What I Learned When My First Apartment Burned Down

(Click to read part one)

Everyone stood outside and watched the fire grow bigger and bigger. We called all our relatives. I showed my parents the fire live on Skype. We joked around. I freaked out for a few minutes and the fire reached our patio.  Then it became unreal again. I just kept thinking about little things. My new watercolors, the furniture, the table I had painted, my wooden salad bowls, old pictures, my writing journals from when I was younger, my diplomas. My husband wondered about the TV.

Aftermath2The firefighters arrived and fought the fire for hours.  Meanwhile, we couldn’t leave because the hoses blocked our cars. Eventually, our neighbors went back inside to their homes. All of us from building 10 stood and watched. One lady was having a panic attack, screaming at the firefighters and crying hysterically. Each of us reacted differently. In the next few days, I would have many moments of almost hysteria as the reality of the situation sunk in. But that night we were too much in shock. Eventually, we were all herded into the office, told a little about the situation, talked to by the Red Cross, and given water and blankets. Mine was a patchwork quilt with random shapes and colors and the face of the Phantom of the Opera creepily sewn in the middle. Around 1 in the morning, we went to a motel, told  our story to the clerk,  got a discount, and crashed. But first I remembered we didn’t have renter’s insurance.

The next few weeks were a haze. Sometimes it felt like it wasn’t a big deal, it’s just possessions, material things, replaceable stuff, as everyone liked to tell us. Other times it drove me insane thinking about all the money that we had lost, all the things it would take us forever to replace. But more than that, it was a feeling of betrayal. Like, of course it’s too good to be true that we had everything we needed. Of course it wouldn’t last. Nothing lasts.

Ultimately, I learned a few lessons which I can now pass on:

1)      Always get Renter’s Insurance. When we moved in, we didn’t have many valuables so didn’t see the point of paying a few extra bucks each month. But as we accumulated furniture, weddings gifts, and many more valuables, we should have taken the time to get personal property insurance. It would have saved us a lot of money and hassle after the fire. We did have liability though, which would have covered others expenses if it had been our fault.

2)      Losing your personal belongings hurts. And not everything is replaceable. I know people meant well when they said that what matters is that we are ok, and that everything can be replaced. But there are things that are expensive one-time buys that you thought would last a long time, or gifts that mean something, or objects with memories attached which are now gone. But at the end of the day, remember not to get caught up in that. Because I have a lifetime to get more stuff, and dwelling too long on what’s gone puts only more stress on myself.

3)      It’s important to get the contact information of everyone who lives in the building with you (or that was affected by whatever the disaster was), in case you decide to pursue legal action later on. The case is always stronger with more people. And don’t forget to get the insurance information from the apartment manager. Lastly, remember to read the fine print when moving in and signing the contract. Many of them say the apartment complex will not be responsible for damages causes by water, fire etc.


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Zainab moved to Austin, Texas, after getting married in June 2012. She is now doing her graduate studies in Urban Planning at the University of Texas in Austin (go Longhorns!). While Zainab has lived in almost ten different apartments with her parents, and subleased once for a semester with roommates. She is now living in her second apartment, after fire destroyed her first one. She enjoys volunteering, drawing, and writing in her free time.

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  1. Admin Admin

    Just like Zainab, many first time renters skip renter’s insurance thinking they have nothing valuable enough to insure. Often, the furniture is hand-me-downs and street finds not worth much, but even if you only have to replace all the electronics, clothing and sports equipment you have lying around, it can add up to thousands.

    Last summer our bloggers Alissa and Alex were robbed. They were lucky to have renter’s insurance.

    So, check out renter’s insurance. It only costs a couple of hundred a year and if you ever have to file a claim, you’ll thank us for this reminder.