Christa is a product developer and writer based in NYC, and loves when art and business come together in equal amounts in her life. You can find her on Twitter, on Curating a Creative Life, her own blog about creativity, and as a weekly contributing writer to The Journal of Cultural Conversation. We first met Christa when she covered DailyWorth for Examiner.com.
Got renters insurance?
On the Saturday of Labor Day weekend, my apartment building caught fire, burning through three floors. I was on the 4th floor of a walk-up, no fire escape, no smoke alarms going off, buying iTunes on my laptop in my kitchen. As I was listening to Fleetwood Mac sing “Well, I’ve been afraid of changing …” the kitchen floor started crackling. The adhesive that attached my kitchen tiles to my floor started to heave. I thought that the crew renovating the apartment below me was just working on the ceiling of that apartment.
I had just gotten out of the shower so with sopping wet hair in my hang-around-the-apartment clothes, I grabbed my keys and intended to go downstairs and tell the contractors they were messing up my kitchen floor. I got halfway down the first flight of stairs and was completely consumed by black smoke so thick that I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. » Terrifying. A few more minutes and I would have been trapped in my apartment with no way out. I got as low as I could, scrambled down the stairs, screaming, praying I wouldn’t die of smoke inhalation. Little did I know that I was running right by the very apartments that were burning. I’m lucky that I didn’t run right into the flames on the stairs or that the stairs themselves didn’t give.
The fire never reached my apartment but it was filled with smoke at one point, ruining most of my belongings. I had just moved in exactly three weeks before, and had finally finished getting the apartment all set up that Friday, the day before the fire broke out. Within days, there was an order to vacate issued by the City of New York, though I never spent another night in that apartment. I couldn’t. There was no way I’d ever feel safe there again. I surrendered the apartment, my lease was null and void, and I found a new place 5 blocks away.So here’s what I learned that you need to know:
- Please buy renters insurance. Please. You may never need it, and you never know what your neighbors are doing in their apartment. I filed my claim on-line with Liberty Mutual in five minutes, they arranged for the movers, the fire restoration company, and the value assessment of my belongings. I received my first installment of the claim in a month, and the remaining amount will be to me in a few weeks. With any kind of building incident, the landlord is only responsible for the building itself, not your belongings. I have my policy through Liberty Mutual and I pay $181 a year for $25,000 worth of coverage. A bargain when you consider the stress and financial loss an incident like this can cause. And your belongings are insured wherever they are in the world. Worth every penny.
- Know your rights as a tenant. If there is an order issued to vacate or if the building is declared uninhabitable, you’re out of your lease. If not, then the situation is trickier legally. I have a close friend who is an attorney (and a darn good one) so her counsel and advice on how to handle my landlord really helped me. Get in touch with your city office over housing and read your rights carefully. In New York City, visit http://www.nyc.gov/html/hpd/html/tenants/tenants.shtml.
- Cash. You need that emergency fund. I am extremely fortunate in that I have a very good job and am a miser who saves 20% of my take-home income. I have not invested too much in the market so I had a stockpile of money in my savings accounts. This was critical to my peace-of-mind during this transition. At one point, I was out of pocket 6 months rent: 2 months from my apartment that I just moved out of (my deposit had not yet been returned by my landlord), my September rent and security from my fire-ruined building (I haven’t gotten that back yet), and the security and one month’s rent for my new place that I moved into after the fire. I needed to buy new clothes, new furniture, new just-about-everything, and if I didn’t have that cash, I would have had to wait for the claim. I was very lucky that Liberty Mutual took care of me so quickly. And in this kind of situation, you can’t count on luck.
- Mobilize your network of friends, family, and co-workers. People want to help people in a jam. Whether it’s someone to talk to, someone to tell you about an available apartment, someone to borrow some clothes from, or some place to stay temporarily, let people help you. I don’t take help easily. I pride myself on making “self-preservation a full-time occupation”. You can’t do that when things like this happen. You need people and they want to be there for you. Let them. I got on Facebook, Twitter, every on-line community I belong to, and sent a mass email to everyone I know telling them what happened. I had a new apartment in two days, in my same neighborhood, no broker fee, in my price range, available immediately, and much better space than I had before. This would never have happened without a lead from a friend.
- Your belongings, no matter how precious, are just stuff. Your health is the critical element in every situation. If you’re breathing, count your blessings. And to make getting you belongings replaced easier, take digital pictures of them and save receipts. The insurance company can replace it all. You are irreplaceable. Remember that.