Los Angeles

Your Insurance Is Canceled Because of Homeless Tent Fires

Property owners pay a steep price due to the fire risk at LA homeless encampments

Los Angeles property owners are starting to pay a significant price due to the risk of fires that start at nearby homeless encampments in the city.

Some property owners with buildings near the encampments tell the NBC4 I-Team that they've been dropped by insurance companies or seen their rates skyrocket.

A downtown LA-area building owned by Lisa Rich, for example, has a line of homeless encampment tents on the sidewalk in front of the property. Traveler's Insurance didn't renew her policy after one of the tents went up in flames about a year and a half ago, endangering workers inside the building, she said.

"They told me it was because of the homeless living there," said Rich.

Fires that start in Los Angeles' homeless encampments pose a serious safety threat because they often spread to nearby apartments, homes, businesses and other buildings. The I-Team has been tracking the number of homeless fires the last two years. Data for 2018 shows a 211 percent increase in the number of these fires from the previous year. LA firefighters are now extinguishing almost seven fires a day started at homeless encampments or tents in neighborhoods across the city

NBC4 has learned that the municipal code bans the use of open flames on sidewalks, but it's rarely enforced.

After the September fire, Rich tried to get insured by 25 other companies. All but one refused, and that company quadrupled her insurance rate from $7,000 to more than $29,000 per year.

It's a similar story for another property just a few blocks away owned by Simon Kim, who said his insurance company canceled his policy because of illegal homeless encampments on the premises. Kim said he's asked the city to move the tents, which are on his privately owned property.

Kim installed a fence to keep the tents off his property, but the city fined him $1,500, saying he lacked proper permits, he said.

"I don't think it's fair," Kim said.

NBC4 asked Mayor Eric Garcetti's office for a response. The mayor's press secretary said they should have responded to Kim's email in a timely manner. It appears Kim still hasn't received a response.

The map embedded in this article, illustrating fires that started at homeless encampments in 2018, shows just how widespread the problem is in Los Angeles County. You can zoom in on the map to see how big the problem is in your neighborhood or near where you work.

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