Renters insurance: Peace of mind for ten bucks a month

On 02 August 2005, my friend Frank and his partner awoke at 2:45 a.m. to the dog barking and a neighbor knocking on their door. The apartment complex was on fire. They grabbed their dog and whatever they could carry and ran from the building.

“We lost everything,” he says. Later they'd find out that it was arson. A former employee of the apartment complex stole rent checks and set the office on fire. Frank was moving into a new apartment in ten days, and the new complex agreed to let them move in early. “We moved in with a plastic bag of groceries, paid for with a $50 food voucher from the Red Cross,” he says. The other 70 displaced tenants stayed in Red Cross shelters.

To make matters worse, Frank didn't have renters insurance. “We didn't think we'd ever need it,” he says. “You don't see why you should pay this extra bill until you're in a situation where you need it.” They had to start over from scratch.

Why Renters Skip the Insurance

There are any number of reasons renters don't think insurance is a necessary expense. I myself didn't have a policy until Frank's situation motivated me to get one. Common reasons renters forgo an insurance policy include the following:

  • “What are the odds anything will happen?” The odds are not in your favor. The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that renters are 50 percent more likely to be burglarized than homeowners.
  • “My landlord has insurance.” That means that your landlord (or condo association) has their valuables — the building — protected. Your belongings are not covered.
  • “I can't afford renters insurance.” Many people are willing to spend a couple hundred dollars on clothes, but won't spend the cash to protect themselves from the risk of losing everything they own. It's possible to find a policy for $10-12 per month, though your premium will depend on location, the deductible, the insurance company, and coverage needs.

There are ways to lower the cost of coverage, including raising your deductible (make sure you can afford it, though) and having protective devices such as smoke detectors, extinguishers, and security alarms. Some insurance companies offer discounts to senior citizens. Also look for a multi-line discount, which is a discount for buying more than one type of policy from the same company (e.g., renters insurance and auto insurance).

I suspect that the main reason most people don't have a policy, though, is that they don't understand how renters insurance works, or why they need it.

Renters Insurance 101

Renters need a HO-4 policy. Condominium owners need a HO-6 policy. Both will cover personal property loss from “named perils,” which is insurance-speak for what you're insured against. Your policy will likely include the following named perils:

  • Fire and lightning
  • Windstorm and hail
  • Smoke
  • Vandalism and malicious mischief
  • Theft
  • Accidental discharge of water

Other named perils covered sound like scenes from Die Hard (explosion, riot, damage caused by air crafts and falling objects), but I suppose you never know when German radical activists might terrorize your Christmas party.

Renters insurance also includes liability protection, which covers medical expenses for a person injured on your property and legal defense, if necessary. Additionally, if your apartment or condo becomes uninhabitable due to a named peril, your coverage will pay for somewhere to live in the meantime.

What is not covered: If you live an an area prone to floods, earthquakes, or hurricanes, you may need to purchase a rider, or separate policy. Also, if you have valuables that would exceed your policy limit, such as expensive jewelry or antiques, you'll need a rider to recover the full loss.

Buying a Policy

Shopping for renters insurance is similar to shopping for other types of policies. Here are the basic steps:

Take inventory. This seems to be the step that most of us dread, but it's where we should start. (Confession: I haven't done it yet. It's been languishing on my to-do list for almost a year now, but I'm going to make it a top priority.) If you lost everything, it'd be awful to have to recall every item you owned and it's value. Better to document it. Here's the plan of action:

  1. Photograph or videotape each room.
  2. List the value and serial and model number of items.
  3. Attach receipts, if you have them.
  4. Save the list and the photos or video to a DVD, and make at least three copies. Keep one copy in a fireproof place, one at an off-site location (could be a parent's house or a safe-deposit box), and send one to your insurer.

There also are software programs that walk you through the process. The Insurance Information Institute provides free inventory software that helps you complete a room-by-room inventory.

