Fire, water damage, theft, and personal injury lawsuits are common concerns of any homeowner, but the legal and financial burden from a loss of an apartment's contents caused by any of these events can be just as devastating for a renter. But according to the Insurance Research Council, only 24 percent of renters in a 2000 survey had renters insurance. The majority of renters assume that any loss would be covered by the landlord's insurance, which is not true.
Count the obvious items, like furniture, a computer and stereo, and then the less obvious things like clothing and personal effects, and the potential loss quickly adds up.
"Some renters could have from $20,000 to $25,000 worth of contents," says Don Griffin, director of personal and business lines at the National Association of Independent Insurers, a trade association for property-casualty insurers.
If faced with such a loss, would you know where to turn or whether your loss would be covered?
Here are several scenarios renters may face and their insurance consequences.
Scenario No. 1: A fire from another apartment destroys much of your apartment and your belongings. Whose insurance (yours of your landlord's) pays for what?
Your policy would cover the loss of your belongings, minus the deductible. Your policy should also cover your expenses for temporary living quarters and some limited amount of money for emergency supplies and clothing you need until you regain access to the apartment. The landlord's insurance covers the loss he suffered to his building, not your property.
Scenario No. 2: You are negligent and leave food on your hot stove, starting a fire. Whose policy pays for what? Are you liable for damage to the apartment?
The loss of your belongings would be covered by your insurance policy. You could be sued by the landlord for damages to the building, in which case your insurer would be expected to defend you in court and pay for any judgment.
Scenario No. 3: A pipe accidentally bursts inside the wall and the water destroys your belongings. What does your policy pay for?
Your policy would cover the loss of your belongings. But then your insurance company may try to recover the money it paid to you from the building owner's insurance.
Scenario No. 4: Your landlord is negligent in not repairing a plumbing problem you've been reporting, and a pipe bursts. Whose policy do you make a claim on?
Your policy would not be the one to cover your loss in a claim based on the landlord's negligence. You would have to make a claim on the landlord's policy and hope the insurer responds favorably without you having to resort to filing a lawsuit.
Scenario No. 5: Someone trips and falls in your apartment and is injured. Does you renters liability pay, or your landlord's?
The claim is made against your liability insurance, which generally is written to cover expenses of from $3,000 to $5,000 per event. The injured person would have to sue if they wanted higher compensation.
Scenario No. 6: Your dog bites a neighbor. How much liability insurance does your renters insurance provide?
The amount of coverage will depend on the liability limit you purchased, but Griffin suggests coverage in an amount of from $300,000 to $500,000 may be needed to protect your assets in a potential lawsuit.
Scenario No. 7: Your apartment is broken into and your stereo, television, and some jewelry are stolen. Are you covered?
The loss would be covered subject to the amount of the limits in your policy. Typical amounts are: $200 for cash; $1,000 for stock and bond certificates; $1,000 for personal property; and $1,000 for jewelry and furs. You can purchase additional coverage for the individual items, a blanket policy, or a combination of both.
Scenario No. 8: Your landlord claims you have damaged the apartment and is keeping part of your security deposit. Will the renters insurance cover this loss?
No. The liability created here is part of the contract you signed under your lease agreement with the landlord and is not an insurance issue.