WTF is renters insurance really, and do I need it?

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By: David HilowitzCC BY 2.0
I live in an apartment, but it doesn’t explicitly require renters insurance. I’ve been renting my own places for four years now, and have gone without it. It seemed like a good thing to have, but not something to prioritize as a working (sometimes struggling) artist.

That said, I have a more stable income these days, and an apartment full of camera gear, and my partner’s extensive video game collection. We live in a neighborhood that’s been making headlines lately for a rash of daytime robberies, so it’s been on my mind a lot lately.

But I really know absolutely nothing about where to start, what to look out for, and what it actually covers. I think it’s time to finally make the leap, and level up in adulthood.

Can y’all help a Homie out and break down what your experiences have been, and any advice you have on renters insurance? It’ll be much appreciated! –Tyler

Comments on WTF is renters insurance really, and do I need it?

  1. I had mine through my car insurance (saved a little by bundling them together). It came in handy when my apartment was broken into and someone made off with all my electronics and movies.

    If the value of things lost doesn’t exceed the deductible, then it’s not so helpful, but in my case it did. And it helped me feel less skittish and violated, moving forward, to be able to replace some things that had been stolen.

    • When I had renter’s insurance, I had it through the same company as my car insurance policy also. Having two policies with them triggered the multi-line discount, which effectively made my renter’s insurance $0.01 per month! definitely talk to your agent if you currently have auto or other insurance.

  2. Please get it! It’s normally not very expensive, mine is less than $200 a year and has coverage for up to $35,000 worth of stuff.

    An old coworker of mine didn’t have renters insurance and her apartment building burnt down. She was left scrambling to buy new furniture and replace all of her clothes.

    I know that my policy not only covers the loss of stuff but also helps cover the cost of staying at a hotel if your apartment is uninhabitable. It will give you such piece of mind to have it.

    Also, take pictures of everything in your apartment. And I mean everything, and save them to a website like flicker so that you have a record of exactly what you own if something bad does happen. For your cameras take pictures of all of the lenses and accessories too. The pictures don’t need to be nice they just new to show what you own. Take a picture of your closet so you can say no, I really own 40 pairs of shoes!

  3. We also got ours through our car insurance provider. While we never had to use it during our time in the apartment, we had friends in another complex that had a fire and were very glad to have it.

    Like all insurance, it’s one of those things that you pay for an hope that you’ll never need. If you can afford it, it’s a nice safety net.

  4. Full disclosure: I sold property and casualty insurance for almost 10 years for State Farm. However, I have not had my license in a few years and laws vary state to state.

    Even though a lot of landlords don’t require renters insurance you should still have it. But not just to cover your stuff in case of theft. The really big reason is because you could be held liable (financially responsible) for causing damage to your unit and/or the entire building if a fire or water overflow originates from your unit and you were negligent. An example, you leave the water running in the bath, an emergency arises and you forget about the running water. The water over flows damaging your floor and the ceiling of the unit below. You would very likely be found liable for all that building damage. Same if you leave something on the stove and it catches fire…you were negligent so you are liable. So the question becomes not “Can I afford renters insurance?” But rather “Can I afford NOT to have it?” (Some states like CO can garnish your wages, savings accounts, etc. as a way for force you to pay for the damage).

    Something to keep in mind is that your camera equipment may not be covered by a simple renters policy if it is used professionally. However, some renters policies have a “rider” that provides a small amount of coverage for home businesses but ask about it…don’t assume it will cover the cameras. If it won’t cover or isn’t enough coverage ask about a “personal articles policy”. These policies are pretty in expensive and cover specific items for almost any type of damage (even accidental). You have to have a renters or homeowners policy to purchase the PAP but again, it is pretty cheap. The PAP also will cover professionally used items but you have to specify them as such.

    My renters costs me like $15/mo. But because of what I saved on my car ins. it really isn’t costing me anything.

    • Can’t agree enough, it’s SUPER important. My appartment got broken into 2 times in a year, and my boyfriend’s appartement was robbed the same year too. Whitout insurance, I’m not sure how we would have managed.

      And yes, make sure any special items (like your photo equipment) or collections, or art, or special expensive jewlery is covered. You have to ask about those things. There are many little add-ons you can have. A good insurance advisor will help you figure out the most effective way to do this.

      Finally, compare prices and check out any affinity program you might be eligible to. You’re an alumni? Chances are, your alumni association has an agreement with one company or another. I got a rebate through my employer. It’s really worth doing the little research.

