Resources for Renters

Are you a current renter, or are you considering renting? Here are some helpful rental tips, renters rights summaries, and information about renters insurance.

Renters Tips and Rights

1. Bring your paperwork.
The best way to win over a prospective landlord is to be prepared. To get a competitive edge over other applicants, bring the following when you meet the landlord: a completed rental application; written references from landlords, employers, and colleagues; and a current copy of your credit report.

2. Review the lease.
Carefully review all of the conditions of the tenancy before you sign on the dotted line. Your lease or rental agreement may contain a provision that you find unacceptable -- for example, restrictions on guests, pets, design alterations, or running a home business. A lease is a legally-binding contract. You are legally bound to all portions of the agreement including the length of the lease. Don't assume the landlord used a standard form and therefore everything must be fine.

3. Documentation. 
To avoid disputes or misunderstandings with your landlord, document your correspondence. Keep copies. Follow up any oral agreements with a letter, setting out your understandings. For example, if you ask your landlord to make repairs, put your request in writing and keep a copy for yourself. If the landlord agrees orally, send a letter confirming this.

4. Understand your privacy rights. 
One of the most common rental misunderstandings involves a landlord's right to enter a rental unit and a tenant's right to privacy. Be sure to understand your privacy rights and the required notice your landlord must provide before entering.

5. Request repairs. 
Landlords are required to offer their tenants livable premises, including adequate weatherproofing; heat, water, and electricity; and clean, sanitary, and structurally safe premises.

6. Communicate with your landlord. 
Keep communication open with your landlord. If there's a problem -- for example, if the landlord is slow to make repairs -- talk it over first to see if the issue can be resolved before taking any legal action.

7. Purchase renters insurance. 
Your landlord's insurance policy will not cover your losses due to theft or damage. Renters insurance also covers you if you're sued by someone who claims to have been injured in your unit due to your carelessness. Renters' insurance typically costs $350 a year for a $50,000 policy that covers loss due to theft or damage caused by other people or natural disasters; if you don't need that much coverage, there are cheaper policies. For more information about renters insurance, see the "4 Myths About Renters Insurance" below.

8. Protect your security deposit. 
To protect yourself and avoid any misunderstandings, make sure your lease or rental agreement is clear on the use and refund of security deposits, including allowable deductions. When you move in, do a walk-through with the landlord to record existing damage to the premises on a move-in statement or checklist. The best way to protect your security deposit is to keep your rental clean. This will also reduce pests, decrease maintenance calls, and keep your landlord happy.

9. Your personal safety. 
Your own personal safety is ultimately your responsibility. Make your own determination regarding the safety of your building and neighborhood. Check with the local police department; investigate the property's vulnerability to intrusion by a criminal, learn whether criminal incidents have already occurred on the property or nearby, and gain a full understanding of off-campus safety issues and crime prevention. View our Off Campus Safety page for additional advice.

10. Deal with an eviction properly. 
Know when to fight an eviction notice -- and when to move. If you feel the landlord is clearly in the wrong (for example, you haven't received proper notice, or the premises are uninhabitable), you may want to fight the eviction. But unless you have the law and provable facts on your side, fighting an eviction notice can be short-sighted. If you lose an eviction lawsuit, you may end up hundreds (even thousands) of dollars in debt, which will damage your credit rating and your ability to easily rent from future landlords.

4 Myths About Renters Insurance

by Sally Anderson

Common Misconceptions

If you're wondering what's the big deal about renters insurance -- like you need another way to spend your monthly paycheck? -- first consider these common misconceptions:

It's cool -- my landlord's covered. In most cases, a landlord's insurance covers only structural damage to the building itself—and many landlord policies don't even go that far if the damage is caused by a tenant. If you leave the tub running and it turns your floor into cardboard and dribbles downstairs, damaging your neighbor's couch, you may be liable for the whole drippy mess. If your building went up in flames, your landlord's coverage would include repairs, but only to the building, not to the possessions of tenants.

