Florida's largest property insurer votes to lower rates after 4 straight years of hikes

Florida's largest property insurer, which has more than 928,000 policyholders across the state, plans to drop its rates in 2015 after raising them the four previous years.

The board of Citizens Property Insurance voted Wednesday to lower rates by an average of 3.2 percent for single family homeowners in 2015. The state-created insurer says that nearly 70 percent of those with homeowner policies should see some sort of decrease.

For some customers, including those living in coastal regions from the Panhandle to the Atlantic coast, the drop could be as much as 10 percent.

"The rates approved today by the board indicate that Citizens is moving in the right direction," Citizens President and CEO Barry Gilway said in a statement. "They also are a clear sign that Citizens and all Florida property owners will see clear benefits from improving financial stability in the private insurance market."

The decision to lower rates, which must still be approved by state regulators, is coming during an election year. It follows a push by legislators and Gov. Rick Scott to trim the number of policyholders of Citizens, which is allowed under state law to recover money from most insurance policy holders if it cannot pay off its claims.

A continual cry by some GOP legislators has been that Citizens rates have been priced too low and that the insurer is unfairly competing with private insurance companies.

But company officials insist that several factors have diminished the need for rate hikes next year. The state has not been hit with a hurricane since 2005 which has enabled Citizens to spend less of getting back-up financing to cover hurricane damages. Gilway stressed to board members that Citizens has a surplus right now of nearly $8 billion and can cover nearly 20 billion in damages if a storm does hit.

Some Citizens customers will still likely see an increase, including condominium customers and those coastal homeowner customers who have just wind only coverage. Those with sinkhole coverage in Hernando County will also pay 10 percent more.