Apartment insurance plan leaves renters uncovered

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by Janet Roach

WVEC.com

Posted on November 1, 2010 at 6:00 PM

Updated Thursday, Oct 17 at 2:30 PM

NEWPORT NEWS – It’s not unusual for apartment managers to require their tenants purchase renter's insurance, which helps renters recover damages if personal property is damaged.

That's the insurance Sylvia Guy thought she had as a tenant in Auburn Chase apartments on Turlington Road in Newport News.  She found out differently when the water heater in the unit above hers burst and flooded her apartment.

"Water was coming through the vents and my furniture right here. I got mold all on it," explains a frustrated Guy.

Guy learned that she would get no help with her damages. Besides moldy belongings, many other personal items are ruined.

She was required to get a $113 insurance policy with American Bankers Insurance through the apartment management company, Great Atlantic Management, which is based in Virginia Beach.

When she tried to file a claim, she learned it couldn’t be honored because it wasn’t renter’s insurance, it was liability insurance.

"This is terrible. I cannot believe there is nothing they can do to help me. I just can't believe that," Guy says./p>

Guy wondered why tenants had to get liability insurance, a type of coverage usually purchased by the owners.

She says employees at the complex told her the liability insurance would cover her property.

So, 13News Troubleshooters went undercover to find out what potential tenants were being told at three Great Atlantic properties. We found that apartment employees referred to liability insurance as renter’s insurance.

Great Atlantic doesn't even require renters insurance.

At Auburn Chase, an informational sheet that was handed out states renter’s insurance, $113.  That’s the same policy Guy purchased which turned out to be liability insurance.

Great Atlantic Management executives point out that the policy states that no personal belongings are covered, but they also admit their approach could be misleading.

"If it’s not being made clear and we're using the word renter’s insurance when we should be calling it liability insurance, there's something we certainly need to change," says Great Atlantic Director of Operations Ruthe Russell.

Russell says liability policies take the place of security deposits and can help the tenant cover damages to the structure of their units .

13News found other large property management companies don’t require tenants to purchase liability insurance.  Joe Carney, director of property management for William E. Wood, says only renter’s insurance is required because it protects the tenants.  He believes requiring liability could be very confusing to tenants.

"I think it would be totally misleading because I would think that's what a tenant thinks they're buying--buying renters insurance. That's what my tenants would think. That's what I would think," states Carney .

While Guy was moved to another apartment, she still got no help recovering her losses. She wants other renters to know they need to check their policies to make sure their personal belongings are covered.

In light of the 13News investigation, Russell says the company is making some changes to the way it makes a pitch to potential tenants.  In an email, she writes, "We have removed any items on the properties that say we require renters insurance. We should only be requesting a new prospects liability insurance. After checking several insurance agencies, it was found the declarations page display that personal items are not covered. We feel we are doing what we can to make sure the prospect knows the difference.

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