Prepare. Write down a set of questions you want to ask your potential insurance providers. Some suggestions include:

  • Do you have brochures or any information you can send me in the mail? (Keep the ones from insurers that appear to be a good fit and use them to compare each provider's policies.)
  • What could cause my rates to increase?
  • What discounts do you offer?
  • Does the liability insurance cover legal defense and medical expenses?
  • Do you pay actual cash value (ACV) or replacement cost coverage? (ACV coverage pays what your property was worth at the time it was destroyed or stolen, minus the deductible. Replacement cost coverage pays what it will cost to replace the items, minus the deductible. It costs more in premiums, but pays more if you file a claim.)
  • Do you offer separate policies for roommates? (Alternatively, talk to your roommate about splitting the cost of a policy.)

Shop around. To find the right provider and policy, consider the following:

  • Contact the insurance company that provides your auto insurance policy. Ask about multi-line discounts.
  • Call your local bank. Some banks offer insurance policies.
  • Search “renters insurance” online. Most providers have Web sites that give you a free quote.
  • Ask friends and neighbors which company they use, and if they are happy with their experience.

Updating Your Policy

Renters insurance is like many other forms of insurance – not fun to think about. But it isn't a Ron Popeil rotisserie — don't set it and forget it. Stay in touch with your agent to make sure you're getting the best deal and taking advantage of new options or discounts. Also, be sure to contact her if your living situation changes, as in the following situations:

  • You moved. Each residence requires a unique policy.
  • You got a roommate: human or furball. You'll need to decide on a separate or shared policy for the former. Make sure the latter is listed in your liability coverage.
  • You bought an expensive bauble or a pricey new toy. You need to have it listed in your policy, or you might need a separate rider to cover it.

It's easier than you might think to find an affordable renters policy with good coverage, and it's time and money well-spent. As my friend Frank says, “It's the cheapest bill you'll have. For very little money, we could have replaced everything we lost.”

If you are a renter, do you have renters insurance? If not, is there a reason you don't have it?

Photo by DVS.

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Branden @ FaithFitnessFinance
Branden @ FaithFitnessFinance
11 years ago

My wife and I do have renter’s insurance. Although we really don’t have all that much “stuff,” what we do have is important to us and would be difficult to replace without some help. Like you said, we pay right about 11 dollars per month for a policy covering just about everything (compare this to our cell phone bil…). This includes one million dollars in liability insurance, just in case something happens and it is our fault. It’s good to know that, in case of an emergency, we are covered. And, compared to every other kind of insurance out there,… Read more »

kate
kate
8 years ago

who is your policy with? im shopping for one now but can’t get anything that low – more around $20 monthly

Dotty
Dotty
11 years ago

I’m a renter, but with no insurance. Our landlord actually requires that all tenants have renter’s insurance upon signing the lease, but she didn’t follow up with us, and we’ve been too lazy to even think about it. I agree, that it would be a good thing to have, but, as “struggling students” it’s not in our cards.

The most valuable thing I have is my laptop, and even if I did lose that in a fire, no amount of money would help me retrieve all those hours of research!

Christina
Christina
11 years ago

We recently purchased renters insurance after realizing just how affordable it is. We pay less than $12 a month! It’s nice knowing our stuff is covered in case something happens.

Gordie Rogers
Gordie Rogers
11 years ago

I remember when I was at university in New Zealand, a student was renting a house. One day the phone rang while he was cooking dinner. He answered the phone and forgot about dinner. The kitchen caught on fire and burned down the house. The owner naturally was insured and paid the landlord but then the landlord’s insurance company sued the student for negligence and the student had to pay $180,000 NZD to the insurance company.

I’m wondering if rental insurance would have protected this student.

Brenda
Brenda
11 years ago

I have rented my entire adult life (equals out to around 18 years worth of rent checks) and have ALWAYS carried rent insurance. It’d be foolish not to have it. My rent insurance even includes a couple hundred dollars for food that is lost if the power ever goes out for an extended period of time (I’ve always lived in either earthquake country or hurricane country, so ‘power lost for extended periods’ is a very real threat). I also have a rider for my computer stuff (expensive Mac plus peripherals) that I use in freelancing, since the regular plan didn’t… Read more »

John
John
11 years ago

My renter’s insurance paid when items were stolen from my car parked on the street outside my apartment. It seems like a good deal at $100/year.

moxie
moxie
11 years ago

We’ve had renters insurance the past three years. The current landlord doesn’t require insurance, but asked us to carry it due to a saltwater tank that we have, in case water damage ever happens. The place that we’re moving into this weekend requires us to carry a policy. Honestly, it’s not that expensive and the peace of mind is HUGE… I would feel horrible if something happened and it was our fault. I set aside $15 a month into our savings, that money is designated to pay the renters insurance at the end of the year and earns us a… Read more »

Four Pillars
Four Pillars
11 years ago

I always had renter insurance when I was a tenant. It’s not very expensive and even if like Dotty (#2) you don’t own much – it can add up.

