Why you need renter’s insurance.

Water is an incredibly destructive force. I saw this three times during my five-year stint as an apartment building manager.

  • An ice dam on the roof, which hardly ever happens in Seattle, caused water to leak into a couple of  units.
  • A flash flood caused by days of heavy rain and a sewer-system failure dumped five feet of muddy water into the underground parking garage.
  • A backed-up toilet overflowed for about three hours, leaking into several apartments and the basement laundry room.

None of these situations could reasonably be anticipated. Then again, most of us don’t get hit by uninsured drivers or diagnosed with rare illnesses — but most of us consider car and health coverage to be necessary evils.

You also need renter’s insurance, to cover that which comes out of the blue — or from the apartment upstairs.

Every lease I filled out required the new tenant to promise he would get renter’s insurance. I’m betting almost none of them did. Maybe you don’t think you need to, either.

But when you live in an apartment building you are at the mercy of strangers. Sometimes these strangers smoke in bed or are destructive of plumbing (see “backed-up toilet,” above). And sometimes Mother Nature throws flash floods or ice dams into the mix.

How much to replace?

The landlord insures his property, not yours. It’s up to you to protect your belongings. That includes your personal finances: A renter’s policy will probably include liability, so you’re covered if your usually placid basset nips the mailman or a party guest trips over the welcome mat.

Try this: Walk around your place and add up how much it would take to replace your sofa, chairs, bed, sheets, comforter, pillows, towels, shoes, dresser, table and clothes.

That much, huh? Now add in some or all of the following: television, smartphone, books, DVDs, jewelry, computer, printer, MP3 player or even your piggy bank (a renter’s policy will cover a certain amount of lost cash).

Still feel like shining on that renter’s insurance policy?

Naturally you don’t want to pay an extra $150 to $300 per year for something you’ll probably never use. Dude, that’s the definition of insurance. I hate to think how many thousands of dollars in premiums I paid over the years, and the only at-fault accident I ever had was a 1982 fender-bender in a New Jersey traffic circle.

Somehow auto insurance and health insurance seem to make more sense. They’re shields against the drunk driver or the cancer diagnosis. By contrast, the possibility of an apartment building fire or a litigious letter carrier seem remote.

Pay now or (possibly) pay later

Maybe you will live a charmed life, untouched by catastrophe. Don’t bet on it.

Maybe a windstorm will drive a tree branch through a window. (This actually happened to someone I know.)

Maybe a short-circuit will cause a fire. (This happened to a relative of mine.)

Or maybe the upstairs neighbor will use too much toilet paper and then watch TV for three hours while water seeks its lowest level.

As a first responder I can tell you with certainty that shit does, in fact, happen. Make sure you’re protected. Also: Use some bleach in that mop water.

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  1. Here’s my story about house insurance:

    4 years ago, I was visiting my parents at Christmas time. 4 am one morning, we were all woken by the LOUDEST wind I have ever heard – things were flying straight across the yard. Then… BANG.

    The neighbour’s roof blew off – and landed on my parents’ house. Broken trusses (the final count was 12 trusses that either had to be replaced or fixed), ceilings down, two huge holes in the roof (In January. In Canada). Oddly enough, other than the light fixtures on the one ceiling, nothing else was broken.

    Cost to fix? Upwards of $80,000. There is *no* way my parents could have afforded to pay that bill. Their final cost, thanks to house insurance? $0. Nada. Zip. Nothing. Not even the deductible (their policy had a “disappearing deducible, and they had had it long enough to have the deductible at $0).

    So, yeah, my house insurance bill is the one bill I pay without quibbling. And really, for a few hundred dollars a year, it is the *cheapest* insurance you’ll buy, and can save you the *most* when catastrophe strikes.

  2. In two weeks we’ll celebrate the 1-year anniversary of the very first time we’d ever been burglarized. Our apartment is in an upscale community in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, with rents above the local average mostly because of location and the supposed “green” credentials of the complex (in reality it’s not really eco-friendly, but the management did enough greenwashing to make it seem that way at first blush).

    The damage was relatively minimal, as I ordinarily work from home and had just run a few errands before returning around mid-afternoon, so I believe I may have interrupted them in the middle of their “heist.” They had just enough time to take my laptop and my mother’s engagement ring from the jewelry case. The laptop was 2 years old and ready to be replaced anyway, but because it was worth less than $500 when I bought it and my renters’ insurance deductible is $500, it wasn’t worth filing a claim. And of course, my mother’s antique engagement ring was of great financial value but had more psychological value to me, so I chose not a file a claim against it either.

    Still, I’m very, VERY glad to have renters’ insurance and continue to pay the incredibly cheap premium (about $125/year with the $500 deductible). It’s a very inexpensive way to guard against the potential for catastrophe. There’s no guarantee that even in a “good” neighborhood, things won’t go wrong. The burglary last year was a powerful reminder of that.

    Oh, and we also had an alarm system installed two days later, too. Also an excellent investment!

    Great post and great reminder!


  3. Great post and some great comments to help everyone remember!

  4. We had 4 apt fires last week at different apts around town, caused one by a cigarette, one accidental, the others undetermined. A house caught fire tonight due to an outside chiminy. Its getting cold weather season and people are using fireplaces and space heaters more. Renters ins is definatly worth it. Its very cheap.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Brandy: Ten years ago a relative of mine rented rooms to students. She told them to get renter’s insurance. None of them did. A short circuit caused a house fire and after a few nights in a Red Cross shelter all of them had to find somewhere else to live until the house was repaired.
      The equivalent of $10 a month or less would have meant at least temporary housing for them.
      Again, folks: Get renter’s insurance! Please.

  5. lostAnnfound

    After my husband & I got married (almost 23 years now) one of the first thing my father did was come by in his capacity as insurance agent. He explained renters insurance and how small the cost was. Definitely worth it when you think of ALL of the things that could potentially happen and hopefully do not happen. We have been fortunate in that we have had insurance (homeowners and auto) for the handful of times we have had to use it.

    BTW, Donna, I got my EnviTote on Friday and took it to the grocery store Saturday morning. It’s GREAT! It is very sturdy. I like the adjustable handle so I can either carry it on my shoulder or shorten it and carry it in my hand. I only had to pick up a few things, so instead of using a basket from the store I just put everything in the tote and then took it to the check out line. The woman behind me in line commented that it looked like a great bag to take to the market. I’m looking forward to using it quite a bit. Thank you!

  6. Wait… landlords don’t check? Hmm. Chalk that one up to a little residual Catholic school naivete.

    If you don’t own anything “nice”, it’s amazing how cheap renters insurance can be. I carry enough to replace everything in my apartment (except the cats… they’re priceless 🙂 and it’s around $100/year. I got a deal because I used the same agent who has my car insurance.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Anne: Landlords don’t have to check. It’s up to the renters to be, um, adults. And even if a landlord were to check, what would he do if the renter said, “No, and I don’t intend to buy insurance”? There’s no law that requires people to get renter’s insurance.
      Thanks for pointing out how cheap the insurance can be. Seriously, folks: Anne is paying less than $10 a month. Call an agent. Please.

  7. It’s such a no-brainer. I kept putting it off – and then we got burgled. You can bet I got straight onto it after that. It’s so worth it for the peace of mind.


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