It’s getting close to hurricane season again, and that means in many parts of the United States, houses are vulnerable to damage from winds and heavy storms. Hurricanes can lead to major destruction across wide geographical areas: In 2012, Superstorm Sandy caused more than $68 billion in insurance claims across 24 states.
If you’re a homeowner, you may already be aware of what you need to do to keep your home as safe as possible. But if you’re renting a home or apartment, what steps should you take to keep your possessions and house safe in the event of a hurricane or tropical storm?
Here’s a look at what you should do to minimize the risk.
5 tips for renters during hurricane season
Tip 1 - Purchase renters insurance.
Some renters mistakenly think their landlord’s homeowners policy will provide coverage for their belongings, but that isn’t the case. Even if you’re only renting a room in a shared house, “there is coverage for the landlord’s furnishings, but the tenant’s property is specifically excluded” under a standard homeowners insurance, says Kristofer Kirchen, an insurance broker with First Florida Insurance Network of Central Florida.
If you rent an entire house, you will generally not have your possessions covered, either. However, “additions and alterations” made by the tenant to the property itself, such as the addition of storm screens or carpeting, may be covered up to 10 percent of the home’s coverage limits for contents.
By purchasing renters insurance, you can protect the value of your possessions in the event of hurricane damage. Generally, the policy protects the current-market value of the items—for example, if your three-year old computer was purchased for $1,200 but is now only worth $600, you would receive $600 in reimbursement. However, you may be able to get a rider to cover the cost of purchasing new replacements. Renter’s insurance typically also provides some protection for the following:
- Personal liability.
- Medical payments.
- Loss of use, which provides reimbursement if the renter can’t stay in his home and need to find alternative accommodation.
However, before deciding on an insurance policy, make sure to read it carefully, Kirchen says.
Renters insurance policies provide coverage only for the types of situations that are explicitly named on the policy. If hurricane damage is a concern in your region, make sure the policy specifically includes hurricane coverage.
Tip 2 - Create a home inventory.
Once you’ve purchased renters insurance, it’s important to make sure you’ve taken a home inventory of all of your valuables, so you can easily file a claim if they’re lost or destroyed during a hurricane.
“The inventory should include photos of your items, estimated purchase dates and values, the brand name and model and copies of receipts if you have them,” says John Bodrozic, co-founder of the home inventory site HomeZada. “Taking a photo of the receipt is also another way of keeping these records.”
Make sure to store your inventory in a fireproof safe, and, if possible, create a digital file of your inventory that can be saved online and accessed from anywhere.
Tip 3 - Talk to your landlord about measures to protect the home in case of a hurricane.
As a tenant, you have no responsibility to protect the dwelling, unless there are certain requirements that have been outlined in your lease.
However, it’s in your best interest to make sure the house is as wind- and storm-resistant as possible, so talk to your landlord about precautionary measures that can be taken to protect the dwelling.
FEMA recommends securing the home’s roof with truss bracing (wooden planks running along the underside of the roof in your attic) and hurricane straps (metal straps that buckle the roof to the walls). Doors can be strengthened with reinforcing bolt kits, horizontal bracing can be added to garage doors, and storm shutters can be added to windows and glass doors. All of these materials can be purchased at a hardware store.
Depending on your level of confidence with home renovation projects, you may be able to complete some of these installations yourself, or you may wish to hire a contractor.
Some local governments require homeowners to take some or all of these steps to meet local building code, so find out whether your dwelling meets the requirements in your region. If not, you have a legal right to demand that your landlord makes the necessary improvements.
Tip 4 - After suffering damage from a hurricane, you may qualify for a low-interest SBA loan to finance repairs and replacements for your damaged possessions.
After a hurricane hits, if you didn’t have renters insurance to protect your valuables, or you lost additional items that weren’t included in your renters policy, you may be eligible for a low-interest disaster assistance loan of up to $40,000 to repair or replace items including clothing, furniture, cars, and appliances that were lost or destroyed in a hurricane. The interest rate on the loan won’t exceed 4 percent if no other credit is available, or 8 percent if you’re eligible for credit from other sources. You can apply for a disaster assistance loan here.
Tip 5 - Hide from the wind; run from the water.
If a hurricane is approaching, it can be difficult to know whether you should stay at home or evacuate the premises. Evacuating unnecessarily can put you at additional risk, as you may be caught in your car when the storm hits.
In general, if you’re in a home that’s been built to local code and wind is the only peril anticipated, it makes sense to stay where you are, Kirchen says. However, he adds, “if storm surge or flooding is expected, leave.”
Editor's Note: This is an updated version of a story originally published on May 14, 2014.