By Dylan Jaskowski, Legal Assistance Intern, Fort Meade OTJAG  

Renter’s Insurance: An Affordable Way to Protect Your Possessions

In February 2020, then-Secretary of Defense Mark Esper signed into effect the Military Housing Privatization Initiative Tenant Bill of Rights. This Act, aimed at improving on-base housing at all DOD installations is in the process of being expanded. This expansion would allow, among other things, tenants to withhold rent during a dispute. The government hopes to have these expanded rights protected at all DOD installations. Corvias, who manages on-base housing at Fort Meade and several other locations, has already agreed to all terms and began implementation on June 10, 2021. 

While the Tenant Bill of Rights is an important step in protecting the rights of service members and their families, it is limited. First, it only applies to individuals living on a DOD installation which means the majority of military families that live off-base will not benefit from the additional protections. Further, the Tenant Bill of Rights only provides for the withholding of rent during ongoing disputes, but does not provide a remedy should personal property be damaged or stolen or for other problems for which the landlord or housing company may not be at fault. In these instances a civil lawsuit may be the tenant’s only recourse, however, these suits are often time-consuming and determining which court (federal or state) can hear the case is unclear. 

Fortunately, tenants have another longstanding method to protect their possessions.  Renter’s insurance, which is sometimes called tenant’s insurance, often provides a better solution to issues not covered by the Tenant Bill of Rights. Because renter’s insurance does not cover the damage to the building, which is the landlord’s responsibility, it is considerably cheaper than homeowner’s insurance. The average national cost of renter’s insurance is just $168 per year or $14 per month. In Maryland, the average yearly cost is $174 or $14.50 per month. 

With a lower cost compared to other types of insurance, one might doubt the quality of coverage for renter’s insurance. However, a $14/month policy is likely to offer about $30,000 in personal property coverage with just a $500 deductible. This means, under such a policy, tenants would be responsible for paying the first $500 of damages that occurred during the year. Any damages beyond the $500 in that year, up to $30,000, would be fully covered by the insurance policy.

In addition to covering losses from stolen or damaged personal property, rental insurance often includes other lesser-known benefits. Many renters’ insurance policies include coverage for legal liability and medical costs arising out of incidents within the property for which the renter could be liable, such as a dog biting a visitor or a guest slipping on a wet floor. Additionally, if tenants are forced to temporarily leave the home due to incidents such as natural disasters, rental insurance can provide coverage for hotel and restaurant bills until the tenants can safely return to the home. 

Renter’s insurance also offers benefits when moving from one home to the next. Rental insurance will often cover damage or losses to personal property that occurs while moving, meaning if movers lose a bag or negligently damage the tenant’s property, the loss will likely be covered.

Whether living in barracks, on post, or in private housing, renter’s insurance is likely a worthwhile investment. To determine how much coverage you might need, consider taking an inventory of your personal belongings by listing each item you own, when it was acquired, and its original or current value. Photos of furniture and valuables will also help with reimbursement if anything is damaged or lost. These preventative measures will help if you need to file a claim. 

No matter where you live, sooner or later, you are likely to encounter challenges with housing. The military is currently working to improve conditions for those on post, but often the best thing you can do is to take precautions. To ensure that your personal property is protected, consider purchasing a renter’s insurance policy.

To discuss legal questions relating to a landlord/tenant matter, and specifically problems with housing on Fort Meade, please contact the Legal Assistance Office for a consultation: (301) 677-9504/9536.