News10NBC Investigates: More insurance companies use drones to inspect homes and threaten non-renewal

Insurance Companies Using Drones

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. – News10NBC’s Berkeley Brean has been investigating the practice of insurance companies using drone and satellite images to inspect private homes from the air without warning. Then they use the images to affect the policy.

When we showed it happening to a widow in Spencerport, an agent called to say it happened to five of his clients.

“My house is surrounded by many trees,” said Terry Erickson.
Erickson lives in a wooded area of Spencerport. Her roof doesn’t get a lot of sun and in January it was covered in snow. But just before Christmas she got an email from her insurance company, Nationwide. It said it uses a “Third party that obtains imagery data.” It included an aerial photo of her home with arrows pointing to what it called “discolored and streaking” parts of the roof. “In order to retain” her insurance policy, it said she has to fix all of it.

Brean: “Did you know insurance companies could use satellites or drones to monitor your house?”

Erickson: “No. I don’t think anybody has ever heard of that. I mean, I talked to one of my neighbors and he said ‘what?'”
“I feel for those people because this does seem to come out of the blue, said insurance agent Rhett VanScoter, who runs VanScoter Insurance Agency.

He contacted News10NBC after seeing the story on Erickson.

“Is that plane taking a photo of my house?” he said in a video on insurance aerial surveillance.
In the video, VanScoter says insurance companies have lost money because inflation made claims and repairs more expensive. He says insurance companies are trying to identify homes that might be more susceptible to claims and they’re doing that by purchasing the aerial images.

When five of his clients got similar letters, he inspected the homes and found four of them had already been fixed.

Brean: “Is the unannounced aerial surveillance of homes fair?”

VanScoter: “I think it is. The insurance company’s, unfortunately, they have lost money on homeowner’s insurance five of the past six years. So they have to do whatever they can to get back to profitability.”

VanScoter says that makes a difference if you file a claim.

He says insurance companies use the aerial footage to look for tree branches over roof tops and un-reported swimming pools.

The difference is, if they come to your house in person, you probably get notified. If they inspect your house from above, you don’t.