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No Place Like Home

Tenant Insurance For Students

Living on campus? Off-campus? Chances are, you'll want tenant insurance either way.

by Team Onlia

Student tenant insurance isn’t something many college or university kids think about over the summer as they prepare for the upcoming fall semester. No young idealist ever considers the worst-case scenario. And why would they? Post-secondary life is about fun and exploration — and it’s certainly not about having the money to pay a monthly student tenant insurance premium, until:

  • An English major writes his magnum opus by candlelight to capture the spirit of The Bard. He falls asleep, knocks the candle over and sets his abode ablaze.
  • A frosh week stunt involving horses gets a bit out of hand and a first-year student’s new computer gets hoofed by a stallion.
  • Two roommates thought the other locked their front door while the shifty next-door neighbour helps himself to everything they have.

When something like that happens, student tenant insurance (or lack thereof) becomes a pretty big thing.

What you need to know about renters insurance for students

What does tenant insurance cover?

Renters insurance (also called tenant insurance) is home insurance for renters. It provides the money to replace stolen or destroyed belongings.

Tenant insurance is a form of home insurance, but unlike home insurance, it doesn’t cover the structure; your landlord will have their own home insurance for that. Home insurance for landlords generally doesn’t cover tenant possessions because your stuff isn’t your landlord’s responsibility.

Like home insurance, student tenant insurance carries liability coverage if you damage someone else’s property or cause accidental injury. And in a place like college or university with everything going on at all hours of the day and night, the chances of accidentally causing damage or injury to someone else is quite high.

Consider one of the following scenarios and how easy each would be to happen:

  • A pair of buddies from the Classical Music program enter themselves into a Battle of the Bands contest and make it to the finals. To make a big splash at the big show, they incorporate pyrotechnics into their act. As it turns out, getting the fireworks to shoot in the right direction isn’t as easy as it looked on the online tutorial.
  • A PhD candidate in the chemistry department had a Eureka moment she had to pursue on her back deck before bringing the idea to her program director. While her hypothesis wound up being true, the resulting reaction blew a six-foot-wide hole in the deck.
  • After coming home as the sun was rising after an all-nighter, a tired students gets herself a small glass of water before retiring for some much-needed rest. In anticipation of the lovely morning to come, she forgets to turn the kitchen tap off and sleeps the day away while flooding the apartment downstairs.

If something similar happens to you, your student tenant insurance will kick in and give you the money for a lawyer to defend you if you’re sued for your role in the incident, and for covering the financial cost of any damages you cause.

If you don’t have student tenant insurance — and depending on what you accidentally broke or who you accidentally hurt — you could be looking at very light pockets for a very long time.

The cost of tenant insurance for college students

Average price of tenant insurance

Tenant insurance costs an average of $210/year. Divided by eight months of the school year, that comes to $26.25/month. It’s not a ton of money in the grand scheme of things, but it may seem like a lot to a college or university student with student loans and two part-time jobs. Also, students are just a few months removed from pandemic life where many of them couldn’t work because their jobs were in hospitality, food and beverage, or retail. So, yes, some hesitation is completely understandable, especially when one thinks about what else a college student could do with an extra $26.25 every month.

But here’s the reality: Would you rather have two fewer deluxe specialty coffees every 30 days, or would you rather have to come up with the money to replace your possessions, find a new place to live or defend yourself in court —  which could wind up costing you hundreds of thousands of dollars?

When you think about it that way, the $26.25 a month doesn’t seem like such a burden. And even if nothing happens and you never have to access that money, knowing that you’re covered if your property is damaged or if you damage someone else’s property is the kind of freeing peace of mind that gives students the lightness to live out their undergrad dreams.

What’s the best renters insurance for students?

The average college or university kid (or their parents) might say it’s the one that offers the most coverage with the lowest premiums. That should certainly carry weight in the decision, but these other factors should also be considered:

  • The renters insurance provider’s pedigree: Are they an established company in Ontario? Do they have a solid underwriter with a history of fairly and accurately assessing risk? Are you confident that the money will be there if you need it?
  • The renters insurance provider’s communication style: Are they up front about what would and would not be included in their coverage? And do they use simple language to share that information with you? If not, are they trying to sneak something past you in the jargon?
  • The renters insurance provider’s customer service: Will they insure you quickly and with relatively little hassle? Or will they give you the runaround and take precious time away from your return to campus and all the fun that comes with that?
  • The renters insurance provider’s customer sensibility: Do they seem to get where you are in your life and where your mind’s at? Do they appreciate that your needs might be different from, say, a renter in their 40s with two young kids? And do they seem like they understand where you’re going to be in the future so you don’t have to go looking for a new insurance provider in the future?

