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Dorm Rooms and Your Homeowners Insurance

March 24, 2014

A recent fire in a dormitory at Duke University has wound up being an expensive learning lesson for many students,college campus their parents, and the university. The fire started earlier this year and damaged or destroyed much of the property owned by the students in the affected rooms. The downside? Many of those students didn’t have renters insurance to cover their belongings. In most scenarios, their parents’ homeowners coverage can step in to replace the lost items, but this isn’t always the case. The university’s insurance does not cover the personal property of the students, as the university has no vested interest in these items.

FEMA estimates that as many as 3,800 university housing fires start every year. Numbers peak in the early fall, when students are moving in. So what can a parent do to help protect their student?

–          Follow the rules: Most universities have rules about hotplates or cooking appliances in dorm rooms, and for good reason. The same FEMA study cited above found that as many as 88% of university housing fires are started by cooking.

–          Have insurance: Speak with your agent! When your student goes off to college, find out how much your homeowners insurance will cover if their items are lost, stolen, or destroyed by fire or other disasters. Do you need renters insurance? And does the coverage change when the student moves home during the summer or into on- or off-campus housing the following school year?

–          If your student is taking a car with them, check with your agent about that also. Does your policy still adequately cover the vehicle when it’s garaged at a new location? If they have their own car on your insurance but it’s not going with them and won’t be driven, find out if you still need full coverage.

–          No candles: Encourage students not to have candles or other flames in their dorm rooms. While obviously easier said than done, a nagging reminder from Mom and Dad never hurts!

–          Find out how often the smoke alarms in the dorms or apartments are checked and how often batteries are replaced.

–          Review the fire extinguishers in the dorm when your child is moving in. While you don’t have to be an expert on types and locations of extinguishers, the tags on them should indicate that they’re being tested yearly. If they’re not, this is a good time to talk to housing authorities on campus and ask to have the extinguishers serviced.

–          A small extinguisher to keep in an on-campus apartment may be nerdy to their friends but can be a good preventative measure. Small extinguishers can be purchased at Home Depot and cost as little as $20.

If you have any questions on what your homeowners policy covers or insurance in general, be sure to call your insurance agent!

Article by Kristen Skinner

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