TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Nearly 20,000 homeowners with a policy from state-backed Citizens Property Insurance have just hours left to respond to a letter, or else they’ll be forced to pay more for property insurance, 8 On Your Side has learned.

Investigator Mahsa Saeidi has the information that could save you thousands of dollars.

State-backed Citizens is supposed to be the insurer of last resort. But due to Florida’s troubled market, it now has 1.4 million policies.

More policies means more exposure.

If Citizens cannot cover claims after a storm, all Floridians could potentially be on the hook, forced to pay a so-called hurricane tax.

The state’s top insurance regulator, Michael Yaworsky, wants to avoid that. That’s why his office is approving proposals to shift policies out of Citizens, back to the private market.

8 On Your Side has learned that 311,310 Citizens customers have recently gotten offers to leave the state’s insurer.

The deadline to respond to the offer letter is just hours away — the end of the day on Tuesday, October 10.

Mark Friedlander is the spokesman of the Insurance Information Institute, a group that represents most national insurers.

“You have until that point to respond either through the portal or to contact your agent and have them respond on your behalf,” Friedlander said.

If the offer is within 20% of your current premium, you must leave Citizens.

You have no choice.

But if the offer is not within 20%, if it’s greater than 20%, you can opt to stay with Citizens, and save money.

One caveat: you must respond to the letter, and fast.

Again, through Oct. 10.

“If you miss the deadline, you will automatically be transferred to the takeout company,” Friedlander said.

“How much more could they be forced to pay if they don’t respond in time?” Investigator Mahsa Saeidi asked.

“Potentially you could be paying 100% or more than what you’re paying today, according to what we’ve been told,” Friedlander said.

Citizens says it is warning impacting customers.

They have sent a letter that states at the top “immediate action required.”

If you don’t take action by Oct. 10, “your policy will renew with another carrier.”

Despite this letter, 19,489 Citizens customers have not yet responded.

“They don’t understand the provisions that you must respond either way, whether accepting or declining a takeout offer, you still need to respond,” Friedlander said.

Again, here’s what you need to do immediately:  You can contact your agent and have them respond on your behalf. Additionally, you respond on the Citizens website by going to the portal listed on the letter.

A Citizens spokesman sent 8 On Your Side the following:

“We’ve done what we can to make policyholders aware of the Oct. 10 deadline. We’ve sent letters and made phone calls to policyholders who we had not heard from. We also contacted agents with a significant number of impacted policyholders. That message appears to be getting out. Of those policyholders eligible to remain at Citizens, 90% have responded and wish to stay with Citizens.”

If you have a comment or question, email Mahsa at MSaeidi@WFLA.com.