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  • When I was in my 20s, my boyfriend’s dad all but insisted we get renters insurance.
  • I thought it was archaic advice, but it ended up saving us when the bakery below our apartment caught fire.
  • We were able to replace all our furniture and then some thanks to our coverage.

Many, many moons ago, my former (and entirely unschooled-in-the-ways-of-the-adult-world) self knew nothing about renters insurance — even though I had been renting an apartment in Boston for several years since graduating from college. 

Had I endeavored to learn more, I would have likely deemed renters insurance an overly fearful response to potential tragedy — not to mention, I could fit all my belongings in the back of my second-hand Mercury Tracer station wagon. In other words, my meager possessions hardly seemed worth the investment.

A crisis eventually hit

When my then-boyfriend and I decided to move in together, and his father all but insisted we get renters insurance, I scoffed at the seemingly archaic advice. 

Then, late one night, just weeks after moving into a second-floor studio on the main thoroughfare of a bustling college town, we were awakened by the sound of pounding on our apartment door. Dismissing the noise as a drunk neighbor, we drifted back to sleep until the smell of smoke — coupled with more aggressive banging — alerted us to the fact that our building was on fire.

I remember grabbing my wallet and keys (we’re talking pre cell phone days, folks), descending the stairs in a pair of boxer shorts, a T-shirt, and flip-flops, and watching as flames from the ground-floor bakery beneath our bedroom lapped angrily toward the sky. When a firefighter took an axe to the door I’d just exited, reality set in: water and smoke damage alone would render our place a total loss. 

In hindsight, renters insurance turned out to be a game-changer.

Our renters insurance policy covered nearly everything we’d lost

While we were temporarily displaced, and lost myriad things of sentimental value that could not be replaced, the payout from one less-than-$200 policy became the building block for our lives going forward. While we weren’t suddenly flush with cash, we were afforded the opportunity to replace each and every item lost in the fire with one that was comparable — no matter the price or specifications. 

The twin-sized, four-poster bed from my boyfriend’s childhood bedroom became a king mattress and box spring with cherry headboard. The twice handed-down floral sleeper sofa (with exposed springs to boot) morphed into a handsome, linen slip-covered centerpiece for our new living room. And we even splurged on an entirely-out-of-our-budget Mission-style coffee table we’d long been eyeing to replace a thrift-store quality version inherited from someone’s aunt.

Ditto for our television, computer, desk, dressers, you name it: So long as an item was lost, we were free to replace it and — upon providing a receipt — we were promptly reimbursed.

Were there parameters? Absolutely. While no one offered to cut us a check for the full amount of coverage, which we could have used to finance a much-needed getaway to Hawaii, we definitely could have spent the full value of our policy — $20,000 — on a single piece of furniture had we so chosen, assuming there was proof of purchase.

Here’s what’s covered by renters insurance

So what’s included in renters insurance rates? Most policies carry four basic types of coverage:

Personal property: If your belongings are stolen or destroyed in the case of a fire, this portion of the policy pays to replace them — minus your deductible (the dollar amount you need to cover before your policy kicks in).

Liability: In the event lawsuit damages and/or legal expenses related to someone getting injured in your home arise, this part of the policy covers them. 

Medical payments: Often grouped with liability, this coverage will pay for a guest’s injuries at your residence (from a dog bite to a fall down the front steps) without requiring a lawsuit. Note that certain dog breeds cost more while others might not be covered at all. 

Loss of use: When our apartment was deemed uninhabitable following the fire, this coverage footed the bill for hotels and restaurants (above and beyond typical expenses) until we found a new place.

According to a recent NerdWallet analysis, the average renters insurance policy will set you back about $179 per year (or $15 a month) depending on the deets — like where you live and previous claims. (In this case, the estimate was based on a hypothetical 30-year-old tenant with $30,000 in personal property coverage, $100,000 in liability coverage, and a $500 deductible.)

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I recommend renters insurance to everyone

Today, after two decades of homeownership — which, interestingly enough, requires homeowners insurance if there is a mortgage involved (but that’s another story!) — I still sing the praises of renters insurance to those who, like I once was, might be unfamiliar with the myriad (not to mention affordable) benefits that come with a policy.

While it took some time for the stench of smoke and the mountain of paperwork to dissipate (insurance even covered dry-cleaning bills for all our smoke-damaged dress clothes!), my experience with renters insurance lingers as a positive one. 

And if I have any regrets, it’s that we did not replace the vintage 1970s-era Atari game console — or the mountain of compatible cartridges — on which we’d been playing a fierce match of Frogger just days before the fire. I mean, if only eBay had been a thing back then …