Rock Hill family, lacking rental insurance, counts losses from fire

Tracey Keeley is hoping it's a slow weekend for yard sales.

After Keeley lost nearly all of her possessions in a house fire last week, several individuals promised the Rock Hill resident first pick of the leftovers from their yard sales this weekend. It's one of the few ways she'll be able to afford replacing the items her family of four lost in the fire.

Just like thousands of other area residents, the Keeleys rented a home, but they didn't have rental insurance on their belongings. Her dishes are charred, CDs melted and furniture destroyed. And there isn't a check on the way to help replace it.

"We had just recently moved in, and I was at the tail end of unpacking. The next step was to take pictures of our valuables and get insurance," Keeley said Friday, after five nights in a hotel room bed thanks to the American Red Cross. "I never got that far."

She's not alone. While housing statistics from the U.S. Census show more than 40 percent of area residents rent housing, thousands likely don't carry insurance on their belongings.

A recent survey by the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America found more than two-thirds (64.4 percent) of tenants nationwide don't have rental insurance.

That's a surprising number, says Robert Rusbuldt, the association's CEO. "Our society pays such careful attention to securing auto insurance for our vehicles, yet we have millions of renters neglecting the need to insure the rest of their possessions," he said.

York insurance agent Bill Miller attributes the high numbers of uninsured renters to tight purse strings. But he says going without insurance is the wrong place to make cuts.

"It just another expense to most people. They'd rather keep the money in their pocket," he said. "Some landlords ask their tenants to get insurance, but it's like car insurance: If you weren't forced (by law) to have it, you probably wouldn't."

While a landlord's homeowners insurance policy covers the building structure, it won't pay for the tenant's belongings in case of fire or theft, Miller said. Renters also put themselves at risk of being held liable for an accident that happens inside the home, he said.

Josh Forte, a 24-year-old marketing coordinator who rents a house off Mount Gallant Road, said he received a quote for rental insurance but didn't purchase the policy after he and his roommate disagreed about sharing the monthly $12 payment. But he admits if his laptop computer or big screen TV were destroyed or stolen, he wouldn't be able to replace them.

"I should have insurance," he said. "I don't know why I don't -- carelessness, laziness, maybe both."

It's a big risk to take for something that costs less than a dollar a day, Miller said.

"Tenant insurance is very inexpensive," Miller said, adding a $20,000 policy can be purchased for less than $150 a year. He said a basic policy will pay for items lost in a fire or theft and will cover the tenant in a lawsuit. Policies can be purchased from almost any home or auto insurance agent.

Miller said the first thing tenants should do when leasing a new home is make a list of all valuable items and work with an insurance agent to determine the worth, then purchase an appropriate policy. He said most policies can be purchased in monthly payments, helping keep payments affordable.

Tracey Keeley learned the risks of going uninsured the hard way. When she finds a new place to call home, insurance will be at the top of her priority list.

"Don't even move in until you've got that insurance," she warned. "It's just not worth it."