HomeInsuranceBreak-ins? Broken bones? Your guide to renters insurance.

Break-ins? Broken bones? Your guide to renters insurance.

Real Estate

Policies come in many forms. What should you look for in coverage? What do policies cover? What don’t they cover? 

a one-bedroom apartment for rent sign
The landlord’s insurance covers the building, but not necessarily your personal belongings. Paul Sakuma/Associated Press/File

Unexpected fees can make the price of an apartment stretch past what prospective renters in Boston might expect  — and can afford. 

Boston.com reported in March 2023 that a renter signing a $2,700-per-month lease for a one-bedroom apartment can expect to pay nearly $10,800 before they move in  — including the first month’s rent, last month’s rent, the broker’s fee, and the security deposit.

So, it would make sense that a renter would balk at another expense.

But for an average of $215 per year, according to insurance analysis company ValuePenguin, renters may skirt debilitating costs down the line if someone gets hurt at their apartment, their belongings break, or they need to find somewhere to stay if their place becomes unlivable.

“When someone feels stretched with their budget is when renters insurance is actually the most important,” Sean Burgess, chief claims officer at insurer Lemonade, wrote in an email to Boston.com. “For a relatively low monthly cost, renters insurance provides peace of mind when it’s needed most.”

Renters insurance policies come in many forms. What should you look for in coverage? What do policies cover? What don’t they cover? 

✅ The pros

Emily McDonald, a rental trends expert at Zillow, said that even though 56% of people the online marketplace surveyed said their landlords require renters insurance, only 50% said they had it.

“A lot of renters don’t realize that their landlord’s home insurance doesn’t really cut it for them,” McDonald said. “Their landlord’s home insurance protects the building … but it doesn’t protect their personal belongings if they’re damaged or destroyed, or even, sometimes stolen possessions can’t be covered.”

These belongings are covered by renters insurance, McDonald said. ValuePenguin, which is part of LendingTree, reported that renters who take out $18-per-month coverage can expect $30,000 in personal property protection. 

Divya Sangameshwar, an insurance expert at ValuePenguin, said renters insurance can give tenants “a huge peace of mind.” She said renters insurance in Boston can go for an average of $21 per month. Policies range from $19 to $25 here, she said, and may go for even less at local companies that don’t provide quotes online. 

Renters can also expect $100,000 in liability coverage at the average national rate of $18 per month, according to ValuePenguin. Insurance companies will pay liability costs and will help the insured fight claims in court, Sangameshwar said.

“So you hosted a Super Bowl party last night, for example, and you got up to some shenanigans. Someone fell over, broke a leg,” Sangameshwar said. “They can technically sue you for their medical costs because they got injured in your house.”

The insurance also covers stays at hotels and short-term rentals if a tenant’s apartment becomes unlivable. 

“Ask around how much it will cost if you need to move out of your house and live in an Airbnb or hotel,” Sangameshwar said, “and get some approximate figures for that, because renter’s insurance can also cover the cost of your housing in case you’re displaced by a fire or some other accidents.” 

⚠️What isn’t covered?

Some types of damage that occur inside an apartment may go uncovered by renters insurance. McDonald said renters need to check with their providers.

“Am I covered if I forget to turn on my heat when I go away for vacation and then that ends up in some water damage in my apartment? So, asking those questions is super important, because it does depend on your plan that you end up going with,” McDonald said.

Burgess said policies may not cover a roommate’s belongings and damage stemming from power outages, pets, and earthquakes. 

Renters should look into whether their coverage protects them if the damage occurs when they are away from home, McDonald said.

Damage from natural floods, Sangameshwar said, aren’t always covered by renters insurance, but they can try to get government flood insurance that covers their belongings.

Flooding that stems from broken toilets and sink overflows may be covered by renters insurance, Sangameshwar added.

People with expensive jewelry, electronics, and art should inventory everything they own and estimate how much coverage they may need. They should get their jewelry and art appraised before making the estimate, Sangameshwar said.

Burgess said renters should understand what gets covered and what insurance providers expect of them when they file a claim.

“Specifically, renters should look out for high deductibles, exclusive gaps in what’s covered, limited coverage for valuables, maximums tied to liability coverage,” Burgess said.  

The Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation advises renters to look into whether their policy covers actual cash values of personal property at the time the damage occurred or the replacement value, which covers the full cost of new belongings.

McDonald said renters should use data and technology to inform their coverage decisions.

“Do your research before purchasing any plan or signing any lease,” McDonald said. “And just be smart out there.”

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