Magazine

What Is Renters Insurance? (And How Do You Get It?)

By Sofia Figueroa

For many of us — especially for the majority of the younger and up-and-coming generations — renting our homes is going to be the reality for the foreseeable future. (Although fret not — contrary to popular belief, it could even be the smarter financial choice.)

2 women looking at a giant door. Circles float in the air in front with an umbrella, key, and life preserver. Illustration.

But just because you don’t own the walls of your place doesn’t mean the stuff inside them has to live and die by whenever your landlord decides to update the pipes or electrical wiring. Enter: renters insurance, which helps safeguard your living situation, the people who come to visit you, and most of all, your stuff (sometimes even when that stuff isn’t currently in your house!).

Here’s a quick guide to how it works — and what you need to know as you shop around.

What is renters insurance?

Basically, it’s homeowners insurance for non-homeowners. As far as insurance goes, it’s also super versatile: It helps to protect you (the renter) from things like property damage and burglary. It also helps to protect you from being legally liable if people like friends and family get hurt when they visit you.

Depending on your policy, renters insurance can also cover things like additional living expenses (ALE), aka the cost to stay in a hotel or short-term rental if your place becomes uninhabitable (think: water damage or gas leak). You can usually also add special protection for specific valuables, like engagement rings or expensive instruments.

Do I really need renters insurance?

Well, your landlord might require you to get renters insurance as a condition of your lease. But even if not, think about this: If you rent, the quality of your home itself — the walls, the electric, the plumbing — is almost entirely out of your control. So you’re basically at the mercy of your landlord and how well they keep up the property. If there’s a fire, or a break-in, or a pipe bursts, your landlord and their own insurance are only going to be concerned with the building itself — not what you, the tenant, keep in it.

Also outside your control: Mistakes your neighbors might make, like leaving the water running or the stove on. Plus, any time you have other people in your home, they’re also at the mercy of all those same factors. (They might even sue you — yikes!)

In an emergency, renters insurance can really be your financial ace in the hole. Here are a few more things to consider if you’re still on the fence:

  1. Disasters and break-ins can be traumatic. Renters insurance — especially from a provider that pays out quickly — can help you get back up and running. That way, you can process the loss(es) and the experience without having to worry about how you’re going to afford to rebuild your life.

  2. Your physical possessions are assets. They allow you to live the kind of life you want to live, both in your home and beyond it. Consider protecting them like you would safeguard your bank accounts or investment portfolio.

  3. Lesser-known fact: If you’ve ever lost your phone or had your laptop get stolen while you’re traveling or had your bike disappear while you’re at work, renters insurance can also help protect you there (even outside the US).

  4. There may be times when your apartment is uninhabitable for other reasons outside your control — think water damage from burst pipes, gas leaks, etc. ALE coverage can keep you from having to pay double the rent or couch-surf with friends and family.

  5. Imagine how horrible it would be if a friend or partner was injured in your home — or even worse, if you were found liable for injuring someone yourself? Renters insurance can help cover for those medical bills, as well as any settlement you might be expected to pay.

How do I know what to get covered?

The short answer? You’re going to want to cover everything you couldn’t stand to lose tomorrow. And not in a “material objects are important” sense — in a “preserving as much of the life I’ve built for myself as I can” sense. The goal is to figure out what it would cost to replace your home, in total.

  1. First off, as tedious as it may be, figure out a ballpark total for the bulk of your possessions — not what they’re worth, but what it would cost you to replace them. Furniture, clothing, electronics, books, linens, dishes and cookware, plants, office items, gym equipment, hobby items … it’s all relevant. That’ll be your primary policy coverage.

  2. Then add the value of specific scheduled (aka specially listed) items you want to protect. These are the items explicitly not covered by the primary policy, like jewelry, expensive pro equipment, and artwork. You’ll need to add additional scheduled item coverage for these — not just for disaster damage and burglary, but also for damage, loss, or theft that occurs outside of your home.

  3. You may also want to check out the average cost of short-term rentals or long-term hotel rates in your area so you can decide how much ALE coverage to buy, depending on how many months’ worth of rent you want to be able to cover if you get temporarily displaced from your home.

Not everything you own can be replaced, of course — you can’t put a price on items like family heirlooms, photo collections, or the stuff with sentimental value — but most of it can be. (For the rest, may we suggest a fireproof safe?) If it helps: The average two-bedroom apartment contains at least $30,000 in personal belongings.

Anything else I should know when looking for renters insurance?

Everyone’s situation is different when it comes to what “home” and “property” mean, so as you shop around, look for a renters insurance policy that you can customize to match yours. Some other things to keep in mind:

  • A basic renters insurance policy doesn’t cover everything automatically. Flood insurance (as in, the disaster kind of flooding, not simple water damage) and earthquake insurance are not covered by renters insurance — they’re separate add-ons. The same might go for identity theft, too.

  • Your policy is your policy. (That extends to your family, obv.) Some companies will allow you to share a policy with a roommate, but most experts will tell you it’s too risky to be worth it. Having your own separate policies is more likely to be worth the expense in the long run.

  • Any time you have a written rental agreement in place — no matter who the landlord is — their homeowners insurance is going to exclude your possessions. So you’d still need renters insurance to get coverage, even if you’re renting from friends or family.

Where should I start?

