Over the last few months, hundreds of structures in California have gone up in flames, which has been a stark reminder of the importance of insuring your home and possessions against a fire. But what if you are a long-term renter? Are your possessions insured if the property you are living in has homeowners insurance? Unfortunately, the answer is simple: Nope. Nada. It turns out in fact that you need your own rental insurance policy not only to get reimbursed for the loss of your prized personal possessions, but perhaps more importantly, to insure you against personal liability in our litigious society.

“The only reason to not have renters insurance is that you don’t know better,” said Kristin Sprang from the State Farm office of Roxanne Duffield in Truckee. “It not only insures your stuff, but personal liability. If you are on your mountain bike and injure someone, if you have renters insurance with personal liability coverage it will cover the costs if they sue you.”

The other good thing about renters insurance is that it is inexpensive. Basic coverage, according to Sprang, starts at just $130 to $150 per year. The price goes up if you have lots of expensive possessions and need more liability coverage, but it is a relative bargain in comparison to regular homeowners insurance because the cost of personal possessions is much less than the cost of rebuilding a house. In order to protect tenants, some landlords do require a renters insurance policy as part of the lease.

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Not sure if you have enough possessions worth buying insurance for? While some things are irreplaceable, like my collection of awesome ’70s records, the stuff that can be replaced probably took you a lifetime to accumulate and might be worth a lot more than you think. Add up the cost of the hundreds of items hanging around in your house: bikes, skis, high-tech clothing that you wear when you bike and ski, those lightweight sleeping bags and tents, Grandma’s hutch and that cool couch, and all those kitchen supplies that make you a master chef. It can easily top $50,000 before you blink an eye.

You can also get loss of use coverage as part of your rental policy. So, if there is a fire and you are forced out of your home, you can get money from your insurance company while you are trying to locate a new place to live, a process that in the Sierra can take a while, as we all know. 

Unfortunately, depending upon where you live, obtaining or keeping homeowners insurance has been a challenge the last few years. After taking some sizable hits with all these devastating fires, insurance companies have been canceling policies, not renewing, or just not taking on new policies in areas that they deem are too high of a risk to insure. And in some cases, if they will not insure the dwelling, they will also not provide renters insurance.

At State Farm, eligibility is address specific, not by the neighborhood; one property may have a problem and another in the same development will not. “We can do 70% of the addresses in Tahoe Donner, for example,” said Sprang.

Each insurer has different rules regarding which areas or addresses they will insure — if you can’t find a policy with your favorite insurer, seek out an insurance broker who represents a number of companies. “If I put the address in and they decline it, I can just go through the next company,” said Cindi Hoyt from Aegis Insurance. A last-ditch answer is the state of California’s Fair Plan, which provides insurance for those who can’t find it elsewhere. Nevada does not yet offer Fair Plan insurance for high-risk policies.

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