A student tenant insurance product that ticks all these boxes and also offers value with their coverage is the one you want to be considering. And don’t worry if it takes a minute. Insurance can be complicated for insurance professionals, much less students who’ve never had experience with insurance or insurance products.

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Do I need renters insurance living in a dorm?

Like you don’t technically need home insurance to have a home, you also don’t need student renters insurance to live in a dorm. But like home insurance, it’s a very good idea to have it.

In 2022, there were 1.1 million full-time students enrolled at Canadian universities. Given an average 22 percent drop out rate across the country, we can assume that roughly a third of them (366,666 students) are in first year. If half of them are living in residence, that’s 183,333 18- to 20-year-old kids living away from home for the first time with no one to answer to. If you’re coming up to school with all your clothes, your computer, your sports gear, your guitar and whatever else you bring with you, are you really prepared to take a chance that the nightly floor crawl won’t wind up in your room with a bit too much gusto?

Of course, a travelling floor show isn’t the only reason to consider renters insurance if you’re living in a dorm. Consider the 2008 fire that ripped through Brandon Hall at McMaster University in Hamilton, ON, that left 554 students homeless. If you were one of those students and you had student renters insurance, you’d have received the money to pay for new accommodations and to replace everything damaged. If you didn’t have student renters insurance, all you’d have is the university’s per diem, which might not cut it depending on what you lost and what you’d need to keep studying with minimal disruption.

Student renters insurance in an off-campus apartment with roommates

When you move out of the dorm and into your own place, you’ll definitely want student tenant insurance. Unlike living on campus, you won’t have the backing of your university or college if something disastrous happens. And your landlord has most likely been renting to students for as long as they have owned the place, so they’ve probably seen more than their fair share of excessive damage caused by parties, negligence and general carelessness. For this reason, they tend to not be the most generous with leniency — and that’s assuming you can even reach the landlord. Some students renting in condos have no access to the property owner. And apartment renters can only chat with the on-site property manager who often has no actual decision-making authority.

Making a claim

How to make a claim

You make a claim when you need to access your insurance money. To do that, you must:

  1. Tell your landlord what happened.
  2. File a police report if necessary.
  3. Document the incident and take plenty of pictures.
  4. Contact your insurance provider’s claims department. If you picked a good one, there will be a ready-to-jump-into-action customer service rep on the other end who will walk you through everything.

Before you call the incident in, you should do two things:

Re-read your policy

Like we mentioned above, if you chose the right insurance provider, your policy should be pretty easy to review. It will tell you what is and isn’t covered, and this is important because you might be entitled to more than you think.

Take a moment to decide if it’s worth claiming

A benefit of getting student renters insurance we haven’t yet discussed is building a history as a good insurance customer.

You’ll need tenant insurance when you get out of school and move into your next place, and home insurance when you eventually buy your first home. The fewer claims you make now, the better your rating will be later. This means you’ll be able to shop around more down the line, and have more insurance providers clamouring for your business — which ultimately means lower premiums for you. After multiple claim-free years on your record, you’ll be eligible for a claims-free discount that increases over time.

If you lose all your belongings in a fire, you don’t have to take a moment — make a claim as soon as possible so your insurance provider can get started with the process.

A word or two about insurance fraud

As a student, this is probably your first time thinking about insurance, and after everything covered so far, you might be thinking, “Hey, if I damage my own stuff, I can replace it with all new stuff.”

You wouldn’t be the first person to hatch a scheme like this. And you won’t be the last — most people who try it are charged with insurance fraud and face up to 14 years in prison.

Of the most common insurance fraud types identified, the ones most likely to cross a student’s mind are:

• Overstating the value of stolen items after an actual burglary.
• Lying about the extent, cause, date or location of legitimate damage.
• Intentionally damaging property to make a claim.
• Staging a burglary, break-in or vandalism and faking theft or damage.
• Staging an accident and injury on the property.

The problem with going down one of these roads or something similar is that insurance adjusters (the people who inspect property damage to determine how much the insurance company will pay) are very thorough. If you try to pull a fast one, they’ll figure it out fairly quickly.

Having said that, you shouldn’t be afraid to make a claim if you have student tenant insurance because that’s what it’s there for.

And a final reiterated point about tenant insurance for students

Unless you plan on buying a property or moving back in with your folks when you leave college or university, you’re probably going to run into tenant insurance again —  all the more reason to get familiar with it sooner than later.

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