Think about how much it would cost to replace your wardrobe for example.

Sam
Sam
11 years ago

I always had renter’s insurance when I rented, it really is very inexpensive. We don’t require our tenants to have renter’s insurance but we encourage it and, of course, disclose that insurance on our property is not for their benefit, won’t cover their possessions, etc.

sabrina
sabrina
11 years ago

I’ve had renter’s insurance ever since a friend’s apartment got struck by lightning. It didn’t burn, but it killed all their electronics, and left multiple holes in the ceiling that let rain in to cause loads of damage. It took about five seconds of “holy crap, what if that had been my place” before I was on my car insurance’s web site looking at options. The inventory is the fascinating part, though. I just have an excel spreadsheet that I started out by listing all my easily named items (digital camera, TiVo, computer, coffeemaker, bed, etc), their original cost, and… Read more »

EscapeVelocity
EscapeVelocity
11 years ago

Good reminder that it’s time I redid my inventory (and got rid of half the stuff, too). I have homeowner’s insurance now, but I had renter’s insurance part of the time I was renting (back when I was just out of college, I hadn’t even heard of it, plus I wasn’t even making enough to cover the rent without help from my parents, never mind bills). I never made a claim, but it didn’t cost much, and it seems like half the time when you watch the local news they’re reporting on some apartment complex fire.

Little Miss Moneybags
Little Miss Moneybags
11 years ago

For the students who think renter’s insurance isn’t worth it, my sister’s renter’s insurance covered her law school textbooks which were stolen out of her locker at school. Yes! They weren’t even in her home! That’s easily $500 worth of books that were covered for less than $100 a year. Another thing to keep in mind, per the original post, is that sometimes you cannot have roommates added to your policy–they’ll need to get their own, and if they do, you should try to go with the same company (to keep two companies from trying to get the other to… Read more »

Tyler Tervooren
Tyler Tervooren
11 years ago

This is something that I’ve thought about since the day I started renting after graduating high school and, 6 years later, am still yet to follow through on.

I’ve even taken inventory and gotten quotes and just never signed on the dotted line. Thanks for the reminder again. This article and the responses will be just what it takes to get me to follow through with it…within the next 3 years. 🙂

Tyler Tervooren
Tyler Tervooren
11 years ago

“My insurance company would not insure my same-sex roommate on the same policy, but when I moved in with my boyfriend, I was able to add him. Their explanation was that they cover “domestic partnerships” but not roommate situations.”

I wonder how much longer that will hold up.

Becky
Becky
11 years ago

For Gordie Rogers, at least in the policies we have in the states, yes, a renters policy would have covered the Liability claim against your friend. That’s the $1,000,000 of Liability coverage that was mentioned (unless there’s a separate sublimit for premises rented to you). Obviously it might be different in NZ. I never carried renters insurance until I started working at an insurance agency. When I think about all the college students I know that have nice tvs or game systems, or even all the money they spend on books, and I think about how CHEAP it is –… Read more »

Becky
Becky
11 years ago

Oh! And, even if your Auto and Renters policies aren’t with the same company, you can usually get a discount, at least on your Auto policy, for just carrying a renters policy. It will help offset at least a little bit of the (already small) cost.

pd
pd
11 years ago

Thanks for posting about this! I just paid my renter’s insurance this weekend, and I started thinking about whether it was good or not to be paying this bill. I even did a google search of your site (“site:getrichslowly.org renter’s insurance”). So to see this a few day’s later was just what I was looking for. Thanks again.