It's out of my price range. Is $10 to $20 per month too much? Unofficial online quotes from two major carriers produced annual rates of $157 and $203 respectively. Both quotes were for a fictional five-room house in Boulder, Colorado, covering the basics for "standard" personal property valued at $35,700 (the automated figure produced by one company). Both quotes had a deductible of $500 per incident, and included medical coverage for others, on-premise or off-premise. Assumptions were that the house contained a smoke alarm and fire extinguishers. For lower rates, you can raise the deductible; for more protection, you can pay more for replacement cost coverage, in which reimbursement is based on today's replacement cost rather than original value.

I'm in a great building, and I'm not worried about security. Renters insurance extends beyond on-premise theft and hazards. If your suitcase is stolen while you're on vacation, you'll likely be covered. Same with property stolen from your car. You may also be protected if someone slips and sprains their ankle at your annual dance-a-thon; you may even receive compensation for legal defense costs in the case of a lawsuit.

My stuff isn't really worth much. You might be surprised at how quickly all those books, CDs, and kitchen appliances add up. According to StateFarm.com, most people own more than $20,000 worth of property. Refer to the lists in this article to make an inventory of your possessions prior to contacting an insurance carrier for a quote. Be sure to list each item along with its year of purchase and what you think it would cost to replace it today.

Types of Coverage

Personal property coverage

As with any insurance policy, coverage varies by state, company, and type, but here are some basic examples of personal property to include in your inventory. Items not listed here may still be insurable; ask agents about customizing your policy with more options.

Property typically covered:
  • Stereo systems, DVD players, and television sets
  • CDs, DVDs, videos, and tapes
  • Cameras and other photography equipment
  • Movable appliances, including microwave oven
  • Furniture
  • Sports equipment
  • China and glassware
  • Clothing
  • Books
  • Miscellaneous
Property typically covered with limitations:
  • Home computers
  • Cash, including coin collections
  • Checks, traveler's checks, and securities
  • Jewelry and watches
  • Precious and semi-precious stones
  • Comic books, trading cards, and stamps, including collections
  • Antiques and fine art
  • Goldware and silverware (theft)
  • Rugs, wall hangings, and tapestries
  • Firearms (theft)
  • Furs or clothing trimmed in fur
  • Boats or other watercraft, and related equipment

Natural hazards coverage

Again, natural-hazard coverage varies by state and company, but most policies protect your property against losses created by the following:
  • Vandalism
  • Water damage from failure of plumbing or appliances
  • Frozen water pipes
  • Hail
  • Windstorm
  • Smoke
  • Explosion
  • Vehicles or aircraft
For a higher premium, most insurance carriers offer options to add coverage for hazards not included in a standard renter's policy:
  • Earthquake, landslide, or other damage caused by movement of the earth
  • Water damage cause by an underground source or flooding
  • Nuclear-hazard damages

Questions to Ask Your Insurance Carrier

  • Will your insurance cover any property shared by your roommates?
  • Which items should you take photographs or videotapes of?
  • What are the limits on specific categories of personal possessions?
  • What optional coverage is available, including for satellite dish and portable cellular communication systems?
  • What is the price and protection difference between "replacement cost coverage" and "depreciated cost coverage"?
  • How should you value fine-art objects?
  • What circumstances are covered in your personal liability?
  • What circumstances are covered in the medical coverage for others?
  • Will you be notified before any rate increases because of policy changes or inflation?
  • If your building were damaged or destroyed, would you be compensated for interim housing?
  • How much protection would you have if your home were damaged or destroyed because of an action by yourself or a guest?
  • Will your personal liability include defense costs in the case of a lawsuit filed against you?
  • What will your off-premises coverage include, for both personal property and medical liability?
  • If you're planning to be married, is protection provided or available to cover the value of gifts?

Remember that insurance is about your protection against unforeseeable circumstances. Even if you think "it can't happen here," paying the price of one music CD a month might someday make the difference between an empty house and a replacement shopping spree.