CAN I OWN A HOME WITHOUT HOMEOWNER’S INSURANCE?
Unlike driving a car, you can legally own a home without homeowner’s insurance. But, if you have bought your home and financed the purchase with a mortgage, your lender will most likely require you to get homeowner’s insurance coverage. That’s because lenders need to protect their investment in your home in case your house burns down or is badly damaged by a storm, tornado or other disaster.
If you live in an area that is likely to flood, the bank will also require you to purchase flood insurance. Some financial institutions may also require earthquake coverage if you live in a region vulnerable to earthquakes. If you buy a co-op or condominium, your board will probably require you to buy homeowner’s insurance.
After your mortgage is paid off, no one will force you to buy homeowner’s insurance. But it is not advisable to cancel your policy and risk losing what you’ve invested in your home.
CAN I GET INSURANCE IF I RENT MY HOME?
Renter’s insurance provides financial protection against the loss or destruction of your possessions when you rent a house or apartment. While your landlord may be sympathetic to a burglary you have experienced or a fire caused by your iron, destruction or loss of your possessions is not usually covered by your landlord’s insurance. Because in most cases, renter’s insurance covers only the value of your belongings, not the physical building, the premium is relatively inexpensive.
By purchasing renter’s insurance, your possessions are covered against losses from fire or smoke, lightning, vandalism, theft, explosion, windstorm and water damage (not including floods). Like homeowner’s insurance, renter’s insurance also covers your responsibility to other people injured at your home or elsewhere by you, a family member or your pet and pays legal defense costs if you are taken to court.
Renter’s insurance covers your additional living expenses if you are unable to live in your apartment because of a fire or other covered peril. Most policies will reimburse you the difference between your additional living expenses and your normal living expenses but still may set limits as to the amount they will pay.
There are two types of renter’s insurance policies you may purchase:
1. Actual Cash Value – pays to replace your possessions minus a deduction for depreciation up to the limit of your policy
2. Replacement Cost – pays the actual cost of replacing your possessions (no deduction for depreciation) up to the limit of your policy
With either policy, you may want to consider purchasing a floater. A standard renter’s policy offers only limited coverage for items such as jewelry, silver, furs, etc. If you own property that exceeds these limits, it is recommended that you supplement your policy with a floater. A floater is a separate policy that provides additional insurance for your valuables and covers them for perils not included in your policy such as accidental loss.
HOW DO I TAKE A HOME INVENTORY AND WHY?
Would you be able to remember all the possessions you’ve accumulated over the years if they were destroyed by a fire? Having an up-to-date home inventory will help you get your insurance claim settled faster, verify losses for your income tax return and help you purchase the correct amount of insurance.
Start by making a list of your possessions, describing each item and noting where you bought it and its make and model. Clip to your list any sales receipts, purchase contracts, and appraisals you have. For clothing, count the items you own by category — pants, coats, shoes, for example –- making notes about those that are especially valuable. For major appliance and electronic equipment, record their serial numbers usually found on the back or bottom.
• Don’t be put off!
If you are just setting up a household, starting an inventory list can be relatively simple. If you’ve been living in the same house for many years, however, the task of creating a list can be daunting. Still, it’s better to have an incomplete inventory than nothing at all. Start with recent purchases and then try to remember what you can about older possessions.
• Big ticket items
Valuable items like jewelry, art work and collectibles may have increased in value since you received them. Check with your agent to make sure that you have adequate insurance for these items. They may need to be insured separately.
• Take a picture
Besides the list, you can take pictures of rooms and important individual items. On the back of the photos, note what is shown and where you bought it or the make. Don’t forget things that are in closets or drawers.
• Videotape it
Walk through your house or apartment videotaping and describing the contents. Or do the same thing using a tape recorder.
• Use a personal computer
Use your PC to make your inventory list. Personal finance software packages often include a homeowner’s room-by-room inventory program.
• Storing the list, photos and tapes
Regardless of how you do it (written list, floppy disk, photos, videotape or audio tape), keep your inventory along with receipts in your safe deposit box or at a friend’s or relative’s home. That way you’ll be sure to have something to give your insurance representative if your home is damaged. When you make a significant purchase, add the information to your inventory while the details are fresh in your mind.
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN CANCELLATION AND NONRENEWAL?
There is a big difference between an insurance company canceling a policy and choosing not to renew it. Insurance companies cannot cancel a policy that has been in force for more than 60 days except when:
- You fail to pay the premium
- You have committed fraud or made serious misrepresentations on your application.
Nonrenewal is a different matter. Either you or your insurance company can decide not to renew the policy when it expires. Depending on the state you live in, your insurance company must give you a certain number of days’ notice and explain the reason for not renewing before it drops your policy. If you think the reason is unfair or want a further explanation, call the insurance company’s consumer affairs division. If you don’t get a satisfactory explanation, call your state insurance department.
The company may have decided to drop that particular line of insurance or to write fewer policies where you live, so the nonrenewal decision may not be because of something you did. On the other hand, if you did do something that raised the insurance company’s risk considerably, like committing fraud, the premium may rise or you may not have your policy renewed.
If your insurance company did not renew your policy, you will not necessarily be charged a higher premium at another insurance company.
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