A surveillance drone takes flight over Arizona’s border with Mexico. (Allan Stein/The Epoch Times)
California State Automobile Association (CSAA) Insurance Group is using aircraft and satellites to take photos over customers’ homes to assess the risk on their houses.
CJ Sveen of Oakley told ABC 7 News that CSAA, a AAA insurer, had just notified him that it would terminate his homeowner insurance, as AAA said he had debris and hazards in his yard.
Mr. Sveen was shocked when he got his notice of non-renewal, being a longtime home insurance customer of CSAA.
No inspector ever paid a visit to Mr. Sveen’s home, he said. When he called CSAA to dispute the non-renewal notice, they told him they had used a drone for the inspection.
Later, CSAA told him that it did not use a drone and that the company does not use drones for surveillance of insured properties.
CSAA told The Epoch Times in an email that it evaluates many sources of information to assess the condition of properties it insures, including third-party proprietary aerial imagery captured by fixed-wing aircraft and satellites.
Mr. Sveen told ABC 7 News: “I kind of was offended. You know; how dare you judge me for my stuff?”
The termination notice stated that CSAA found “debris, hazardous conditions, tires or a dilapidated car” in his yard.
Mr. Sveen does not live in a fire zone, and he has never filed a claim in 15 years of being a customer. He said he does have some clutter in his yard, but it’s because he is a “tinkerer” with a DIY lifestyle.
He’s restoring a 1966 Chevy, and he changes his own tires each season. He also installed the solar panels on his home.
“It’s not dangerous; it’s not neglected; we are back here; we are using these things,” Mr. Sveen said.
He said CSAA would not let him see the aerial photos nor give him a chance to fix what CSAA deemed a risk in his yard.
After several weeks of searching, Mr. Sveen ended up finding a better policy offered by a company to members of the military, veterans, and their families.
AAA also sent a non-renewal notice to Marilyn Smith and her husband, stating that a drained swimming pool in their backyard was posing a risk, according to ABC 7 News.
Ms. Smith told ABC 7 News: “I mean, we were both in shock. Because the pool is empty. What’s that got to do with canceling your home insurance?”
Ms. Smith added that the grandkids are grown up and have moved out of state, so they don’t use the pool anymore. They had drained the pool to conserve water, and now they use the pool as a hothouse to grow lettuce and tomatoes.
Like Mr. Sveen, Ms. Smith and her husband ended up finding a better policy offered by another company.
Janet Ruiz, director of strategic communications at the Insurance Information Institute, told The Epoch Times in an email: “Aerial imagery raises the standard for reliable, cost-efficient property data. It is safer, and less time consuming for inspectors or claim adjusters inspecting roofs, or inspecting multiple properties after a loss due to wildfire, wind storms, etc.”
Ms. Ruiz added, “When used for inspections, the insurer will let the homeowner know of issues they find on the property such as roof damage, wildfire risk or attractive nuisances (liability hazards in the form of swimming pools, trampolines, etc. with the potential to cause injury to residents or guests).”
“I guess the old-school way would be to knock on your door. I guess they don’t do that anymore; they send a drone,” Mr. Sveen told ABC 7 News.
CSAA stated, “Customers always have the option to provide photos or other documentation to dispute a non-renewal.”
George Nadeau of San Rafael told ABC 7 News that he also received a non-renewal notice from AAA. He was told by AAA that it was because his roof had “exceeded its useful life.”
“I think obviously that their drone surveillance was bogus,” Mr. Nadeau told ABC 7 News. “And that’s crazy. We have one of the best-maintained residences in the neighborhood, and we’ve kept very good care of our roof.”
Mr. Nadeau sent his invoices to a local agent, showing that he had a new roof installed on his home seven years ago and spent $4,000 on a roof upgrade earlier in the year. He also sent photos showing the upgraded roof to the local agent.
“We’ve lived in this house for 50 years and have maintained our roof in a very effective way. So to have an insurance company telling me that I’m not doing my job is a little bit annoying,” Mr. Nadeau told ABC 7 News.
The local agent told Mr. Nadeau that the company was looking for excuses to terminate policies in the area, he said.
“I’m 85 years old. I feel like I’m a victim of some kind of conspiracy. Give us some consideration for the good citizens we’ve been all these years,” Mr. Nadeau said.
After Mr. Nadeau sent in photos of his roof, AAA decided to reinstate his policy.
According to Business Wire, CSAA said it partnered with Cape Analytics artificial intelligence based technology in 2019 to improve home inspections. Cape Analytics has a database of more than 70 million residential buildings in the United States and claims it can provide quick and accurate property information using geospatial imagery, computer vision, and deep learning. Cape Analytics has said that its algorithms can detect a range of property attributes and risks, such as missing shingles, tarps on the roof, and discoloration.
CSAA Insurance Group, the parent of AAA, told The Epoch Times in an email: “To continue offering industry-leading insurance coverage, we must periodically evaluate our exposure to risk. After careful review of our exposure, we continue to offer insurance throughout Northern California as long as our underwriting criteria are met.”