By Daniel Rivero

In late 2022, Melissa Marro got a notice from her private home insurance company that her rates would soon go up to a degree she found shockingly high. The only option, her insurance agent told her, was to see if she qualified for Citizens Property Insurance, the state created and taxpayer-owned property insurance company.

Marro hired a licensed inspector to come to her Palm Harbor home in the Tampa Bay region in order to do a four-point inspection and a wind mitigation inspection. After she sent in the resulting reports, Citizens accepted her home, and she breathed a sigh of relief.

It was much cheaper than the private cost of insurance she had just been quoted.

“Then shortly after the policy started with Citizens, I received an email saying: ‘You have to have another home inspection.’ And I didn’t understand why, since I had just had two inspections,” said Marro.

What happened next to Marro in Palm Harbor is a byproduct of a major but little-known push by Citizens to inspect a startlingly large number of homes per year, and the methods it is using to go about it.

Marro’s insurance agent said there was no choice but to allow the inspection to move forward. The insurance company, he assured her, would pay for it. She would not have to spend anything out of pocket.

“They had us by the neck. Let’s say that,” said Marro. “I had absolutely no choice.”

In her case, a staffer from the company Sutton Inspection Bureau — a company contracted by Citizens — came to Marro’s home to take photos.

Marro was unable to be there for the inspection, and her mother was present. But when she later saw the final report, Marro said she was shocked by factual errors that were listed.

Three black cats’ worth of accumulated hair on her crown molding was listed as “weird looking mold, fuzzy stuff growing on the walls.” A wooden fence on her side yard was listed as “rotted” even though most of the fence had just been repaired.

“The thing that really got me was the completely deceptive picture she took from an angle in front of my neighbor’s house so that their tree — which is nowhere near my house — it looks like the branches are overhanging my roof,” said Marro. “I mean, it was clearly on purpose.

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