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By Eve Mitchell

RISMEDIA, Sept. 10, 2008-(MCT)-Whether you own or rent, you’re bound to end up with furniture, clothing, electronics and a whole lot of other stuff. But that’s where the common ground ends.

Most homeowners have insurance that covers the loss of their possessions in the event of a fire, theft, or other covered peril. That’s not the case for renters.

Nationwide, 96% of homeowners have homeowners insurance (such insurance is a requirement of having a home loan) while only 43% of renters have renters insurance, industry statistics show.

Almost half of the renters questioned in an Allstate survey of the Bay Area conducted in June said they knew about renters insurance, but had not yet bothered to look into getting a policy. Another third said they didn’t think their possessions were valuable enough to get insurance.

“(Renters) tend to be younger when they enter the rental market and (think) ‘my stuff is not worth that much’ but when you lose everything it’s devastating,” said Dawn Prince, owner of an Allstate agency in San Francisco. That’s not the attitude to take, she said.

“It’s not that you don’t have that much. It’s that what you do have would be very difficult to go out and replace,” she said. “Just because your couch is old, it’s still something that you own.”

Forty-two percent of renters in the Allstate survey, regardless of whether they had renters insurance or not, estimated the value of their possessions at $20,000 or more.

Premiums for renters insurance are tied to the insured value of your possessions and the size of the deductible, among other factors.

“It depends on how much coverage you choose,” Prince said, adding that the cost can be lowered if you get renters insurance from the same carrier that provides your auto insurance.

Renters insurance covers the loss of personal property due to fire or smoke, lightning, vandalism, theft, explosion, windstorm and water damage from plumbing. Renters insurance also provides for temporary lodging. But it does not cover damage caused by earthquakes, floods or landslides. Such coverage has to be purchased separately.

The average yearly premium for renters insurance was $261 in 2003, according to industry statistics.

When looking for renters insurance, make sure the policy has replacement coverage as opposed to actual cash value coverage, experts advise. With replacement coverage, the insurance company pays up to the policy’s dollar amount for what it costs in today’s dollars to replace the items. Actual cash value pays the replacement cost minus the appreciation.

“Most policies today have your personal property coverage on a replacement cost basis, which means that there is no depreciation taken for wear and tear,” said Steve Holland, president of Fidelity Insurance Service, a Berkeley, Calif.-based independent insurance broker. “Replacement cost is really critical. Make sure you ask for it.”

Renters insurance also includes personal liability coverage for medical and legal bills in cases where the insured renter causes accidental injury to other people and/or their property. So if someone trips over a coffee table in your apartment and breaks an arm, you would be covered.

Not only that but the liability coverage also extends outside of the home.

“Personal liability coverage deals with things that happen in life that don’t necessarily have to be at home,” Holland explained.

Some renters’ policies can also include dog bite liability with coverage depending on the dog’s breed and whether there is a history of biting.

When a renter has roommates, it’s important to ask the carrier if the policy can be written in the names of the all roommates, said Holland.

Some renters incorrectly assume the landlord’s insurance for the apartment building will cover their possessions.

“There is no duplication of coverage between a landlord’s coverage and a tenant’s coverage,” Holland said.

The upshot: If a fire in your apartment building destroys your possessions, you’re out of luck if you don’t have renters insurance.

Renters Q&A

Q. Does renters insurance cover all of my possessions?
It depends. Some possessions-jewelry, computers-are often subject to a per-category theft limit (for example, some policies have a $5,000 limit for computers). When seeking information on renters’ policies, ask about the various category limits and how they apply to expensive items you own. You may purchase a floater, providing additional coverage for specific items not included in your basic policy.

Q. If I file a claim, will my policy be canceled?
Your rates could change. If you are not responsible for the loss or damage to your items, your insurance should not be affected. If you were at fault (caused a fire by smoking in bed), the insurance company might consider that when setting the price for your next policy. Your company might consider the number of losses, regardless of fault, also.

Q. Is my property covered away from home?
Yes, but coverage may be limited. Restrictions in terms and the amount of coverage might apply (from 10% of your personal property coverage to full value). Ask your agent for details. Your liability coverage does not change.

Q. What about unmarried couples?
Some insurance companies now allow unmarried couples who have been living together to obtain coverage. Some policies automatically extend coverage to any future resident of a policyholder’s household who fits the definition of domestic partner.

Q. Is my bicycle or car covered by renters insurance?
Your bike is protected by a standard renter’s insurance policy. Motor vehicles are not covered. A separate insurance policy is needed to protect your car, van or motorcycle.

Source: Insurance Information Network of California (

© 2008, Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.).
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.