risk of having to buy you a new roof if you make a claim.

For months, Better Call Behnken has investigated an insurance crackdown that is resulting in a growing number of Tampa Bay area homeowners being told to either replace their roofs – or get a new insurance company. Sometimes, the roofs are as young as eight or 10 years old and in good condition.

It’s part of the an industry-wide effort to cut down on roof claim fraud and recoup money lost in litigation. Some insurance companies are now turning to artificial intelligence companies to scrutinize roofs on a regular basis and use planes and drones to take pictures and technology to crunch the data and report back to the insurance company.

It’s catching some homeowners by surprise and raising privacy and accuracy concerns.

“I didn’t know they were using drones for home inspections,” said Valerie Valdez of Tampa.

Valdez has found herself in the middle of an insurance problem no homeowner wants. She’s been told to replace her 13-year-old roof or lose coverage.

Valdez says it wasn’t until she received a letter from her agent that she discovered a drone snooped on her roof. As a result of photos taken with the drone, she says Federated National Insurance company is dropping her.

Valdez tells us the company never sent a real person to verify what the drone indicated. A spokesperson for Federated National Insurance declined to comment on this story.

Valdez did what most homeowners in her situation would do: she hired her own roofing inspectors – two of them – to physically climb on her roof, touch the shingles and rate the condition of her roof.

Both inspectors said her roof doesn’t need to be replaced. One of the roofers even gave her a written statement for her insurance company, estimating her roof has at least five years of life left.

However, Valdez says her insurance agent told her the decision stands.

“They said that’s not good enough,” Valdez said. “They are going by what the drone said.”

If this sounds futuristic, it’s not. You may never notice these eyes in the sky, drones and planes. The goal is to zero in on aging, weak roofs and require homeowners to repair or replace them before damage occurs that could leave the insurance company on the hook to pay out a claim for a new roof.

Locke Burt, the CEO of Security First Insurance company, tells Investigator Shannon Behnken he was among the first in Florida to partner with an AI company that uses planes to take pictures of every roof in Florida – every 90 days.

“There are people other than Mark Zuckerberg who are looking at you everyday,” he said. “Trust me on that.”

And it’s more than just pictures, he says. The technology can speak with public records and flag permits and other information about your home that an insurance company could find valuable.

“They fly over, they take a picture of the roof, they run it through a machine and the machine rates the roof – it’s either great, good, okay, question mark or terrible,” he explained.

Burt says his company then sends real people to check out roofs flagged by artificial intelligence. But in Valdez’s case, she says that didn’t happen.

“Right now with COVID going on, people don’t have that kind of money to get that done,” Valdez said.

If this happens to you, seek roof inspections by third parties and submit those findings to your insurance company. In some cases, that can make a difference. If your insurance company won’t relent, having those inspections could help you in your quest for a new insurance company.

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