Renters insurance tends to be pretty inexpensive, but as I said — shop around. If you already have a different insurance policy with another company, like your car insurance, you might start by checking with them to see if they offer bundles. Sometimes that can be less expensive than finding a new provider (although definitely not always).

We also like to recommend Lemonade, a digital company that makes it easy to get insured quickly, known for fast payouts and great customer support. Plus, they donate any customer payments that don’t get used to pay claims to charities of your choice. (Bonus: They also do pet insurance. 🐶)*

Your to-do list might be pretty long. Like, I-need-a-nap long. And maybe getting renters insurance feels like another straw to add onto the camel’s back. I totally get it. But at the end of the day, it can really be worth the peace of mind to know that if something happens to your home, you won’t be on your own.


Disclosures

Ellevest is a paid partner of Lemonade Insurance Agency, LLC (“LIA”), a licensed insurance agency providing quotes and policies for Lemonade Insurance Company (“LIC”). Insurance is provided by LIC. LIA receives compensation based on the premiums for the insurance policies it sells. Products may not be available in all states.

Ellevest may receive compensation from third party partners for referring you to such partners for non-investment consumer products or services. This marketing partnership gives Ellevest an incentive to refer you to these partners instead of businesses that are not partners of Ellevest. This conflict of interest affects the ability of Ellevest to provide you with unbiased, objective promotions about the products and services of its business partners. This could mean that the products and/or services of other businesses that do not compensate Ellevest may be more appropriate for you than the products and/or services of Ellevest’s business partners. However, you are not required to purchase the products and services that Ellevest promotes.

Ellevest is not affiliated with these third party partners and does not provide, nor does it guarantee, any third-party product, service, information or recommendation. Claims provided herein were provided by these third party partners and have not been independently verified by Ellevest. The third parties providing these products or services are solely responsible for them, as well as all other content on their websites. Ellevest is not liable for any third party’s failure with regard to those advertised products, services and benefits. These advertised products and services may not be FDIC insured or bank-guaranteed, may be subject to a different privacy policy than Ellevest, and may not be available in all states. You should check individual offers, products and services to become familiar with any applicable restrictions or conditions that may apply.

© 2021 Ellevest, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

You may or may not have noticed that we linked to nerdwallet.com for information about joint renters insurance policies. FYI, NerdWallet, Inc (“Solicitor”) serves as a solicitor for Ellevest, Inc. (“Ellevest”). Solicitor will receive compensation for referring you to Ellevest. Compensation to the Solicitor will be $10 per membership activated. You will not be charged any fee or incur any additional costs for being referred to Ellevest by the Solicitor. The Solicitor may promote and/or may advertise Ellevest’s investment adviser services. Ellevest and the Solicitor are not under common ownership or otherwise related entities.

*Ellevest is a paid partner of Lemonade Insurance Agency, LLC (“LIA”), a licensed insurance agency providing quotes and policies for Lemonade Insurance Company (“LIC”). Insurance is provided by LIC. LIA receives compensation based on the premiums for the insurance policies it sells. Products may not be available in all states.

Ellevest may receive compensation from third party partners for referring you to such partners for non-investment consumer products or services. This marketing partnership gives Ellevest an incentive to refer you to these partners instead of businesses that are not partners of Ellevest. This conflict of interest affects the ability of Ellevest to provide you with unbiased, objective promotions about the products and services of its business partners. This could mean that the products and/or services of other businesses that do not compensate Ellevest may be more appropriate for you than the products and/or services of Ellevest’s business partners. However, you are not required to purchase the products and services that Ellevest promotes.

Ellevest is not affiliated with these third party partners and does not provide, nor does it guarantee, any third-party product, service, information or recommendation. Claims provided herein were provided by these third party partners and have not been independently verified by Ellevest. The third parties providing these products or services are solely responsible for them, as well as all other content on their websites. Ellevest is not liable for any third party’s failure with regard to those advertised products, services and benefits. These advertised products and services may not be FDIC insured or bank-guaranteed, may be subject to a different privacy policy than Ellevest, and may not be available in all states. You should check individual offers, products and services to become familiar with any applicable restrictions or conditions that may apply.

The information provided does not take into account the specific objectives, financial situation, or particular needs of any specific person.

All opinions and views expressed by Ellevest are current as of the date of this writing, for informational purposes only, and do not constitute or imply an endorsement of any third party’s products or services.

Information was obtained from third-party sources, which we believe to be reliable but not guaranteed for accuracy or completeness.

The information provided should not be relied upon as investment advice or recommendations, does not constitute a solicitation to buy or sell securities and should not be considered specific legal, investment or tax advice. Investing entails risk, including the possible loss of principal, and there is no assurance that the investment will provide positive performance over any period of time.

Ellevest Membership fees are as follows: Ellevest Essential is $1 per month, Ellevest Plus is $5 per month, and Ellevest Executive is $9. Other fees as described in Ellevest’s Wrap Fee Program Brochure and the Ellevest Membership Terms and Conditions Agreement will continue to apply.

A newsletter you’ll love

Get all the news, advice, and must-know info on women, money, and career.

SIGN UP
Sofia Figueroa

Sofia Figueroa is a money coach at Ellevest and a CFP® Professional. She works with Ellevest members to help them take financial control and make a plan to hit their money goals.