You probably heard about the five-alarm fire that destroyed an apartment building under construction in Mission Bay last night. It was SF's largest fire in a while, but there have been several devastating fires in the past few years. The last three times I've put an open room in my apartment on Craigslist, I've gotten responses from people with the subject line: "MY HOUSE BURNED DOWN." My new roommate moving in this weekend was one of the 21 people displaced by the warehouse fire on 14th and Stevenson from back in January, and we also interviewed two other people who were displaced by either the same fire or one from late last year.

Hearing about last night's fire and meeting all these people who've lost their homes because of fires seems like a good time to remind everyone to actually get renters insurance.

Renters insurance is both really easy to get, and really easy to put off getting. It lingered on my to-do list for two years before I finally got it. It was in October last year, after I witnessed the three-alarm fire that burned two apartment buildings on Valencia St. If that wasn't enough reason, the next morning at brunch, I realized the table next to me was full of some of the now homeless tenants from those buildings. "See these socks? I got them at H&M yesterday. This shirt? New. Underwear? New. I have nothing. Well, except for this outfit." Overhearing their conversation made me realize that one day, I might suddenly have to find a new apartment and replace every single thing in it. An hour later, I signed up for renters insurance.

Renters insurance is crazy cheap (between about $8 - $20 a month, depending on your plan), and it covers more than you might think. I researched several companies and chose the one with a basic plan that covered what I needed. Here's generally what renters insurance will cover:

Your Stuff

You can choose coverage limits (basic is about $15,000, but if you really sit down and tally up everything you own, $25,000 - $30,000 might make more sense.) It's a little bit more expensive (still dirt cheap), but pick a "reimbursement" plan over a "cash value" plan. Cash value plans pay you the depreciated value of what your stuff was worth, whereas reimbursement plans pay you what it will cost to replace your belongings with new items. 

You don't need receipts, but it's a good idea to just go around and take a video of your apartment. You'd be surprised how difficult it is to recall everything you own once it's gone.

Your bike

If your bike gets stolen, even far away from your apartment, renters insurance can cover that as well.

Stuff in your car / Stuff when you travel

If your car gets broken into and your stuff is stolen out of it, or if your stuff gets stolen when you're traveling, some plans will cover the items up to 10% of coverage. (So, if i have a $25,000 plan, I can use $2,500 to cover my stuff out and about.)


If someone comes to your apartment and falls down the stairs, they could potentially sue you. Renters insurance covers liability for legal fees or other people's medical expenses. Even if your dog bites an extremely litigious neighbor, you're covered.

Emergency expenses/"Loss of use"

Let's say your house burns down tonight. With most renters insurance, you'll get a check for "emergency expenses" like a hotel, clothes, food etc. And let's say your house is unlivable and you have to find a temporary place to live while it's getting rebuilt? Policies can cover the difference in your rent for up to a year. 

If knocking on wood is working for you, great, but if you've been meaning to get renters insurance but haven't gotten around to it, just get around to it. Having your house robbed or catch fire is going to suck either way, but at least with insurance, it would suck so much less!

Photo by Emma Beanson