Little House
Little House
11 years ago

I too have renters insurance and it’s a good thing I do. Nothing has happened in any place I’ve ever lived, BUT my current rental house is not insured by the owner! He’s borderline slum-lord and recently had his insurance agent out to “renew” his policy. My husband helped fix the windows in the front of the house so that our slum-lord, oh wait landlord, could get approved. He passed, because the agent didn’t check the rest of the house. Two weeks later we received a notice with our landlord’s name on it; it was an overdue insurance bill. He… Read more »

kat
kat
11 years ago

Ugh. Yeah, I don’t have renter’s insurance, and I know I really should, and I know it’s affordable, and I’ve been putting it off for literally YEARS. The reason is the inventory, I guess. I just can’t face it. I’ve started a couple of inventories over the years but it’s just an insurmountably huge problem (“a few hours” doesn’t cover it). I don’t have receipts for most things. I don’t know if I should be trying to figure out the cost I paid for them or the replacement cost. In the end, thinking about it always just makes me worry… Read more »

Adam
Adam
11 years ago

Okay, its cheap and all, but what about collecting on a policy? I have heard that if something happens and you actually need to be reimbursed its a major pain and you can’t get anything. This might be a place where self-insurance is the way to go (through an emergency fund) if you have to fight tooth and nail to get any money out of the insurance company should you actually need to file a claim. I’m just not sold because its “cheap”. The only thing it makes sense for is the legal liability should someone get drunk at your… Read more »

Nancy L.
Nancy L.
11 years ago

@Dotty (#2) Please tell me you regularly back up your research onto some form of exterior storage. A laptop is far too prone to breaking, having liquids accidentally spilled on it, or wandering (i.e. being stolen) to risk using it as the only storage for something as important and irreplaceable as research! From what you’ve written, it would take far less than a catastrophic fire or flood to destroy all of your hard work.

Beth
Beth
11 years ago

I have renter’s insurance too. I don’t have valuable stuff (well, there’s sentimental value), but I couldn’t afford to replace it if I “lost everything”. You don’t think you’re old clothes, old electronics, old furniture are worth much — but try going out to the store to replace them all on short notice! @Dotty — have you thought of using an online back-up service or storage service? (Never tried one — I use the DVD/thumb drive in the safety deposit box trick). When I was in grad school, I used to email my research papers to myself as I was… Read more »

Jessie
Jessie
11 years ago

I have renters insurance, and paid a lump sum so it was even a little cheaper. What motivated me? My parents garage/part of the house burnt down 5 or 6 years ago….watching them go through hell to get everything sorted out made me realize how LUCKY we as a family were that they had proper insurance.

Dotty
Dotty
11 years ago

@ Nancy(19) and Beth(20): Yes!! I have an external back up drive, and I also save things online via Google docs, Gmail, + my university’s server. I’m working on my dissertation (year 5 – yikes! Almost done…) and burn copies of my chapters on DVD and send a copy to each of my brothers (I have two) to store. I guess one other thing I’d hate to lose are all my books: years and years of collecting books. But again, that’s mostly sentimental; insurance wouldn’t be able to give back what I’d lost in that case. I have to agree… Read more »

MichaelM
MichaelM
11 years ago

We rented for the first 5 years of our marriage, and never carried insurance. We considered it a couple of times, but never bothered.

Almost everything we owned was from Craigslist, Freecycle and thrift stores, and if our photos or home movies had been burned/stolen, there’s really no replacing those.

We do have homeowners insurance now — our mortgage requires it of course, but we would have gotten it anyways.

Wes
Wes
11 years ago

I got renter’s insurance when I moved into my current apartment – added it at the same time as I changed my car insurance. Can’t remember exactly what I pay, but it’s not much, maybe $15/month. I know it covers up to $25,000 in lost possessions – I suspect I have more than that, with my electronics and all. Never thought of doing the inventory with pictures and video to back it up. I will have to do that ASAP. Using some online storage for that wouldn’t be a bad idea either – neutral location that shows upload dates that… Read more »

George@Moneylounge.net
11 years ago

It’s nice that you did an overview of what you should do before anything happens.

A fire broke out in my apartment complex a while back, and we were told to get renters insurance. When I called the insurance company to get it set up, they asked for my information, and just said ‘Ok. You’re all set up. Have a good day.” They never told me to document anything or even what it covered (I had to look it up myself afterward).

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski
11 years ago

I’ve ben renting since I moved out of my parents’ house, which was about 8 years ago or so. I’ve never had renters’ insurance.

