Renting out your first apartment and having your own space is a goal that most young adults strive for. After you work hard, save up money, and budget to put down a security deposit and pay rent each month, the last thing that’s on your mind is seeing everything going up in flames. Quite literally.

Unfortunately, that’s reportedly what happened to a single mom and college student named Gladys Sanchez, who woke up one night to see fire spreading through her apartment. There wasn’t much she could do to stop the fire. She grabbed her son, and along with her friend who was spending the night, she ran out of the building. All she could retrieve were a few small personal items.

“We couldn't breathe,” she told a local reporter as she described the distressing situation.

Use Protection! We Mean Renter’s Insurance, Silly. Don't get complacent – if an emergency occurs, landlord's insurance won't protect you if the worst happens.Fire officials arrived shortly after to put out the fire that was apparently started by an unattended candle. The fire caused about $100,000 in damage to her small apartment building. Her unit was completely ruined.

While Gladys was grateful to have escaped the building with her son and her friend, all her personal belongings went up in flames. What's more, she didn’t have renter's insurance.

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The Lowdown on Renter's Insurance

Renter's insurance is required by most landlords, but not all. A basic renter's insurance policy can cover everything from electronics and clothing to furniture and household appliances. But according to a poll conducted by the Insurance Information Institute, only 40 percent of renters in the U.S. have it.

Common reasons for not having renter's insurance include:

  • Failing to renew an old policy when it expires.
  • Not understanding renter's insurance and how it works
  • Believing that your landlord’s insurance will cover major damages to your unit or your belongings.
  • Not having the time to settle on a policy or not being able to afford it.

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For Gladys, her busy lifestyle and limited income had made her believe she couldn’t afford renter's insurance. As a result, she had decided to put it off. As a hardworking single mom with three jobs and a packed schedule of college courses, her initial concerns were finding suitable housing for herself and her son and making ends meet.

Since Her landlord didn't require renter's insurance, getting it was not a priority. “I’ve learned my lesson though,” Gladys says.

Basic insurance policies are pretty affordable, ranging from $15 to $30 per month, depending on which company and policy you choose. Coverage typically includes the following categories:

  • Personal property protection (Be sure to document all your belongings and their estimated value.)
  • Liability protection (This can help protect you if someone is injured in your home and files a lawsuit.)
  • Guest medical protection

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Is It Worth It?

Even if your landlord has insurance, it’s still worth getting your own renter's insurance to be on the safe side. Your landlord’s policy will mainly cover structural damage to the building and will not extend to your personal property. Gladys learned this first-hand when an insurance company attempted to sue her for damages to the building, though they failed in their attempt.

But instead of feeling sorry about her situation, Gladys decided to toughen up, learn from her mistakes and start all over again. It was a new beginning in many ways — a new home, new clothes, new personal care items — even new textbooks.

Gladys had always been a very active member of her college town community, passionate about service and helping others. And now the community was ready to pay her back tenfold. Many organizations, churches, and campus groups offered to help her. A friend who worked at a leasing office helped her secure a new apartment, and she started a Go Fund Me page that brought in more than $8,000.

Gladys has this warning for all who plan to rent: “Emergency savings are very necessary, and it’s possible to save up for emergency expenses, even if you don’t earn much. Focus on doing things frugally, prioritize insurance, and be proactive about where you choose to live. All of this will help protect your family and finances from the unexpected.”

That’s the truth, coming from someone baptized by fire!