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Renter’s insurance: do student tenants need it?

Wenhao+Wu+%7C+Senior+Staff+Photographer
Wenhao Wu | Senior Staff Photographer

Wenhao Wu | Senior Staff Photographer

Wenhao Wu | Senior Staff Photographer

By Wesley Hood / Staff Writer

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It was Halloween, but Kerry Regan got more of a scare than she was hoping for when an intruder broke into her McKee Place apartment.

An intruder burglarized Regan’s apartment in the early hours of Oct. 31, taking her laptop, wallet and car while Regan was asleep. In the days following the break-in, she had to piece together the remnants of the incident by filing a police report and then reporting the incident to her insurance company — making use of a policy she never thought she’d have to use.

“It was an awful experience to be violated like that. But knowing my policy would cover the damages, it put a little ease into my mind,” Regan said.

While Geico — Regan’s insurer — has not issued her a check for the claim yet, it did inform her that it would be covering the cost of the laptop entirely. Regan said once she reported the incident to her insurance company, she had to file forms and copies of the police report with it in order for it to be covered.

Pitt’s Office of Off-Campus Living says on its website that it strongly encourages all student tenants to purchase renter’s insurance, especially for incidents like Regan’s that can arise at any moment. When landlords don’t explicitly require renter’s insurance in the lease, students often ignore the advice to get a policy.

What is renter’s insurance?

Renter’s insurance is typically a monthly fee you pay to an insurance company that will reimburse you if any of the furniture or appliances in your apartment — or any of your personal belongings ––  are stolen or otherwise damaged.

These insurance policies generally cover three main things –– personal property protection, replacement coverage and personal liability.

Personal property protection is coverage for the loss of personal property due to fire, theft or water damage. The renter chooses a set limit for personal property protection, which they usually do not set above $10,000, at the time of purchase. The cost of the policy, however, is dependent on the total amount of coverage the student requests, according to Kevin Stiles, manager of the Office of Off-Campus Living.

Personal property protection covers the value of the item according to the insurance company’s evaluation — which can be lower if the item is worn or old. Replacement coverage goes a step further and covers the actual cost to replace damaged items.

If a guest, visitor or worker is injured in a renter’s apartment, personal liability insurance will cover medical expenses for this person, regardless of fault, and often will prevent a lawsuit.

How expensive is renters insurance?

According to the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America, the average cost of renter’s insurance is about $12 per month — or $144 per year — for $30,000 of property coverage and $100,000 of liability coverage.

Who says I should get renters insurance?

Pitt employees and Oakland landlords alike strongly recommend — and sometimes require —  students to buy renter’s insurance.

Stiles said that even if students wouldn’t choose insurance on their own, most landlords require renters insurance.

“We recommend [renter’s insurance] to every student. It typically covers replacement costs of your personal belongings as well as personal liability protection,” Stiles said.

Bob Eckenrode, a landlord who owns properties in Oakland — including on Semple Street and Meyran Avenue in Central Oakland — said he states clearly in his lease that tenants must get renter’s insurance.

“Right in all my leases it states that I’m not responsible for anything, and that tenants need to get their own insurance for coverage,” Eckenrode said.

Eckenrode declined to comment on whether he checks that each tenant at his properties has renter’s insurance, although the damage or theft of his tenants’ personal property is not his responsibility either way.

“At the end of the day, I’m not at fault for anything,” Eckenrode said.

Since students bear full responsibility for protecting their personal property, some renters have taken action and purchased a policy.

Svena Verma, a junior chemistry major, purchased insurance for her apartment for the first time this August, after moving off campus for the first time.

“When I signed my lease for SkyVue [Apartments], it stated that the homeowner’s association required everyone in the building get renters insurance,” Verma said.

Verma said her management company required proof of insurance before giving them keys.

“They wouldn’t give us the key to the apartment until we gave them our policy number, that we had to have faxed from Geico,” Verma said.

Okay, so how do you get renter’s insurance?

For students opening new renter’s insurance policies, the process can be done in person, over the phone or online, and often takes less than an hour.

Once a student contacts an agency of his or her choice, the company then reaches out to the student to finalize their request. This entails a phone conversation in which they briefly discuss how much coverage they want, then the agent faxes or emails the final policy to the student.

From there, the student signs the forms and sends them back. Once issued, students can pay insurance online via credit card for the entire year, or through a monthly bill that is mailed.

Julia Gong, a junior psychology major, whose policy is through State Farm Insurance, said the estimate only required her to look at receipts of her furniture purchases from Ikea, and then add in approximately how much she believed her computer and clothing are worth. The process took her approximately 40 minutes, she estimated.

“I was actually pretty surprised — I signed up online, gave them a total estimate of what I thought my personal property was valued at and then they sent me a quote and that was that,” Gong said.

Most insurance companies can provide a quote — an estimated rate for insurance based on a customer’s information — and even give coverage within a day to those who request it, said Allstate agent Dana Richter.

“The process can take as little as 20 minutes,” Richter said. “We prefer meeting our clients in person, but the ability to sign up online and over the phone are especially attractive to students who don’t necessarily want to spend the time on obtaining a policy.”

Richter said her company also allows for the policy to be transferred to any other residence in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania at no additional cost to “allow for a certain flexibility that is appealing to students.”

Students agree that obtaining a policy is easy, which made them more likely to obtain coverage.  

For Verma, the monthly cost was lower than the monthly $12 average quoted by the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America.  

“I got the plan recommended by Geico that they said most college students get, and it costs me about $9 a month — which I think is extremely affordable given how much it covers,” Verma said.

Although students who have policies said the process is quick and easy, many still question whether or not renter’s insurance is worth it. Stiles said these students should remember to consider the value of personal belongings — and the possibility of unexpected incidents, like Regan experienced when her apartment was broken into.

“Do not underestimate the amount of money that you have invested in personal property,” Stiles said. “Students spend a lot of money on computers, books, clothes, furniture and more.”

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Renter’s insurance: do student tenants need it?