QI am about to sign a lease that says I'm required to have renters insurance. (The apartment is being rented by an owner, not by the building.) I called the building manager and he said insurance is not a requirement for all the tenants, but because this guy is the owner, it's basically his call. Is this right? I have no clue about renters insurance, where to get it or how much it costs. Any help would be appreciated. -- Arlington

ABecause renters insurance isn't mandatory in most states, in most cases, landlords have the right to decide whether to make their tenants buy policies. Landlords like their residents to have insurance in part because they want to improve the odds that a tenant won't blame them for a crime or injury on the property. Some landlords also want their tenants to have renters insurance to reduce their own insurance premiums.

Likewise, a tenant has the option of purchasing renters insurance even if it's not required by law or landlord. And that's a good option, considering renters insurance isn't necessarily that expensive, protects people in the event of a robbery and also provides liability protection.

"Renters insurance is very valuable. And for not very much money, it can save you from disaster," said Carolyn Gorman, vice president of the Insurance Information Institute.

Gorman said renters often assume they are covered by the property owner's insurance, although that's not the case. A landlord's insurance does not cover a tenant's belongings.

"An awful lot of young people think they don't have very much stuff, so why bother having insurance?" she said. "But when you get right down to it, most people have more than they think. The have clothing, music systems, computers and all of those things would be very hard to replace if they were burglarized or destroyed in a fire."

Even if you don't have big-ticket items that obviously would be expensive to replace, such as a jewelry, furs, silver, a computer, a big-screen television, golf clubs or original art, the reality is that your everyday goods are worth a lot. You would have a lot to replace if you were a victim of theft, vandalism, fire, explosion, water damage or wind storm. A typical policy also covers the loss of property when it occurs away from your apartment, such as a bike stolen from the top of your car.

Gorman said renters insurance also can cover medical expenses or legal expenses in the event somebody (a person or sometimes even a pet) is hurt in your unit. It also usually helps to cover your additional living expenses if you are unable to live in your apartment because of a fire or other covered hazard.

"If you have a party and someone injures themselves in your apartment, they could also sue you for their own injuries," Gorman said. "Or if you accidentally overflow the bathtub, your landlord could hold you responsible for damage to the property based on your negligence. That's another good reason to have insurance."

The cost of renters insurance varies depending on the coverage selected and geographic location. In the Washington area, renters can get insurance for as little as $100 to $175 a year.

Most of the larger companies -- Allstate, State Farm, Geico -- give instant quotes on the Internet, with worksheets to help you figure out just how much your stuff is worth. Online, www.netquote.com compares the different options based on your Zip code and says it will pick the best choice for you. Of course, if you want to talk to someone about your choices, you can call these companies or an independent insurance agent, or even enlist the help of your state's insurance office. It's wise to shop around and make sure you get the kind of coverage you want at the lowest rates.

I live in a split-level near a major traffic artery (I can hear it -- but that is the only flaw) in a house-share arrangement. My housemate is a longtime renter, and he is leaving at the end of this month. Because he had only an informal agreement (no lease), and I don't have a sublease, the landlord wants to meet me, get a deposit, etc. The trouble is, the landlord has all of the control. I mean he doesn't particularly need me as a tenant, the house is fully paid, etc. I am running out of time. I not only need to come up with the deposit but also to screen roommates quickly.

Should I accept a no-lease, month-to-month situation? How persistent should I be in contacting the landlord? He is out of the city and not easy to get hold of.

Am I within my rights to ask potential roommates to come up with a $10 application fee because I want to check credit and criminal records? -- Washington

First, talk to your landlord. The sooner you know what he expects from you, the better off you will be. If he is thinking about advertising the house, for example, you should know that. And you should know just how much you will have to come up with for a deposit. With this information, you can decide to work with your landlord or look for a new place to live. There is no need to make yourself scramble for housing at the last minute just because you were waiting to hear from your landlord. So, take some action and get in touch with him now.

Call him and also send him a letter asking him to put your future housing agreement in writing. Because you do not have any document outlining the rules of your current agreement, you should make sure you get one this time around so that such rules as when and how you leave, how you pay rent, and how and when you will get your security deposit back are in writing. Although many people enjoy the flexibility of not having a written lease, accepting an oral agreement is risky in that you are putting total faith in your landlord and absolving him of negligence. A written agreement better ensures that both parties involved in the contractual relationship are protected.

If you have been a good tenant, your landlord may even agree to give you a month-to-month lease up front or agree to issue separate leases for each resident, meaning that your roommates would share the load of a new deposit. They also could help you pay the overall deposit if your landlord designates you as the sole leaseholder in the house. Just draw up a formal subleasing agreement for your new housemates.

As far as finding new housemates goes, you can absolutely charge a fee to do background checks. You also could ask your landlord to pick up the tab for this -- you never know what you will get until you ask.

Also, many people who rent out fully-paid-for houses depend on the income in some way, so don't assume that your landlord doesn't need you as a tenant. He may very much want you as a tenant because you haven't caused trouble thus far in your tenancy. Be sure to make it known that you were a good tenant when you begin discussing your future residency.

Do you have questions, comments or ideas about apartment life? Contact Sara Gebhardt via e-mail at gebhardts@washpost.com or by mail, c/o Real Estate Editor, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.