In late August, residents of the Charton Apartments at 150 Washington Street in Middletown sifted through water- and fire-damaged possessions the morning after a dumpster blaze spread to the nearby apartment building, wreaking havoc.
No one was injured in the 5:30 a.m. fire, although 10 people were displaced.
The event was a tragedy. But perhaps the bigger tragedy is that exact situation happens far too often, according to Sue Bolen of the Red Cross.
“It is one of those things that happens more often than not,” Bolen said. “When somebody has renter’s insurance, they are standing there and lost everything. It is already devastating. It is just compounded when the person doesn't have renter’s insurance. It’s heartbreaking.”
Bolen responds to approximately 200 fires a year through the Red Cross, many of which are fires that destroy apartments. And in those cases, it is much more common for the families not to have renter’s insurance than to have it.
She pushes renter’s insurance on every renter she meets, saying it is something that everybody “just has to have.” It costs about $20 a month, and makes all the difference in the world, Bolen said.
“If a family has renter’s insurance, that can help them guide through that process,” Bolen said. “Getting that check from the insurance policy, that means they can continue on with their life. The people without renter’s insurance are left with nothing.”
Renter’s insurance is cheap, with policies generally costing between $200 and $250 a year, according to Kevin Reardon, who owns Reardon Agency Insurance on Clark Lane. And yet it is “criminally common” for renter’s not to have it, he said.
Reardon said many renters think the landlord’s homeowner’s insurance will cover their possessions. That is absolutely not true, as none of the “content” within a rental property is covered under a homeowner’s insurance policy, Reardon said.
Bolen said there were times when an apartment burned down, and the family thought their possessions were covered by the landlord’s homeowner’s insurance. Bolen had to tell them that wasn’t true, that none of their possessions are covered, which she described as “awful, just awful.”
Another big reason people don’t buy renter’s insurance is because they don’t want to take on another bill, Reardon said. However, Reardon said if a person uses the same company for renter’s insurance as they do for their car insurance, they get a discount. There were even times where the discount on the car insurance policy was actually bigger than the renter’s insurance policy, he said.
“I’m not kidding,” Reardon said. “It has happened.”
The third big reason people don’t get it is because they say they “don’t have that much stuff,” Reardon said. But once their apartment is burglarized or burned down, they realize how much stuff they have, he said.
“We invariably get from the renter, ‘I don’t have that much stuff’,” Reardon said. “When the place burns down and you have nothing, suddenly you have a lot of stuff.”
The normal renter’s insurance policy covers $20,000 of content, and provides another $4,000 more loss of use. That means the insurance company will pay for a hotel room and even the difference in rent, if a new place is more expensive, for up to a year, he said.
Renter’s insurance also is renter’s liability insurance as well. If somebody sues a person renting, the renter’s insurance policy will cover the cost, he said.
“A lot of people don’t realize they need renter’s insurance, when they really, really do,” Reardon said.
Bolen also said that renter’s insurance just doesn’t cover fires, but if the apartment is burglarized or something else happens. She said that other people within an apartment building can forget to blow out a candle or leave a stove running, and that means another family loses everything.
“You dont’t have control over it,” Bolen said. “It can happen to anybody. It doesn’t matter how careful you are, it can happen.”