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Renter’s insurance needed in uncertain times

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Posted: Friday, June 6, 2003 9:22 am

One thought kept running through Mesa resident Jean Powell’s mind as she watched dozens of firefighters struggling to save her apartment complex last month.

"There’s not much in there, but it’s all I own," Powell, 58, thought.

She lost it all.

That was Mother’s Day. A few kids, a book of matches — and everything Powell and 16 of her neighbors owned was gone.

Seventy-five firefighters from Mesa, Rural/Metro and Chandler responded to the May 11 fire at the Calusa Trace Apartments, but in the end, eight of 10 apartments were destroyed.

Mesa Fire Department deputy chief Mary Cameli was saddened, but not surprised, to learn that only one of the eight households affected by the fire had renter’s insurance — insurance that covers a renter’s personal possessions in the event of a fire, natural disaster, theft or water damage.

"Of the fire incidents that we respond to, we find that 95 percent of the people don’t have renter’s insurance," she said. "A lot of people feel comfortable thinking that nothing is going to happen to them."

Powell was one of those people. Firefighters were able to salvage a few pictures, but the few pieces of furniture she has now, along with the clothes in her closet, were donated or bought with the help of her co-workers, the American Red Cross and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, of which she isn’t even a member.

"I was always so careful. I made sure the coffee pot was off and nothing was going when I left," Powell said. "I just thought, ‘It’s not going to happen to me.’ "

Powell said her co-workers at the Superstition Springs Red Lobster restaurant are getting tired of her asking if they have a smoke detector and renter’s insurance. She now has both.

While Mike Clark, a spokesman with Rural/Metro Fire Department, said he rarely hears of Scottsdale residents going without renter’s insurance, representatives from fire departments in Tempe, Gilbert and Chandler said they run into it all the time.

"I think it’s a combination of not understanding what they need it for and the fact that people who rent often can’t afford (extras) and renter’s insurance is another bill they don’t want to have," said Chandler Fire Capt. Dan Couch.

What people don’t understand is that renter’s insurance is relatively inexpensive, said James Frederickson, executive director of the Arizona Insurance Information Association.

For as little as $165 to $200 a year, a renter can obtain a policy that provides $25,000 for personal possessions, $100,000 liability coverage, $1,000 in medical benefits with a $500 deductible.

"It really is very inexpensive," Frederickson said. "We as consumers make choices and unfortunately, insurance is one of those things we can’t taste, touch or hold, but it’s awfully nice to have when we need it."

Powell needs no reminders of that.

"Everybody I know, if they didn’t have renter’s insurance before, they are getting it now," she said.

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