Tuesday, August 30, 2022

When Kleptocracy Takes Over - The Florida Roofing Insurance Scam

Florida will sink out of sight long before global warming raises water levels.

I used to live in Florida - for about three years.  We had a home address there, paid our taxes there (property - more on that, later), had Florida driver's licenses, and voted there.   But just before the meltdown of 2008, we sold out and left - and moved to Georgia.  Why was this?

Well, there is a lot to Florida not to like.   Too many damn people moved there, seeking jobs or easy money.  "Florida Man" has become more than just a meme - it is a way of life down there.  The culture of belligerence - strong across America - has its spiritual home there.  Everyone, it seems, in Florida, has some sort of angle or scam going on.  It was, of course, the home of the "Florida land scam" - dating back to long before World War II.

Lately, however, things have gotten out of control - to the point where ordinary people cannot afford their homes anymore.  And maybe we'll see a breaking point as a result - maybe not.  What is this scam?  How does it work?  Why doesn't anyone do anything about it?  How will it affect you?  One question at a time, please.

The scam has been explained elsewhere, but the gist is this - crooked roofers, working with crooked lawyers, go door-to-door with homeowners (or homeowners call them, after seeing ads promising a "free roof!") and tell them the slight damage or ordinary wear-and-tear on their roof is due to hurricane damage - sometimes from years' past.  They sign a contract with the homeowner, strip off the roof and leave the house with a tarp over it.  They charge the insurance company for a new roof, but the insurance company refuses (rightly so) to pay for "damage" that is nonexistant or is just ordinary wear.

The crooked lawyers who have an arrangement with the roofer then sue the insurance company and years later, the company settles and (hopefully) the money pays for the new roof - after years of living under a tarp.  The homeowner then regales his friends how he "got a free roof" from the insurance company (because, as we know, screwing insurance companies is American as Apple Pie - right?) and others get the keen idea that maybe they too, should get a free roof.

Florida is the land of billboard lawyer advertising.  Everyone, it seems, is suing everyone else, for injuries real or imagined.   Get into a car accident?  No matter how minor, it is grounds for a lawsuit.  Fall down in the grocery store?  Sue the store!  One billboard near Miami even suggests how to stage such an accident - by throwing a container of orange juice on the floor and than claiming you "slipped" on the liquid.

The problem is, the insurance companies can't just absorb these costs forever.  Many have gone bankrupt, others have simply left the State.  Rates for remaining companies have soared.  I addressed this before - how hurricane and flood and homeowner's insurance (often three separate policies) have risen so much in Florida - even before this roofing scam crises - that properties are expensive to own.  Libertarian Florida touts its lack of State income tax as an example of good fiscal management, but they fail to mention the sky-high property taxes.

One reason we left Florida was the property taxes were going up - and up.  We're talking thousands of dollars a year for what were ordinary properties.  Today, some are tens of thousands of dollars a year.  When Mark's stepmother died, we inherited a house along with his siblings.  Between the three of them, none could afford to keep the house, as the property taxes would exceed $15,000 a year and the insurance $5000 or more (today, double that, due to this scam).  We would have had to rent the house out all year long, to vacationers, just to break even - and that would mean we couldn't use the home.

Meanwhile, back in Georgia, we are paying $2800 a year for property taxes and less than half that for insurance - including flood and hurricane.  We're glad we moved.

So why should you care?  Why has no one done anything about this?  Well, people should care - and do care - because they are being priced out of their homes.  Retirees flocked to Florida years ago for the low taxes (property taxes weren't too crazy back then, and if you've been living there for decades, your taxes are "locked in" by the homestead exemption).  Many owned their homes outright or had small mortgages.  Insurance was not cheap, but not unaffordable, either.

When people sell their homes, the potential buyers may balk at these staggering insurance (and property tax) costs and thus offer much lower prices.  When insurance and taxes cost more per month than the mortgage P&I, something isn't right - and something has to give.  Sales price is the only variable - yet most people think these are set in stone!.

