Witnessing the five-alarm blaze South of Market on July 28 prompts the realization once again that renters insurance is a good investment. (Chris Victorio/Special to S.F. Examiner)

A fiery reminder: Get renters insurance

Inexpensive policies cover major losses from a big blaze

We awoke to sirens on Tuesday morning. Not just a few – I’ve lived in The City for nearly 20 years, so a couple sirens are just background music at this point. This was an utter cacophony. Kayla and I were both fully awake by the time our roommate Dan knocked on the door and asked, “Did you all look out the window yet? The fire is crazy!”

So that’s what we did, and he wasn’t kidding. A five-alarm fire was blazing right near our apartment. Flames leapt up near the freeway as a cumulus of smoke clawed toward the sky. It was far enough away that we weren’t too worried about our place yet, but decided that, if the fire actually reached the freeway, we would start packing some bags.

Thankfully the brave people of the San Francisco Fire Department got the blaze under control, but six commercial buildings were damaged, including the Bartfield Sales Co., which completely burned to the ground. Luckily nobody was injured.

Despite the fire only impacting commercial buildings, I wanted to use this as an opportunity to try and convince you to get renters insurance. Most of San Francisco is old buildings with old wiring and fires happen far too often. On top of that, there are shady-ass landlords suspected of burning their buildings to get rent controlled people out of them. I’ve probably known a dozen people who’ve been burned out of their apartments and not all of them had renters insurance, which made recovering from a fire all the more devastating.

Most people don’t know how cheap renters insurance is. It only runs around $12-$20 a month and most insurance companies have policies where you can easily add it on with your existing insurance, which can lower your policy costs. And renters insurance covers so much stuff!

When I wrote about renters insurance four years ago for the Examiner (that’s how big a proponent of it I am, I’m writing about it again!), I included this quote from Allstate Insurance agent Dawn Prince:

“Renters insurance does more than protect your stuff from fire and theft (on and off premise); it also protects you from lawsuits, provides guest medical, pays for damage to the property of others, and would help pay for additional living expenses if your apartment is ever damaged by fire, wind, hail, water or any covered loss. It’s an inexpensive way to avoid a disaster leaving you with nothing.”

Did you catch that? Not only does it cover the property in your home in the event of fire, flooding, or theft, it also protects your stuff outside the home too! So, if you’re at a café and someone swipes your laptop when you’re not looking, that’s most likely covered by renters insurance. Same goes for your bike. It all just depends on the policy you choose.

Even if you don’t own things that are terribly valuable, all your possessions still cost money and it adds up. Imagine having to run from your house and only be able to take the things you can carry. You’d eventually need to buy a new bed, new clothes, new shoes, new cooking utensils, new everything. And that’s what having renters insurance is for. When my friend Lisa got burned out of her place in 2016, her insurance paid for nearly $60,000 in expenses, including getting her someplace to live until she got settled somewhere more permanently.

One caveat with renters insurance is that most policies don’t cover things damaged during an earthquake, so you have to buy a separate policy for that. I know, I know, it’s ridiculous, but luckily earthquake insurance is about the same price as renters insurance so it’s not too expensive.

Now I know I probably sound like I’m getting paid by insurance companies to be a shill, but I’m not. (I wish!) I genuinely care about you and your wellbeing. Life is hard enough, especially right now with the pandemic and the looming loss of unemployment for millions of people. You shouldn’t have to worry about how to pay for your life if everything you own gets destroyed.

Do yourself a favor and get renters insurance today. It costs so little and might save you thousands of dollars in the long run.

Stuart Schuffman is a travel writer, TV host and poet. Follow him at BrokeAssStuart.com and join his mailing list at http://bit.ly/BrokeAssList. His column appears every other Thursday. He is a guest columnist and his point of view is not necessarily that of the Examiner.

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