Renters' own insurance is good idea


December 19, 1993|By George B. Laurent

Most tenants do not realize they need renters insurance until it's too late.

Some examples of cases when insurance would have come in handy:

* The upstairs tenant caused a water overflow, which damaged furniture and clothing. While the negligent tenant may be sued, it's easier for an insurance company to handle the situation.

* A rainstorm caused the county storm sewer system to back up, flooding basement apartments. Not only is there damage to the tenants' property, but they have to go to a motel while their apartment is repaired.

* A plastic container fell on a lighted stove, causing $800 in smoke damage.

* An apartment was burglarized. Or a guest was injured. These can be expensive for an uninsured tenant.

Many tenants believe that their landlord's insurance will cover their losses, but this is hardly ever so. Such insurance covers damage to the landlord's property and protects him against claims of negligence. The landlord may also have a substantial deductible, so that a tenant who negligently damages the landlord's property may be required to cover the deductible. The landlord's insurance company can also sue the tenant for the full amount of the damage if the tenant is proven negligent.

Standard renters' policies cover structural damage to the tenant's apartment caused by fire, smoke and explosion, but not damage normally covered by a security deposit, such as stains on wall-to-wall carpeting, damage to appliances, and the like. Damage to other apartments, such as water damage, and to other tenants' property, however, will be covered by most policies.

Most commercial insurance companies offer renters' policies that protect furniture, household items and personal belongings against fire, vandalism, theft and water damage, as well as the costs of living elsewhere while repairs are made. Coverage for storm sewer backups is optional coverage and requires an additional fee.

These policies also provide personal liability coverage, coverage for medical payments to others, costs of defending suits and other costs.

A tenant should carefully list and describe all personal property and the cost of those items. Receipts should be kept as proof of NTC those costs. Photographs or videotapes of property would also be valuable documentation. Such documentation should be stored outside the apartment in a safe place.

George B. Laurent is executive director of BNI, or Baltimore Neighborhoods Inc., a private nonprofit group that works to resolve tenant-landlord problems and to eliminate housing discrimination.

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