  5. My friends almost two years ago had a fire that consumed their entire house and it burned to the ground with them having to escape by jumping out of their 2nd story bedroom window, sustaining injuries. They lost a snake and a rabbit as well. They were renting from her parents who were insured for the structure, but they didn’t have renters’ insurance and were not covered for any of the contents of the home. They lost EVERYTHING. This was the 2nd such case among my friends that I had seen. It was enough to finally get me to purchase renters’ insurance for the first time. My current apartment complex requires a certain level of insurance, but we’d have it anyway.

  6. Definitely get it! My very first apartment on my own was broken into. Everything I had of value was stolen – electronics, jewelery, etc. No one told me about renters insurance – I was young and dumb, so I didn’t have it. Had I purchased a plan, I would’ve been compensated and had money to replace what was replaceable. And most renters policies are super cheap, especially if you add them on to car insurance…do it today!

  7. My husband and I lived in an apartment once and DIDN’T have renter’s insurance, and we really regretted it. An ice storm came through the area which caused a lot of damage. There was a diseased tree on the apartment property that fell during the storm, right onto our car! Our car insurance didn’t cover property damage at the time, and we had signed away our rights in our apartment lease. None of the damage to our car was covered.
    We were poor undergrad students without anyone to help us out financially. My husband ended up fixing the major damage himself, and did his best at hammering out the dents, but the car was never the same, and it took us a long time to recover financially.

      • The renter’s insurance would have covered property damage on the premises. Where I live, if your car is parked with no one inside it, it’s just property – so either car insurance or property insurance can cover it. (But our car insurance did not cover property damage at the time, so our only help would have been renters insurance.)

  8. I work in a hotel, and we always have people in house with us for what we call “insurance stays.” These are folks who are put up by their insurance after their home or apartment has been damaged to the point of being uninhabitable. We have folks in with us Every. Day. for this reason. No one is immune. Even of you’re super careful, all it takes is your neighbor having a flood or fire to put you out. Or a big storm that drops a tree or power line on your house. Or dangerous mold after a flood. Or old wiring gone bad…… You get my point. Go get that insurance! It’s cheap and only takes a few minutes to sign up. You can even do it online if you don’t want to call.

  9. I lived in a complex once with several apartments very close to each other. One night one of the buildings caught on fire. Everyone got out ok, but everything inside that complex (with had 8 apartments) and then two apartments in the complex next to it were a total loss. Everyone lost everything they owned… and no one had renters insurance so it was just gone. The insurance for the complex does not cover renter loss.
    The complex fire really hit me… at any point a neighbor might set something on their stove or cause an out of control grease fire. Dryers… a number one source of fires due to lint build up. Everyone had them in their own units and who is to say anyone else is properly taking care of theirs? At any point there could be a fire and everything you own could be completely lost without compensation.
    Definitely have renters insurance. In most cases it’s very cheap, especially when bundled with auto. I pay it all at tax time when I get a refund and call it good.

  10. I hate to say: no you don’t need it… but: I have been renting for 8 years and have never had renters insurance. *knock wood* I haven’t yet regretted it.

    When I first started renting I didn’t even have health insurance, and I hardly owned anything of value so I never even thought of getting it. And, in a way, insurance always seems like a gamble to me… the house usually wins. Plus I was to busy trying to save up enough money to have a cushion if I lost my job/switched carriers.

    When I buy a house we’ll insure that, but until then I’ll just keep changing my smoke detector batteries and keeping my valuables in a fireproof box. (We are house shopping now)

    • The good news is, renter’s insurance is really cheap. I probably spend more on coffee every month than I do on my renter’s insurance. You can get cheaper rates by bundling it with car insurance or life insurance. Even check out what your bank/credit union has to offer.

  11. I HAVE to have renter’s insurance–my apartment complex requires it–but I’ve never had any need of it. However, if you have car insurance and it’s been a while since you negotiated your rate, ask about bundling renter’s insurance. With the bundle discount, I ended up coming away from the deal paying less for my car insurance–and absolutely nothing for my renter’s insurance. Uh, solid.
    If I were paying flat-out for the renter’s insurance I have (considering that my rate is less because I have car insurance with this company)? $10 a month for $100,000 of coverage. I always assumed it would be pricey!

