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Percentage of renter's with insurance holds steady after earlier leap at 46% according to one study

The Insurance Research Council finds that the percentage of renters who are insured doubled from nearly 25 percent to nearly 50 percent between 2000 and 2001. An Insurance Agents and Brokers of America poll found that 46 percent of renters had insurance in 2003.

At least some of the jump may be due to the fact that landlords are increasingly requiring their renters to have insurance, according to Janet Portman, author of "Every Tenant's Legal Guide.  What it does for the landlord is put another deep pocket in the picture so that in the event of an accident on the property, in a lawsuit there would be two insurance companies involved rather than just one," she says.

According to Don Griffin of the Property and Casualty Institute, renter's insurance typically runs between $300 and $500 for $20,000 to $50,000 in coverage, but can reach as high as $1,000 depending on location and amount of coverage.

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. The percentage of renter’s with insurance indicates that a many renters assume that any loss would be covered by the landlord's insurance, which is not true.

An Insurance Agents and Brokers of America poll found that 46 percent of renters had

insurance in 2003.

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.

If faced with such a loss, would you know where to turn or whether your loss would be covered?

Eight scenarios for renters

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 or 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.

What if you move?

Besides the post office, electric and phone companies, cable television and others that have to be alerted when you move, add the renters insurance company to the "to-do" list.

Not only are there sound legal reasons for keeping your insurance company up-to-date, but the change of address could save you money on your insurance premium.

"Any change of address means the company would have to re-rate the policy, based on the new location you're moving into," says Don Griffin of the NAII. Moving to a more desirable location or into a newer building could mean the annual premium would drop, or you would be entitled to a refund if you relocate during the middle to the policy's term.

Conversely, premiums could rise if the new neighborhood is rated less favorably.

There's also a practical consideration, as moving essentially changes the terms of the contract between you and the insurer, and without notification, any claims filed from the new address could be in danger of being denied.

So the safest way to avoid that trap is to inform the renters insurance company before you move, just like you would for your cable TV.

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 your 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.

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