HomeInsuranceThe top consumer stories of 2023

The top consumer stories of 2023

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – With a presidential election looming next year, it’s no surprise that the national economy is a common topic for many Americans.

In Florida, the focus of the financial debate in 2023 hit close to home as state leaders weighed how to fix Florida’s dual crises of affordable housing and property insurance.

Even closer to home, the News4JAX I-TEAM shed some light on a solar panel company, exposed a roofing company and asked key questions of a suddenly shuddered dealership in 2023. All to get our viewers results.

RELATED: These Positively JAX stories stole your hearts in 2023 | 10 of our most-read Florida stories of 2023

Here’s a look at the top consumer stories of 2023:

Florida’s property insurance crisis

The property insurance industry is in crisis in Florida as more and more homeowners are getting dropped by their insurance companies, which are scaling back in Florida because of the potential for natural disasters like hurricanes and floods.

Those who have been dropped are forced to turn to the state-backed Citizens Property Insurance — or to follow an alarming trend of not insuring their homes at all.

RELATED: Florida’s insurance crisis: DeSantis says ‘knock on wood’ during hurricane season

After state insurance regulators announced in April that a 1% emergency “assessment” would be tacked onto property insurance policies, real estate agents told News4JAX they were seeing a lot of reluctance to buy homes because of fears over skyrocketing insurance premiums and the difficulty of securing insurance in the first place.

According to the Insurance Information Institute, Florida’s home insurance is the highest annual premium in all of the United States, averaging more than $6,000 a year in 2022 versus the average U.S. home premium of $1,700.

On a positive note, the approval in the fall of four insurance companies taking as many as 125,000 policies from Citizens was hailed as a step in the right direction for Florida.

Increasing short-term rentals could make creating affordable housing more difficult, expert says

Affordable housing crisis

A UNF poll in November found that the No. 1 challenge for Floridians is the high cost of housing, a result that didn’t surprise Jacksonville Affordable Housing and Community Development Director Joshua Hicks.

“I’ve been waiting for a poll to show this and the fact that housing is now above the economy in terms of priority here in Florida shouldn’t come as a shock,” Hicks said, pointing out the major discrepancy between supply and demand in Florida for affordable housing. “We have 98,000 people on a waiting list for low-income or Section 8 housing in our community who do not have access to it because it’s currently full in terms of affordable housing.”

In March, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill meant to address Florida’s ongoing affordable housing crisis — a crisis exacerbated by large, institutional investors buying up single-family homes as rental properties, an issue identified as a “serious problem” by a city of Jacksonville report.

Mayor Donna Deegan’s Housing Transition Subcommittee worked to find solutions to the affordable housing shortage in Jacksonville, coming up with a report in August that offered some options to combat the crisis.

RELATED: How the Deegan Administration says it plans to address affordable housing ‘crisis’ in Jacksonville

A report from the Northeast Florida Association of Realtors in November found that the area’s home prices remain historically unaffordable, in large part because of high interest rates.

RELATED: The average long-term US mortgage rate falls to 7.5% in second-straight weekly drop

JHA investigation

A city investigation into the Jacksonville Housing Authority found wasteful spending of government funds, according to a 20-page report released earlier this month.

Families waiting for housing assistance decried a lack of communication and transparency from the agency, even as its CEO, Dwayne Alexander, was awarded a $20,000 bonus and a six-month contract extension.

Jacksonville Housing Authority CEO Dwayne Alexander during a board meeting on Dec. 18, 2023. (Copyright 2023 by WJXT News4Jax – All rights reserved.)

The city’s probe found that as much as 87% of the $2 million given to tenants on utility reimbursement payment cards was used for non-utility expenses.

RELATED: Jacksonville mother waits for answers after JHA application for housing voucher accepted 8 months ago

But Alexander pushed back against the report, saying that while improvements can be made in the agency’s operations, the Department of Housing and Urban Development actually has no requirements on how families can use reimbursement payments.

Lottery winnings denied

A Jacksonville woman who won $10,000 on a scratch-off was turned away because of “possible state owed debt” — but it was a mistake.

Sheila Magno holding a special circumstances ticket from the Florida Lottery. (Copyright 2023 by WJXT News4JAX – All rights reserved.)

Thousands of other lottery winners are losing money to the Florida Department of Commerce for overpayments, too. Their accounts are being flagged after getting unemployment assistance.

But the woman who turned to News4JAX was able to correct the error with the Florida Lottery and received her winnings just in time for Christmas.

Dee’s Nuts lawsuit

Our viewers went “nuts” over our story in October about a Jacksonville company suing a YouTube star for trademark infringement.

Dee’s Nuts wanted YouTube star MrBeast to stop using “Deez Nutz” as the name of one of his candy bars sold by Feastables.

The Jacksonville company prevailed when a federal judge approved a permanent injunction telling the MrBeast-backed company it could no longer use the name “Deez Nutz,” or anything else resembling “Dee’s Nuts,” to sell its candy bars.

Dee’s Nuts product and logo images included in lawsuit. (Copyright 2023 by WJXT News4Jax – All rights reserved.)

I-TEAM: Honest Abe Roofing

The News4JAX I-TEAM reported in October that the owner of the Jacksonville office of Honest Abe Roofing laid off all its employees, including some in Southeast Georgia.

In a news release, a representative for the company confirmed that franchisee locations in both Jacksonville and Tampa had temporarily closed, and the corporate CEO called the closures “unfortunate.”

Shaylea Crutchfield’s roof left unfinished by Honest Abe Roofing (Copyright 2023 by WJXT News4JAX – All rights reserved.)

Customers and now-former employees were left looking for answers, as one employee told the I-TEAM that as many as 100 customers might have paid for a job that the roofing company didn’t finish.

RELATED: ‘I want them to own up to what they did’: Another Honest Abe Roofing customer gets hit with hefty lien, wants answers

News4JAX spoke with several homeowners who were left with leaks and liens put on their homes because of Honest Abe Roofing’s unfinished work.

I-TEAM: MC Solar

The News4JAX I-TEAM got results this year after digging into a solar company accused of scamming thousands of dollars from its customers.

Calling MC Solar’s practices “deceptive and unscrupulous,” Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody announced that her office was seeking legal action against the company.

MC Solar panels (WJXT)

The I-TEAM initially got involved in September after a Jacksonville homeowner came to us looking for answers when she said Texas-based MC Solar went out of business, leaving her with tens of thousands of dollars in solar panels that don’t work.

More homeowners contacted us with complaints after the first story ran, and a Jacksonville solar company stepped up, setting up a hotline to help customers in the area experiencing issues with solar panels from the defunct MC Solar.

I-TEAM: American Car Center

When Memphis-based American Car Care Center closed shop in February at three Jacksonville locations, customers reached out to the News4JAX I-TEAM because they said they had no warning and didn’t know where to send their payments.

The Jacksonville locations were among the company’s 45 dealerships in 10 states with many closing across the country.

American Car Center abruptly closed 3 Jacksonville locations after headquarters in Memphis closes, lays off 300 employees. (WJXT)

The abrupt closures left customers with mounting problems as they tried to get tags and titles from Westlake Portfolio Management, which bought the loans made through American Car Center’s subsidiary.

The I-TEAM learned from filings by the Better Business Bureau that multiple complaints were lodged against Westlake’s services after it took over the loans.

I-TEAM: Amazon sales tax

The I-TEAM got results for Amazon customers in November after a St. Johns County woman came to News4JAX for help, saying she’d overpaid hundreds of dollars in sales tax because the company was charging her the wrong rate.

(AP Photo/Michael Sohn, File) (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Marianne Hatcher said although she lives in St. Johns County, Amazon had been charging her Duval County’s higher tax rate when her city was listed as Jacksonville.

The day after the I-TEAM’s story, Amazon said it was reviewing Hatcher’s case and a week later she received a $750 credit from the company, which said it had fixed the discrepancy and was identifying other customers who might have been affected.

I-TEAM: Medicaid transportation scheme

Florida AG Ashley Moody announced in October that a transportation system that received many complaints and was the subject of an I-TEAM investigation last year was involved in a $5 million Medicaid scheme that ended with 22 arrests.

Investigators said Sweet Transportation, which contracted with Modivcare, billed Medicaid for thousands of patient trips that never happened.

Jose Hernandez Fernandez, the owner of Sweet Transportation, was arrested in a $5 million Medicaid scheme. (WJXT)

The I-TEAM dug into Modivcare last year after reports from patients about the company and its various subcontractors arriving late for appointments or not at all.

After Moody’s announcement, more patients voiced their concerns to the I-TEAM about the issues plaguing medical transportation facilitated by Medicaid.

Have a consumer story you want the I-TEAM to investigate? Share your idea through our new Help Center at help.news4jax.com or email iteam@wjxt.com.

Copyright 2023 by WJXT News4JAX – All rights reserved.

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