Had I been paying $10/month for the last 8 years, that would have been $960 I would have spent on premiums in exchange for nothing at all. It’s been 8 years and I’ve never had my house burn down yet. The chances that it will burn down before I buy a house in a couple years seem pretty low.

I have never lacked peace-of-mind due to fears that could be countered by having insurance.

tg
tg
11 years ago

I’ve always had renters’ insurance, at the advice of my parents, and have kept it up to date by adding the jewelry rider and address updates. My husband and I actually each kept our own renters’ insurance policies, through different companies, when we moved in together and kept them both after we got married. Comments up above make me wonder whether that would make things difficult come claims time re: getting reimbursement for his, mine, and ours stuff. Perhaps that’s something for us to investigate. As for the inventory, it’s a very slow long process (part of YMOYL step 1).… Read more »

Ryan
Ryan
11 years ago

In response to Adam’s comment: “Okay, its cheap and all, but what about collecting on a policy? I have heard that if something happens and you actually need to be reimbursed its a major pain and you can’t get anything. This might be a place where self-insurance is the way to go (through an emergency fund) if you have to fight tooth and nail to get any money out of the insurance company should you actually need to file a claim. I’m just not sold because its “cheap”.” My friend came home to find her apartment building on fire one… Read more »

NavyAMDO
NavyAMDO
11 years ago

Being in the Navy for the past 23 years I have rented all but two of those years. Except for the first couple of years when my wife and I had nothing to insure, we have always carried renters insurance. As far as settling claims, that would depend on your insurance company. The only claim we have made actually surprised me that they paid. My wife had left a valuable bracelet at our apartment complex pool. When she realized it a couple hours later and went to the pool to retrieve it, the bracelet was gone. We just figured it… Read more »

Sarah
Sarah
11 years ago

I got renter’s insurance in reaction to a friend’s fire as well. It’s about $130/year and gives me great peace of mind. For those who don’t have it, consider this calculation: It isn’t: PRICE OF INSURANCE > replacing any one thing It’s: PRICE OF INSURANCE < replacing EVERYTHING I basically live like a student (I’m only recently out of grad school), but I know that while I don’t own much that’s worth anything, the cost of replacing all of my clothing, furniture, bedding, etc, is WELL worth the cost of insurance. Side note: Music on your laptop is covered from… Read more »

Amy
Amy
11 years ago

This is especially timely for me. I live right next to one of the SoCal wildfires, and I was planning to call my insurance company to ask them questions about my renter’s policy and how to inventory. Thanks for the great info! 🙂

Esther
Esther
11 years ago

Thanks for posting this! My husband and I are living in our second apartment and as we feel this is a necessity, not a luxury, we continue to pay about $14 a month for renters insurance. The small monthly payment is definitely worth the peace of mind.

I believe it would benefit every landlord to require his or her tenants to obtain renters insurance in order to move in.

Pam
Pam
11 years ago

I was in a housefire in a house I was renting with some friends while I was in law school. We did not have renter’s insurance, but as we were all still students, each of our parents’ homeowners’ insurance policies covered us.

Last year, my house was broken into and I had no problem collecting on my renter’s insurance. It probably doesn’t hurt that I work for the company that I had my renter’s (and now homeowners’) insurance with.

Matt B.
Matt B.
11 years ago

One tip that I learned about while shopping around for renters insurance — make sure they cover your items during transit or storage if you are moving out. Some companies do not cover anything, others will only cover it if the moving truck suffers damage caused by something that would be covered as in your insurance (apparently if it burns down or gets broken into, or something). I was able to find insurance that covered not only the move, but also the storage my things if I can’t move everything in at once. The way I see it, my belongings… Read more »

Kevin@OutOfYourRut
11 years ago

Great article April. If you live in an apartment complex, renters insurance is often coverage against your neighbors. You may live a careful life, but what if your neighbors like to cook on an open flame indoors, or smoke cigarettes in bed? Since you live in attached housing, you’re also attached to your neighbors–who you often know little about. But a point on condos too. Condo’s offer coverage through the association, so a lot of condo owners don’t bother to get their own coverage. But the coverage the association has is only for the building itself. It doesn’t cover the… Read more »

