Why Consider Renter's Insurance?
Many renters know little about renter's insurance, from cost to coverage. Here are a few of the reasons to consider buying a renter's insurance policy.
You're unprotected without it – Tenants often make the mistake of assuming that their possessions are protected by the homeowner's insurance of their landlord or condo association. But the policy owned by the landlord will almost certainly only protect structural damage to the building itself – your belongings are not covered.
You own more than you know – One of the most common misconception that renters have is over the value of their possessions. Many tenants assume that a hand-me down couch or outdated TV is evidence that they really don't have many "valuables". But the truth everything you own has value, from used furniture to your computer, movies, music and clothing. The typical renter owns roughly $30,000 worth of possessions – a figure that is completely unknown to them. In the event of a disaster, that's a lot of "junk" to replace.
It's relatively inexpensive – While policy pricing varies based on a number of factors, renter's insurance often costs between $10-20 a month. $200 dollars a year is a relatively low cost to protect $30,000 worth (or more) of your possessions. Many insurance companies will offer a discount if you bundle your renter's policy with an auto insurance policy.
What Does Renter's Insurance Cover?
Personal Possessions – In general, your personal possessions will be covered when lost to fire or smoke, lightning, vandalism, theft, explosion, windstorm and water damage (caused by broken pipes, etc). Items usually covered include:
- Stereo systems, VCRs, and television sets
- CDs, DVDs, videos, and tapes
- Cameras and other photography equipment
- Movable appliances, including microwave oven
- Sports equipment
- China and glassware
Items that are usually covered with limitations:
- Home computers
- Cash, including coin collections
- Checks, traveler's checks, and securities
- Jewelry and watches
- Precious and semi-precious stones
- Comic books, trading cards, and stamps, including collections
- Antiques and fine art
- Goldware and silverware (theft)
- Rugs, wall hangings, and tapestries
- Firearms (theft)
- Furs or clothing trimmed in fur
Liability – Most renter's insurance policies include some degree of liability protection. Liability protection covers you (up to your policy's limits) in the even that your negligence causes damage to the property, or if someone is injured inside your home. For example, if you leave the sink plugged and running, liability protection would cover the ensuing water damages.
Loss of Use/Temporary Housing – If your home or apartment is rendered unlivable by a fire or other disaster, you will have lost your place of residence in addition to your possessions. Most policies cover "additional living expenses" in the event of disasters specifically listed in the plan. Generally this means they will pay for you to live somewhere else while your residence is repaired, rebuilt or you locate new housing. There are limits on this type of coverage – the replacement housing must usually be of similar quality to your original residence, the coverage limit is typically a percentage of the policy's total value, and there may be a maximum length of time that the insurance company will continue paying for your housing costs.
Car Interior – Many renter's insurance policies also cover possessions that you keep within your car (CD's, books, portable computer equipment). Note that the car's value itself is not covered, and typically installed stereo equipment (which is often considered "part" of the car's systems) is not insured either.
Vacation Coverage – Some policies even go so far as to cover items within your possession while you traveling. This kind of coverage extension varies greatly, but is worth investigating.
What Isn't Covered?
Renter's insurance is not without its gaps, however. Most policies do not cover damage or loss of possessions related to three very common (and thus, hated by insurance adjustors) disasters: earthquakes, floods and landslides. Coverage for these disasters must be purchased as add-ons (known as "riders") to your rental policy or via separate insurance policies altogether.
If you haven't made an inventory of your possessions, now is the time to do so. Make a list of all items you own including appliances, furniture, electronic equipment, art, clothing, books, music and movies. Take photos or video of as much as possible, indicating where in your home the items are kept. Store this inventory and any additional files in a safe, offsite location as a backup (online storage makes for a quick alternative to a safety deposit box or the like).
Replacing Lost Items
One major thing to check when shopping policies is the whether the company will be writing "actual cash value" (ACV) or "replacement cost coverage". Actual cash value only pays you for the item's worth on the current market, while replacement cost coverage reimburses you for your actual costs when replace lost or damaged items. For example, if you bought a $1000 laptop computer 3 years ago, ACV would pay for the laptop's current (depreciated) value. Replacement cost coverage will cover your expense for replacing the laptop
In most cases, under replacement cost coverage you will have to pay for the items out of pocket and then submit the cost for reimbursement. Replacement cost policies also tend to have higher premiums, but pay out more should you need to file a claim.
Questions to Ask:
While renter's insurance is almost always a wise investment, you should shop around to find the policy that best fits with your situation. Below are some sample questions to ask when looking for the right coverage:
- Will your insurance cover any property shared by your roommates? - Which items should you take photographs or videotapes of?
- What are the limits on specific categories of personal possessions?
- What circumstances are covered in your personal liability?
- What circumstances are covered in the medical coverage for others?
- What is the price and protection difference between "replacement cost coverage" and "actual cost coverage"?
- Will you be notified before any rate increases because of policy changes or inflation?
- If your building were damaged or destroyed, would you be compensated for interim housing?
- How much protection would you have if your home were damaged or destroyed because of an action by yourself or a guest?
- Will your personal liability include defense costs in the case of a lawsuit filed against you?
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Copyright 2008 by Lawrence Yerkes. All Rights Reserved.