Ask an Expert: Can I be forced into renter’s insurance?

My lease requires that I buy renter’s insurance, or risk being in breach. I don’t own anything of significant value, and would prefer to just pay for damage as it comes up. I realize this doesn’t provide liability coverage, but that’s a risk I’m willing to take in lieu of paying $206 a year. Can my landlord really make me buy a policy?

In a word, yes! Your landlord is well within his or her rights to ask you to take out a renter’s insurance policy as a condition of your lease, say our experts.

“A lease requirement is a lease obligation regardless of [your personal] risk tolerance,” says Thomas Usztoke of Douglas Elliman Property Management, who adds that a failure to live up to your lease puts you at risk of default. “The insurance lease provision allows the landlord a degree of risk avoidance from the building’s coverage to the renter,” he explains.

You’re also likely to run into this issue in other rental buildings, as more and more landlords require renters to take out policies in order to protect themselves from damage caused by tenants. “Landlords are now requiring proof of coverage, largely because they don’t want to be in the middle of water damage disputes between tenants,” explains apartment insurance broker Jeff Schneider of Gotham Brokerage. “They also want to make it clear that the landlord’s policy does not cover in these situations [unless the problem is a result of] the landlord’s own negligence.”

And while you might not be thrilled at the prospect of shelling out a couple hundred dollars per year in addition to your rent, keep in mind that a little bit of money will get you a lot of coverage. “The minimum coverage with $100,000 of personal liability coverage is available for under $150 year, and liability claims can be quite sizeable,” says Schneider. Unless you want to move or risk being in breach of your lease, your best bet is to shell out the extra cash, and enjoy the extra peace of mind.

Virginia Smith is an associate editor at BrickUnderground.com, the online survival guide to finding a NYC apartment and living happily ever after. To see more expert answers or to ask a real estate question, click here.