What Does Renters Insurance Cover?

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Your landlord might be a nice person who takes care of problems like leaky faucets and broken appliances. But your landlord is probably not nice enough to replace all of your belongings if your apartment catches fire. And neither will your landlord’s insurance company. When it comes to problems like fire and theft, you’re on your own.

Fortunately, there’s a solution: Renter’s insurance. It covers a wide variety of problems and may be more affordable than you think.

Understanding Personal Property Coverage for Renters

Personal property coverage is what most people think of when they’re considering renters insurance. It covers all that stuff you’ve been accumulating over the years—everything from your furniture, clothes, jewelry, pots and pans, electronics, bicycle and even the little decorative items you keep on your shelves.

Here are the problems covered by renters insurance:

  • Accidental discharge or overflow of water or steam
  • Aircraft
  • Explosion
  • Falling objects
  • Fire or lightning
  • Freezing
  • Riots
  • Smoke
  • Sudden and accidental damage due to short circuiting
  • Sudden and accidental tearing, cracking, burning, or bulging
  • Theft
  • Vandalism
  • Vehicles
  • Volcanic Eruption
  • Weight of ice, snow, or sleet
  • Windstorm or hail

You may notice two big natural disasters missing from this list: Earthquakes and floods. If you want coverage for those, look into earthquake insurance and flood insurance for renters.

How Much Property Coverage Do Renters Need?

You’ll select a personal property coverage limit, meaning the maximum amount your renters insurance company will pay if your personal belongings are damaged or destroyed due to a problem covered by the policy (like a fire).

For example, you might select $20,000 to cover all your belongings. If you have a lot of expensive furniture, clothes or other belongings, you might select $100,000 or more.

A good way to determine how much personal property coverage you need is by creating a home inventory. A good home inventory can be as simple as a written list, or you can use an app or take video with your phone. Then estimate the cost to replace what you have.

Looking at Actual Cash Value vs. Replacement Cost Coverage

When you buy renters insurance, you’ll have the option to choose between actual cash value (ACV) and replacement cost coverage. Replacement cost coverage is more expensive but it’s better because it doesn’t take depreciation into account.

For example, let’s say three years ago you bought a new TV with all the latest and greatest technology for $2,000. If the TV is damaged in a fire today, ACV will pay the depreciated value of the TV. Replacement cost coverage will pay to replace the damaged TV at today’s prices for a new, similar model.

Watch Out for Special Limits

Some items have what are called “special limits” or sub-limits for certain types of losses. For example, it’s common for renters insurance policies to have special limits for stolen jewelry, such as a $1,000 limit. That sub-limit will be inadequate if you have a necklace worth $2,000.

You should schedule high-value items, like jewelry, artwork, musical instruments and antiques. It’s a good way to ensure you get paid what your stuff is worth if it is stolen.

Don’t Forget Liability Insurance

As a renter you likely focus on the physical stuff you have. But renters insurance includes important liability insurance.

Liability insurance pays for injuries or property damage to someone else that you’re responsible for. For example, if you knock an errant baseball through a neighbor’s window, liability pays to replace the window. It also covers your defense costs if you’re sued over an incident covered by your policy.f

“A coverage that most renters never consider is liability,” says Josh LaRoche, spokesperson for Toggle by Farmers Insurance. He asks renters to think about a common scenario, like a guest who trips and falls while visiting your apartment.

“That klutzy visitor can sue you for their medical expenses. If they do, renters insurance can help you handle it—both your legal expenses and any medical expenses you might be responsible for, up to the coverage limit.”

You will be able to select your liability insurance policy limits. A common default liability coverage amount on a renters insurance policy is $100,000, but you can purchase more. A good rule of thumb is to buy enough liability insurance to cover what you could lose in a lawsuit.

A good way to get extra liability insurance is by adding umbrella insurance to your renters policy.

Can’t Live in the Apartment? Think “Additional Living Expenses”

If you can’t live in your apartment due to a problem covered by your policy (like a tornado), additional living expenses (ALE) coverage pays for hotel bills and other extra costs, like restaurant meals and pet boarding fees. This coverage is sometimes called loss of use.

“Think about all the expenses you could rack up above your normal daily spend if you had to leave your place,” says Yael Wissner-Levy, a spokesperson for Lemonade Insurance. “Not being able to live at your own place is expensive. But luckily, your insurer will be there to help.”

When a Guest Suffers a Minor Injury, Tap “Medical Payments to Others” Coverage

A standard renters insurance policy includes medical payments to others, which covers medical expenses if someone else gets injured in your home, no matter who is at fault for the accident. For example, if a guest bumps their head on an open cabinet door and requires stitches, your medical payments to others coverage can pay for your guest’s trip to the emergency room.

Medical payments to others usually covers minor medical claims and may be sold in small amounts between $1,000 and $5,000. Larger medical claims are generally covered under your liability insurance (when you’re legally liable for them).

Certain types of accidents that happen away from your home can also be covered by “medical payments to others” coverage. For example, if your playful pup accidentally scratches someone at a dog park and they see a doctor, this could fall under “medical payments to others.”

Here are examples of medical costs that can be covered by “medical payments to others”:

  • Ambulance rides
  • Dental
  • ER visits
  • Funeral services
  • Hospital stays
  • Professional nursing
  • Prosthetic devices
  • Surgeries
  • Treatments
  • X-rays

Your “medical payments to others” coverage will not cover property damage, pain and suffering, or legal fees if you are sued because of an accident. Those expenses are covered under the liability portion of your renters insurance policy.

“Medical payments to others” does not cover your injuries or injuries to others in your household. If you get injured in your apartment, you’ll have coverage through your own health insurance plan.

What’s Not Covered by Renters Insurance

Renters insurance doesn’t cover damage to the building you live in. The landlord’s insurance covers the building structure. For example, if a fire damaged the building’s vinyl siding, the landlord’s insurance would cover it.

Renters insurance typically won’t cover accidents that happen in common areas such as hallways and stairwells. That also falls under the landlord’s insurance. For example, if your visitor trips on an uneven sidewalk, that claim would have to be handled by the landlord’s insurance.

Also, renters insurance won’t cover pet damage to your home or belongings. For example, if your dog chews on your coffee table or soils the carpet, that’s not covered by any insurance.

Renters insurance won’t cover losses from floods, earthquakes or landslides. You’ll need extra coverage if those are problems that affect your area.

How Much Does Renters Insurance Cost?

The national average cost for renters insurance with $30,000 of personal property coverage is $160 per year, according to a Forbes Advisor analysis of renters insurance rates.

So for about $13 bucks a month, you can cover your property, liability and additional living expenses.

Renters insurance rates by company

Renters insurance costs are typically based on:

  • Where you live
  • How much coverage you select
  • The deductible amount
  • Your renters insurance claims history
  • If the apartment and/or building have items like dead bolts, smoke alarms, sprinklers and security systems

Should I Buy Renters Insurance?

If you could easily afford to replace all your belongings after a disaster, you may think you shouldn’t spend money on renters insurance.

But don’t forget that renters insurance could also cover a lawsuit against you, including your legal bills. Not to mention the extra bills for loss of use that you’d otherwise have to pay on your own if you have to live somewhere else after apartment damage.

So even if you don’t want to bother with insuring your belongings, don’t dismiss the other ways renters insurance is a financial safety net.

It’s a good idea to compare renters insurance quotes from multiple insurance companies in order to find a good deal. The best renters insurance companies combine good service with competitive prices.

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