    • I also assumed it’d be expensive. And then when the Mister and I were apartment hunting, we went to one place that required renter’s insurance, and we were like “Okay see you later we’re not rich enough for you guys” and the realtor was like “…but I only pay $15 a month for mine.” So we got it basically the next day through the car insurance, and I think its like $8 extra monthly.
      I don’t really remember what it covers or the details, but $8 is very little in relation to replacing everything we own in case of disaster

      • Think of it as added value to the complex. People who would otherwise be put off by an extra $8 per month are not the kind of people that you want as your neighbors. Those that care enough to insure their stuff typically also care more about everything else, making them good neighbors.

  12. I would do eet now! Especially since you have valuable gear that would be a huge pain to replace if something happened to your apartment. I had it with my old apartment and (although cost may be different in your area) it was like $12 a month, which is a lot easier to stomach that replacing thousands of dollars of gear in the case of an accident.

  13. Not only does it cover the loss of valuables, but it also covers pets. So let’s say super sweet Fido decides to bite the annoying kid next door … The medical and maybe even legal fees that can follow that is often covered.

  14. Please, get it! It’s not expensive, and there are so many ways it can save your butt. Say your upstairs neighbor overflows their toilet and it leaks into your apartment and ruins your couch – ew! Or say someone falls down the stairs while visiting you and the only way their medical insurance will pay for their coverage is by suing you for damage – this can happen even if it’s your bestest friend. Or what if there’s a fire and you need to not only replace all your belongings, but stay in a hotel for weeks on end? Or what if your place is broken into?

    Rental insurance is cheap and IMO really, really worth it.

  15. I’ve had renter’s insurance in every apartment, and I have never needed it. But it’s $12 a month, automatically deducted, and I never have to think about. That said, I agree with one of the comments above to double-check that something like camera equipment is covered. I am a PhD student and my laptop is my life, so I have additional “personal article” coverage on it. At least two of my close friends have had their laptops stolen from their desks, one with insurance and one without. I am telling you that the one who did not have insurance was kicking herself about not wanting to pay that $12 a month.

    • I hope you are also backing up your data and writing on a regular basis (even just email it to yourself, but dropbox or whatever is better). My iBook had a motherboard issue when I was working on my dissertation. I took it to the campus help-desk and was told that I was the most relaxed doctoral student with a crashed computer they’d ever seen. I told them I’d backed up at the end of the prior workday, so the only loss would be about 4 hours of work from that morning. Not worth stressing over.

  16. When my friends apartment burned down, their renter’s insurance paid to put them in a hotel while they looked for a new place for over a month, and once they moved, it paid to replace everything they had lost. I promptly realized the benefit in this and started paying for mine for 20 bucks a month, though there were plans as low as 10. It’s a cheap price for some serious peace of mind.

  17. Not only will renters insurance cover your stuff while you rent, but many policies will cover you DURING A MOVE also! So if the movers totally destroy your stuff on a massive cross country move, you’re still good.

  18. I have never been without one since I moved out, because my family insisted… and they are really not very expensive. We (Husband and I) pay 98 € a year and are insured upto 100,000. I have had to use it two times now, once when my stew was too large and the cheese started burning in the oven and singed the kitchen and the second time when my cat decided to use my neighbours brand new car as his playarea and scratched the hood. (I know, who gives a… but he did, so I had to pay. And I am glad my insurance covered it, because a brand new lacquer cost 800€ and I might just have throttled my cat for that.) Think about it this way: Would you be able to replace all of your stuff, in case something did happen, without running into serious troubles? And would you be able to pay for your neighbours damages?

  19. For a long time I didn’t do it because I was really really poor and didn’t really even own anything of value – but then a friend of mine pointed out that things add up. If suddenly EVERYTHING I owned was gone, where would I start? Bus pass? Clothes for work? Winter coat? Work-and-winter-appropriate footwear? Food? I was poor enough that I really would not have been able to afford more than one of those things a month, never mind finding a new place to live or whatever else – and I realized it could take me years to get back to the relatively meager situation I was currently in… I looked into it, thinking I couldn’t afford it, and found it was $8 per month.

    I haven’t ever needed it, but I spent some time living close enough to “that” line that it made me feel a little safer incase something terrible did happen to my tiny apartment.

    My husband on the other hand, back in his rental days, decided to defrost a turkey by running water over it in the sink – and then went out to meet some friends for a drink… Or two… The turkey slipped at some point, covering the drain, and he not only flooded his own apartment, but 6 floors below him!!!

    If he didn’t have renter’s insurance that covered this sort of thing, he would still be working on digging himself out of that hole 20 years later. He’s not a stupid guy (honest), perhaps he was young and distractable – but things happen. And IF they do, please please be protected!!!