Sunandshine
Sunandshine
11 years ago

I have never had renter’s insurance before as a Grad student, since I did not have much stuff to insure. After graduation and marriage when I have many expensive items at home and jewellery included,large size TV etc, we have one. Our renters policy is provided by the same company that provides us with our auti insurance. So this helps!! On a hindsight, it would be interesting to have an article in the future on how do we guard our personal belongings at home(passports, jewellery etc). Since there is some vast knowledge in that area but many of them are… Read more »

Colleen
Colleen
11 years ago

I went through an apartment fire in December 2003 (as I affectionately call “The Great Christmas Blaze of 2003). Three days before the incident, I renewed my renter’s insurance. Call it fate. It was $16/month and I didn’t see the value, but everyone kept telling me I should keep it. Thank goodness I did, because it came in very handy. The apt next door was the source (tried to extinguish cigarette in dried flower pot) and while nothing actually ‘burned’ in my house, we suffered from Water/Smoke damage because we shared the rafters with them and the firemen used our… Read more »

Craig
Craig
11 years ago

I was very intimidated by renters insurance at first and held off for a year. I now have been researching and called about it and you get full coverage and liability for less than $100 and can save a few bucks on auto insurance. I will be getting.

David@DINKS Finance
11 years ago

As a renter, I probably should have renter’s insurance. Unfortunately (for me) I do not. I didn’t even give it a second thought. After hearing some of the stories in this thread and reading your blog, I should probably get on that. I would be out at least a few thousand if I lost a considerable amount of property.

Mary
Mary
11 years ago

I am looking into renter’s insurance.Just a question to all those that have unfortunately had to cash in on their policy for whatever reason: How good was the service? and what insurance company did you have? Thank you!

Marie
Marie
11 years ago

We did not have renter’s insurance back in the day. We were renting from my parents for a fraction of market value, so it was easy to blow it off. Luckily, there were no problems.

allen
allen
11 years ago

How I saved money on my car insurance:

When I went in to get my first car insurance, my agent, like all good agents, asked if I also had renter’s insurance. I mentioned that I did not, but that I’d been meaning to. My car insurance at that time was $90/month. The renter’s was $8/month, but if i got the renters, then I’d save 10% off my car insurance…. So, it cost me -$1 to get renter’s insurance. 😀 Free coverage? YES PLEASE.

Aja B.
Aja B.
11 years ago

Thanks for the push in the right direction! I just went to my auto insurance company and bought a year of renter’s insurance, after 6 years of “meaning to do it”. 😛 Now I just have to take inventory! This will be great peace of mind, for only $15/mo.

ebyt
ebyt
11 years ago

Yes. I got one before I even moved in! For $300 a year (Canadian), I am covered for $50,000 contents insurance (enough to cover the stuff I have and more since I’m just starting out in life) and $1,000,000 liability insurance (was a requirement from my landlord). It gives me a peace of mind. Sure, disasters aren’t necessarily likely, and even getting robbed by some random person probably isn’t likely since I live in a secured building with hundreds of tenants… but I would never go without insurance. It’s almost asking for something to happen. And for those who think… Read more »

Melissa
Melissa
11 years ago

I’ve never made a claim on my renter’s insurance (which I do have), but last year I made a full claim with flood insurance for both the building and the contents on my homeowner’s flood policy. (We now rent again because the house was a total loss–hurricane storm surge.) If you don’t have an inventory yet and aren’t sure you will REALLY get around to making one anytime soon, take pictures and store some copies off site. We didn’t have an inventory and it took us weeks to create our property claim list. Thankfully we had some photos (all receipts… Read more »

Matt
Matt
11 years ago

What if I don’t own anything? I move/travel alot which has led me to live a life of minimalism. The most expensive thing I own is my laptop which I paid $400 for 2 years ago and my clothes. All of which could easily be replaced using my emergency fund.

Lulu
Lulu
11 years ago

My apartment complex requires insurance and if you do not have private insurance you can get it included in the rent for $9.95 so I added mine.

I am happy I have it because I have seen too many people lose things due to water tanks that burst….at least the insurance will help replace some of your stuff.

David
David
11 years ago

Although I never learned the hard way, I very well could have. I lived in apartments for many years, and never even thought of renter’s insurance. If I had, my first thought would have been that I couldn’t afford it. i never knew policies were so reasonable.

Great post, great advice.

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