So why doesn't someone do something about this?   Well, the State Legislature and the Governor are on it!  They passed legislation to "don't say gay!" in school and then voided Disney's special tax status when the company had the audacity to publicly criticize the law.  Yes, under Citizens United, Corporations are deemed to be people, too!0  But apparently, Corporate Citizens are not allowed first amendment rights if they are voicing opinions unpopular with Republicans.

The governor and the legislature took further decisive actions to fix the problem - banning books and banning transgender athletes.  They fired the State Statistician when she published unflattering Covid numbers.   They are not just sitting on their hands, here!

What do those actions have to do with roofing fraud?  Nothing.  Everything. You see, the governor and the legislature can't do anything about the fraud - or the numerous other scams and cons going on in Florida because the lawyer's guild and the roofer's guild own these politicians and pay for their political campaigns.   So they make big noises about fixing the problem, but in the end, do nothing.

Well, they do something.  They get the plebes all riled up about stupid and even nonexistant "social issues" to get elected and get re-elected.   The plebes, distracted like a small child by a shiny object, don't seem to notice what is really going on.

Well, they notice when they get their tax bill and insurance bill.  But even then, the Republican governor and Republican legislature will blame Democrats for the problem - and a lot of really stupid people in Florida will believe it.  Have you ever been to the Villages?   It is chock full of stupid.

OK, so you don't live in Florida.  This doesn't affect you, right?  Maybe not yet.  Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow.  But in 2024, Governor DeSantis is running for President, and he wants to continue the grifting that Trump was just getting started with (and was poor at executing).  Once the Federal government is entrenched with legislators beholden to money interests, the whole system will fall apart - America will turn into a kleptocracy like Russia or Mexico or South Korea - where a few wealthy families own everything and control everything.

Now, in this instance, it is the GOP who is behind this sort of shenanigans, but in the past and even today, Democratic politicians have put the interests of special interests above that of their constituents.  And yes, Democrats use "social issues" (such as abortion) to rile up the plebes to get them to vote, even as the real constituents loot the pockets of Joe Voter. It is just that Republicans have been far better at this game as of late.

There does seem to be hope, however.  Both political parties rail against "special interests" even as they lap up special interest money.  Trump ran on that platform - that he was going to "clean up the swamp" and I guess as a career swamp creature, he would know how that works.  But of course, he didn't do squat, other than to sell out to a different set of special interests before he was booted from office.

Eventually, something has to give.  The younger generation is getting a little fed-up with the promises they were made and then not kept.   They are exhorted to work long hours at minimum-wage jobs and then told it is their fault they are broke all the time and cannot afford to rent their own place, much less own their own home.  Meanwhile, mega-corporations are buying up real estate and renting it out to middle-class citizens.  Is it already too late?  Maybe we are already a kleptocracy.

I think, however, that the tide is turning.  You can distract people with "social issues" only for so long.  Once they get the bill for all of this and are forced out of their homes (or indeed, cannot afford to buy one in the first place) they may change their minds.  They may just say, "You know, I don't really give a rat's ass (no pun intended) if Mickey Mouse comes out as transgender - I just want my homeowner's insurance to be something reasonable!" 

But, we'll have to wait-and-see about that.  So far, it seems social issues are winning and winning big - people are showing up at Gay Pride events with weapons - and many others are being cancelled out of fear.   Bad news, as we are going to Duluth this weekend and had no idea it was Gay Pride weekend.

UPDATE:  When searching for the image above, I came across dozens of blogs and websites and articles by lawyers and roofers, talking about "hidden damage" from hurricanes in the past, and suggesting you hire them to sue your insurance com9pany for a whole new roof.   It's like these guys organized this or something.  Once again, a conspiracy theory right out there in the open - and one that is rational and well-documented. But again, people would rather be distracted by Qanon than their bank balance.