    • I tipped over a cup of water in an old apartment, and it dripped onto my downstair’s neighbor’s TV! Luckily there was no damage and he was a nice guy. But yikes! I could have been in big trouble.
      (That incident also seriously called into question whether that apartment was up to code… )

  20. We have renters’ insurance and a separate line on my engagement ring (it’s literally the most expensive single thing we own). If something happens, it’s great to have the peace of mind that we are covered.

    Also, try to go through independent insurance companies for a quote! We shopped around for our car insurance, renters’ and jewelry coverage at AAA, Costco, various associations we’re a part of, online, through brick & mortar agents for the big companies, and then looked at some independent agents. We ended up choosing an independent agent that gave us a cheaper deal for everything, by actually breaking up our policies across two different carriers. Plus, it’s a local family business that’s been around for almost 50 years!

  21. True story- I didn’t have insurance. I filled a pot of water on the stove, turned on the wrong burner, which had the plastice spoon on it, and went to pee. The spoon caught fire. I threw water on it.

    The fire sprinklers came on and did not turn off until the fire department got there. I was on the hook for the restoration service after hours call, replacing the carpet, the celing and my neighbor’s ceiling. Over $1000 dollars.

    I called for a quote the next day. $40 dollars a year when bundled with my car insurace.

  22. Definitely consider it. We’ve had it for years (bundled with our car at State Farm) and it really is quite reasonable. My main tip is to be sure to ask what kind of replacement coverage is on the agreement, because some options are “replace at cost” and other are “replace new”. So if you have a six year old Macbook, the *current* worth may be next to nothing, but then you’re stuck having to buy a new one that cost a ton more with the piddling amount you were entitled to via insurance.

  23. How do you convince a reluctant roommate/partner that renters insurance is a worthy investment? I’m curious because I had to do this. Worked out for me, but I can imagine that some people might be harder to convince, even with the facts laid out.

    I had to convince a roommate that renters insurance was absolutely necessary. She considered it a “nice to have” expense on top of her already stretched paycheque. During the week we were discussing it, she went out and bought a patio set that cost almost as much as her share of the annual insurance fee. To her credit, she had been putting away a couple bucks per week in order to afford it, so it was a long-planned purchase. When I explained that she would have to pay out of pocket again to replace it AND the rest of her stuff should the apartment burn down or should there be a burglary, she came around, returned the patio set, and paid her share of the insurance.

    I had an easy time of it, but has anyone had to put their foot down with a roommate or partner about purchasing renters insurance? I’d say it’s a dealbreaker for me.

    • Show the reluctant roommate this post & all these comments! These aren’t stupid or horribly unlucky people — this is a microcosm of everyone, & here are folks who’ve had to use their renters insurance or known friends who did. It saved their butts, it could save your roomie’s too 🙂

    • Your roommate does not need to be on the policy. You can get your own and if there is a fire, your stuff will be covered and the roommate’s stuff won’t be covered.

      • Yep! I had discussed this with the insurance broker, and they were reluctant to insure only one person in the household since there could be difficulty in discovering fault, or something like that. I wanted a comprehensive plan that covered not just my stuff, but also liability should I/we cause some damage. I think the liability portion is where they were having trouble.

    • I purchased renter’s insurance separately from my roommates in college. When our apartment was broken into that year, one roommate didn’t have any insurance. Her things weren’t covered, but ours were replaced.

  24. YES!!! I was in the same boat and was like, wtf do I really need this? Lucky for me I did – a pipe burst in my apartment one day while I was gone for 10-12 hours and I came home to three inches of standing water covering two bedrooms and two bathrooms. I lost a bookshelf, some clothes, but most importantly my MacBook Pro. Renter’s insurance covered the cost for it to be diagnosed and bought me a brand new one. It literally saved my skin.

  25. Definitely in the pro-renters insurance camp, but really y’all – do your research. The insurance I have now is better and cheaper than the insurance I would have gotten bundled with my car insurance. I got quotes from at least 6 different companies before I found one with prices & terms that I liked. As with all insurance, there is a lot of fine print, so make sure what you want to be covered is actually covered, and make sure your deductible is low enough to make paying for the insurance worthwhile.

    • A good independent insurance broker should be able to clearly explain the “fine print” for you and help you get a policy that fits your needs. Every policy is different, and that fine print can get really overwhelming.

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