An apartment fire: whether it happens when you’re away or whether you have to flee a burning building, the loss of your home is a traumatizing event. If you didn’t previously have renter’s insurance, the event will likely motivate you to learn more or even take out a policy. If you did have renter’s insurance, this article will let you know the steps you need to take following an unexpected disaster like a fire.
The first thing to do is obtain some record of the damage prior to attempting to clean it up. It may be painful to investigate your destroyed home right away, but it’s important to do so within a reasonable time frame to demonstrate that damages were incurred due to the fire or emergency in question, and not by looting or other factors. Pictures and other records, possibly including your landlord’s claims for damages, will be helpful in proving the extent to which your apartment was affected by the disaster. You should also contact your insurance company right away, so they can send out a claims adjuster to inspect the area and begin working on your case.
Get in touch
Contacting your insurance company immediately is especially important because they may be able to assist you even further than you’d anticipated. Some policies cover the removal of fire or flood debris from your home, and might even pay for you to stay in a hotel or other temporary housing while you’re waiting for your apartment to be repaired or hunting for a new place. The extent to which you can be compensated for these “additional living expenses” may vary by policy, but should be clearly stated in the policy. Check your policy for details about what you’re entitled to receive in the event of a disaster.
It’s also very helpful to have proof of your belongings’ worth. When contacting your insurance agent, you’ll need to provide as much information as possible about the items you lost and the insurance policies you have for them. If you didn’t keep careful track of your property and its worth before the fire, you might be a bit out of luck when it comes to recovering the full value of all your possessions. Still, do your best to assist the insurance company in obtaining an accurate—not inflated—idea of what you owned and what it was worth. Canceled checks or receipts can prove what you paid for the item, and photographs or videos can provide an additional way to estimate its worth. The returns you get will depend on the type of policy you have, but the more information you provide, the better. If you haven’t been keeping appropriate records, do the best you can to demonstrate the worth of what you own after the fact.
Hold on to your hammers
It’s best to refrain from making any repairs to your damaged apartment before it’s inspected by an insurance claims adjuster. The adjuster will be able to provide an official account of the condition of the apartment, and the insurance agency will likely trust their worker’s claims over yours. If you do have to make any temporary repairs to help your apartment become semi-inhabitable again (assuming such a thing is possible), keep good records so you can look into recovering those costs from your insurance company.
Get it in writing
Keep meticulous records of all contact with your insurance agents during this time. If you’re promised a certain settlement, ask for it in writing, so you won’t be cheated out of what you expected to get. If you don’t understand an insurance agent’s reason for requesting certain information from you, make sure to ask questions. Never agree to any settlement offering unless you think it’s fair.
How much?: Actual cash value vs. replacement cost coverage
When you successfully put in a claim, the returns will be dependent on the type of insurance you have: actual cash value or replacement cost coverage. You’ll either get back the actual cash value or fair market value of the item you lost (usually much less than the item’s purchase price when new, due to depreciation), or receive a check for replacement value so you can purchase a new item of similar type and quality. A replacement policy may be more helpful in restoring your lifestyle to the way it was before the fire, but it may also be associated with higher premiums. Sometimes you may receive actual cash value initially, but be able to recover the difference between that value and the purchase price of a new item by providing proof of purchase of the new item.
That damn deductible
Regardless of your policy type, you’ll need to pay your deductible prior to receiving any assistance from your insurance company. Keep this in mind when preparing your claim, but still expect to get a significant amount of compensation for the damages you’ve incurred. If you receive an offer from your insurance company that you don’t think is fair, you can contest it in court, or at least threaten to do so. This may prompt the company to alter its offering to better accommodate your needs and what you think is fair.
Uncertainty for the uninsured
If you didn’t have renter’s insurance prior to the disaster that affected your apartment, you’re probably out of luck. You may be able to recover some costs by passing off your property as your roommate’s (if your roommate has renter’s insurance) or working with your landlord. However, it’s unlikely that you can recover a significant portion of the value of your possessions—unless another individual (perhaps your landlord or another tenant) was responsible for the fire. In that case, you might be able to recover some of your damages in small claims court by suing the guilty individual.
An apartment fire, even a bad one, doesn’t have to be absolutely devastating—if you have insurance. If you don’t have insurance, take the fire as a lesson that you might want to look into taking out a policy. Renter’s insurance is an inexpensive way to avoid losing almost everything you have. Check out the following insurance companies for more information about a renter’s insurance policy: