BY TIM HAUSERMAN

The Tahoe/Truckee region sits in a wildland/urban interface. These are locations where lots of homes are close to the forest, and thus vulnerable to wildfire. This has led to reticence among property insurers to provide fire coverage in the region (and most of California). For renters this begs the question: Can I get rental insurance if the owner of the property can’t get insurance? And what decides whether a property can get insurance or not? 

The idea for this article came from Moonshine Ink publisher Mayumi Elegado, who told me that she was able to get renters insurance in one neighborhood in Truckee and not able to get it in another location just a few miles away.

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Rental insurance covers the personal property of the renter. It doesn’t cover the structure or your vehicle. The good news is this means that it is fairly inexpensive, usually less than $20 a month. And for renters, it is important to have insurance because if the house burns down, it will help you replace what you lost. While you might think your belongings are not that financially valuable, it really starts to add up if you suddenly have to go out and buy replacements. 

Renters insurance also covers personal liability, which could be when someone gets injured sliding down your banister or practicing climbing moves on your fireplace.* Then the injured “friend,” or their insurance company, decides that you are personally liable for their injuries. Rental insurance policies can also reimburse for living expenses when you are prevented from using your home.

I spoke with State Farm agent Roxanne Duffield, who covers Truckee and North Tahoe. She said that the decision to provide both homeowners and renters coverage is not connected (you can get one without the other) but both are very site specific and are determined by defensible space and other factors on the property. These are often determined by aerial photography.

“We’ve had cases where the owner had good defensible space and the neighbor didn’t, and the homeowner contacted the neighbor and agreed to help maintain their property in order to get coverage,” Duffield explained.  

In addition to the fire danger of the particular property, Duffield said State Farm looks to limit how many homes they are currently insuring in a small area so there is less exposure if a fire sweeps through a neighborhood.  “All your eggs in one basket is not good because you are suffering too much loss if there is a fire,” she noted. 

Elegado speculated that perhaps she was unable to get coverage in Sierra Meadows because of the high fire danger there, and was curious whether the Big Jack East forest management project that has been going on in the neighborhood might make getting homeowners insurance easier now. Duffield says that each location is reevaluated once a year, so there is the potential that a home that could not be insured this year might be insurable next year. 

In Incline Village, Elaine Schuyler from Farmers Insurance said “we don’t rate the fire line, the computer does.” Like State Farm, Farmers’ decisions about whether to insure is address-specific as to whether they will write a policy, although there are tendencies in neighborhoods: For instance, they can write more policies in Lower Incline Village than in Upper Incline. “It can be based on how much shade is over a roof. We advise people to look at their property and see how many branches are over the property” Schuyler said. She noted that in Incline it is easier to get a renters insurance policy than a homeowners policy, because it is not connected to the fire line. 

*These are just several examples of potential behavior that could cause injury, and are not a reflection of the quality of friends you attract.  

Author

  • Tim Hauserman wrote the official guidebook to the Tahoe Rim Trail, the 4th edition of which was published last summer. He also wrote “Monsters in the Woods: Backpacking with Children” and "Gertrude's Tahoe Adventures in Time." In the winter he runs the Strider Glider program at Tahoe Cross Country Ski Area. He has lived in Tahoe City since he was a little tyke and continues to be amazed with the beauty of Lake Tahoe. His former English teachers, on the other hand, are probably amazed that he became a writer. Contact Tim at writeonrex@yahoo.com

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