Long story short: I went from owning a home to renting a few years back. For the first time in a long time, I found myself making decisions on a type of insurance I knew nothing about.

I mean really, renters insure basically covers my electronics and underwear in case a thief breaks in, right? That and so much more, I would discover.

Things you’d expect a renter’s policy to cover:

  • Replacement of personal property due to theft
  • Personal injury if someone gets hurt in the home
  • Damage to my stuff while moving

These things all make sense because they’re normal losses you would expect to happen in the life of a renter. Thankfully, I’ve never had to file a claim for any of these situations.

It was my sister’s experience with renter’s insurance that really opened my eyes. Less than a month after my sister’s renter’s insurance went into effect in 2017, her home in Rockport, TX was hit by Hurricane Harvey. This is the town where the mayor said, “If you choose not to evacuate, write your name and Social Security number on your arm so we can identify your remains.”

My sister bought a nice little mobile home on a lot about a mile from the shore of the Gulf of Mexico. When she bought it, no insurance company would issue her a homeowners or hurricane policy. Understandable since she lives in what some have dubbed Hurricane Alley. At the very least, she wanted to protect her belongings, so she took out a renter’s policy instead. (She rents the piece of land that her home is on.) It turned out to be good move.

She evacuated from Rockport the day the hurricane hit in 2017 and would not be able to move back home until almost two months later. The whole area looked like a war zone when she returned. It still looked that way when I visited six weeks after the hurricane. Million-dollar homes nearby were missing walls and roofs. Cars, boats and RVs were tossed around the county and ended up in the most unbelievable places.

You might be surprised how much coverage you get from renter’s insurance for the relatively small cost.

Miraculously, my sister’s home suffered very minor damage. A couple dozen shingles were missing, as was her wooden deck and storage shed. There was some minor water damage inside the house from a leak in the roof, but everything else was virtually unscathed.

mobile home in Rockport, TX that survived hurricane damage
My sister’s Rockport, TX home fared much better than many when Hurricane Harvey hit in 2017. She didn’t appreciate my quip about being upgraded to lakefront property.

Not knowing the extent of the damage yet as she worried and watched the news in the days following the hurricane, she heard a FEMA representative instruct evacuees to call their insurance companies before calling FEMA.

Even though she was pretty certain the insurance company would tell her “Sorry, we can’t help you,” my sister called anyway.

To her (and my) surprise, they actually covered most of her loss. Keep in mind, her financial losses were not so much damage to the property, but rather expenses she incurred as a result of her home being temporarily unlivable.

Surprising expenses that renter’s insurance covered after Hurricane Harvey:

  • Up to one year’s lodging in a hotel
  • Spoiled food due to power outage
  • Cost items in the missing storage shed
  • Expense of debris removal
  • Items damaged by water leaks

My sister was pleasantly surprised by what the renter’s policy covered. I was too. Out of curiosity, I dug in and found some other unexpected costs that a renter’s policy would typically cover.

More things that a renter’s policy may cover:

  • Door locks if keys are stolen
  • Temporary repairs to protect property from further immediate damage or loss
  • Unauthorized use of credit card, forgery, counterfeit money
  • Repair or replacement of electronics damaged by electrical surges
  • Damage due to frozen pipes

The Takeaway

If you rent your home, your primary interest is probably in protecting your stuff and your lifestyle, rather than the property you live in. You might be surprised how much coverage you get from renter’s insurance for the relatively small cost – a couple hundred bucks a year in many cases.