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Rental

Here's What Can Go Wrong When You Don't Get Renters Insurance

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It's a time-worn but strikingly true (and sort of sad) adage: "You don't really know what you've got until it's gone."

Wise words, certainly, but not something I took to heart until I found myself evacuating New Orleans because of an oncoming hurricane. Eight hours of gridlocked traffic gave me plenty of time to reflect on the value of my belongings.

But I will say this: My panic would have been way worse had I not taken safeguards to protect my possessions with renters insurance.

I got lucky that time and came through unscathed, but every day other renters aren't so fortunate. Hurricanes, wildfires, robberies, tornadoes -- you never know when something could go horribly wrong. And if you're not covered (or don't have enough coverage), the results can be simply devastating. Just check out these stories and the lessons learned as a result.

Chance of rain -- inside your apartment

Imagine waking up to a downpour from your ceiling. That's what happened in May to Danny D'Apuzzo in South Florida, who ended up soaked and feeling like he was caught in an "indoor hurricane," D'Apuzzo told 7 News Miami.

The culprit? His overhead sprinklers had gone off accidentally, drenching his belongings. The good news? D'Apuzzo had renters insurance. The bad? His limit was $10,000, and the damage totaled $15,000.

Lesson learned: Even if you have insurance, make sure you have enough.

"Being underinsured is a big problem," says Loretta Worters at the Insurance Information Institute. "We recommend people do a home inventory to make sure they have the right amount of insurance."

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The fire was the least of their problems

When a fire broke out in the second floor of an apartment complex in Kalamazoo, MI, in May, Wiley Gates and his girlfriend considered themselves lucky: Everyone got out safely, the fire was put out, and they were even able to go back inside their first-floor apartment to grab a few pieces of clothing before leaving for the night. However, the next day when they returned to get the rest of their stuff, they found nothing but a pile of rubble. According to WWMT, the fire marshal decided to bulldoze the building without notifying the inhabitants. Hey, couldn't they have called first?

Lesson learned: Even if someone else's wrongdoing destroys your stuff, no one is responsible for it but you -- so it's no use pointing fingers at the fire department or your landlord, either.

"Unless there was negligence, the landlord isn't responsible for covering a renter's belongings," says Worters.

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Teenage shenanigans gone wrong

In May, a group of teenagers in Tucson, AZ, stole an SUV and led police on a high-speed chase -- then ended up crashing into a house that was being rented by the Burwell family. According to KVOA, the homeowners insurance covered repairs to the home, but it did not cover anything inside -- and the Burwells didn't have renters insurance. That left the family with the costly recourse of suing the offending teenagers' families in the courts.

Lesson learned: If you're renting someone's home, don't assume the homeowner's insurance covers you. Renters need their own separate policy, and should take heart that teenage shenanigans are covered as well as tornadoes. Without it, "the injured party would have to seek damages against the thief in court, since it was the thief's negligence that caused the accident," says Worters.

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'We figured federal aid would be all we'd need'

A family in The Colony, TX, lost their rental home and belongings to a tornado in May, but that turned out to be just the start of their struggles. After the twister passed through, the family called the Red Cross, which paid to put them up in a hotel for a few days. But after that? Nada.

Erica Whited contacted a total of 275 organizations looking for help, including FEMA, Health and Human Services, the IRS, CCA, and the governor's office. Their response? The storm didn't do enough damage to qualify as a disaster, and as such her family did not qualify for relief.

"There wasn't enough widespread damage or financial loss," Whited told The Colony Courier-Leader.

Lesson learned: Typically, in large-scale natural disasters, federal programs can step in and provide aid. But it's by no means guaranteed and likely won't provide everything you need. To be fully protected, start an emergency fund and insulate yourself with insurance.

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Watch: Is It Smarter to Rent or Buy?