House fires are made more devastating when the occupants don’t have content insurance, as was the case for the majority of people displaced in the Mary Street apartment fire last month.
And again on the weekend, a family renting a home in Promontory was displaced and without insurance after flames destroyed their home.
It’s a common problem, says the manager of the Chilliwack branch of Envision Insurance, Elaine Elson, CAIB.
Only about 30 per cent of renters are estimated to have content insurance, she explains. And that means a large portion of any community’s residents at risk of instant poverty the minute a fire or other disaster hits.
While the outpouring of support from the community was commendable in the Mary Street fire, she says, donations only go so far to get people back on their feet again.
“It’s so wonderful to see the community come together. We feel so horrible for those people, because those are the people who need it (coverage) the most,” she says. “They can’t afford to replace those items, most of us can’t.”
But replacement value is only one facet of insurance policies. Coverage also covers the costs of relocating after disaster hits, and protects renters from liability.
“It’s not just your possessions, Elson explains. “It’s also your liability. Tenants are legally responsible for the damage, or if someone is hurt, say if you have a faulty toaster and the entire complex burns down.”
So if one tenant is found at fault for a fire or other damage, other insurance companies could go after that tenant — insured or not.
It’s a shame more people aren’t covered, Elson said, because most content insurance packages start at about $30 a month — much less than the replacement costs of a total loss.
Even someone who thinks they have little to replace may be surprised once they start to take stock around the house.
“People think they don’t have a lot in possessions,” Elson says, from bed sheets to lighting to food and clothing. “It’s amazing how much you have when you start to add it up. And who could afford to replace everything at once? It’s not usually economical feasible to do that.”
So, while a $30 monthly cost may seem insurmountable to some, the insurance coverage starts at a $40,000 payout — enough to get a foothold on a new life.
After a fire, its victims are “so happy to sit down with us,” she said.
She advises visiting an insurance office like Envision’s, which can show multiple providers and help get the best rate among them for each customer.