NEW YORK (MainStreet) — There is no way to predict when natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy will sweep across New York City neighborhoods or when another Hurricane Katrina will destroy your cozy nest, but even if the same nightmare happened again, it wouldn't be the end of the world if your property is insured.
For most 20-somethings who rent tiny prewar-walkups and find homeownership increasingly out of reach, the maneuver that can reduce the pain of losing their personal properties is known as renters' insurance. Unfortunately, a recent Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company study conducted by Harris Interactive found that more than half of Millennials don't have renters' insurance and, in turn, leave their belongings and wallets at risk.
The online survey, which interviewed more than 1,280 renters across the United States aged from 23 to 35 years old, showed that 56% of Millennials are not covered by renters' insurance.
Unlike the more widespread awareness for homeowner's insurance or auto insurance, renters' insurance is unrecognized by Millennials who often overlook the value of their home items and personal belongings until incidents like theft happen.
"A lot of people don't know that if they don't own a house, they don't [automatically] get insured," says Joshua Duvall, an independent insurance specialist at Capital Financial Services, LLC., based in New York.
Fan Wu, a recent master's graduate whose apartment in Queens, N.Y. got hit with a break-in during the summer of 2013, found out the hard way about the perils of being an uninsured renter.
"The police came and asked me if I had renters' insurance, but I didn't," she told MainStreet. That was the first time she heard about such a thing as renters' insurance. Similar to Wu, many Millennials not only lack of the awareness of renters' insurance, but also have little knowledge about the cost of the renters' insurance. Nationwide's study released data showing that 75% of uninsured Millennials don't realize how much coverage they can get for a monthly pittance.
According to National Association Insurance Committee, monthly coverage rates of renters' insurance average is between $15 and $30 depending on the location and size of the rental unit and the policyholder's possessions.
"Renters' insurance is so inexpensive -- every single person should have [a policy]," says Duvall.
Wu could have minimized her loss for the minimal cost of a pair of movie tickets per month, yet the 26-year-old wasn't insured for her items — worth approximately $5,000, including a laptop, several luxury brand handbags, a digital camera and jewelry (with a ring from Tiffany's).
"If she was covered by a policy that has a deductible of $500 [per year], she would be able to replace up to $4,500 from her claim with the insurance company," Duvall estimated.
He also mentioned that "instead of having to get an appraisal on your home like with homeowner's insurance, with renters' insurance you simply estimate the value of all of your belongings." Items such as furniture, appliances you own, clothes, tools, bikes, electronics, or basically anything you would take with you when you move, are all categorized as your personal possession.
It's hard for Wu to remember what items exactly she lost through the burglary, "because [the robbers] made my room so messy that everything went upside-down and I didn't have a list of my items," she said. That's why Mark Hara, vice president of marketing at Nationwide, suggested that always taking a photo of what you possess and showing it to an insurance agent would help you to evaluate your properties.
Another scenario is when fire damages renters' homes, they can get a policy that has replacement value coverage meaning if they lost everything in a fire, "the insurance company would pay you to stay in hotels and replace your belongings with new items," Duvall said.
Besides covering renters' personal property from theft and damage, personal liability is another vital factor for which renters should be insured. "In the event someone is injured as a result of your negligence in or around your home, you will be protected [if you are insured]," says Thomas Simeone, partner at Simeone & Miller, LLP., a Washington D.C.-based law firm. "Owners may have to be liable for the accidents, but the injured people may sue tenants as well. Insurance would provide coverage and a lawyer in that case."
There is misunderstanding pervading renters' insurance: it's the false assumption that you are covered under your landlord's insurance when something unexpected happens.
"If something happened to the building you are living in, the building and your landlord are covered by the insurance, but the internal damage is on your own," says Hara. As a result, Simeone suggested that the best solution for renters is to "get coverage for your own possessions."
Right after the burglary, Wu moved to a building that has surveillance system and security guards, but she is still uninsured. Not only because she feels her neighborhood seems safer, but also she has a concern.
"I sublet my room from my roommate without signing any lease with landlord, [and] I'm not sure how that is supposed to be insured," she said.
In response to that, Simeone said, "every renter can have their own renters' insurance." He explained that even if you are a renter like Wu, who now sublets room from someone, or you are a middleman who leases an apartment from your landlord and rents out the extra rooms to others, you should talk to your insurance agent. Your insurance can be customized by your specific situation, and it would help you to be protected and keep your cost down.
— Written by Amy Xie for MainStreet