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Insurance urged for renters

February 06, 2000|By KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI

Debbie Smith and her three children weren't home when the duplex she rented on George Street was heavily damaged by an electrical fire that spread from a nearby residence Tuesday evening.

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Their lives were spared, but the fire melted her photos, the water from firefighters' hoses soaked her sofa and the smoke left her family's clothing blackened and acrid.

She and two other families lost all their possessions in the fire.

Because she had didn't have renter's insurance, Smith said has to start from scratch in rebuilding her life.

"It was a nice home in a nice neighborhood. Now we have nothing," she said.

Of the city's 9,300 rental units, Hagerstown Fire Department Life Safety Educator Mike Weller estimates that fewer than 10 percent of the tenants have renter's insurance.

Weller and other firefighters canvassed the George Street neighborhood in the days following the fire checking smoke detectors and providing information about fire safety.

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The American Red Cross provides food, clothing and sometimes furniture for families left homeless, but the nonprofit organization has a limited budget, he said.

"The value of renter's insurance should not be overlooked," said Weller.

Smith said her landlord, Doug Diehl, is repairing 616-618 George St., but it will take four months, too long for her too wait.

Hagerstown Fire Marshal John Hersh said the blaze started at 620-622 George St. and was likely caused by a faulty refrigerator cord.

The Smiths are staying with her mother in Hagerstown and are looking for a three-bedroom duplex for less than $550 a month, she said.

"When I do find a place I'm getting (renter's insurance)," she said.

Often tenants don't get renter's insurance because they think it will be expensive, said Lori Gardenhour, an agent with Baker Insurance in Hagerstown.

A family in Hagerstown generally can buy $20,000 worth of annual coverage for about $110 with a $250 deductible, she said. That amount can be paid in installments, she said.

Prices vary based on whether the renter lives in a brick or frame home and other factors, she said.

Agents at other local insurance companies and Geico Insurance provided similar quotes.

"It's like a pizza a month," she said of the comparable cost.

The coverage will provide peace of mind in case of fires or floods, she said.

"A lot of people have the opinion that the landlord's insurance will cover them, too, but it doesn't," Gardenhour said. "He's protecting his assets and you need to protect yours, too."

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