Filing a renter’s insurance claim, also known as a tenant’s insurance claim, can feel overwhelming, especially if you’ve never done it before. Chances are you’re trying to balance the stress of having damaged items or dealing with theft while wading through the paperwork from your renters' insurance company.
Even though there are a lot of details to remember when you file a renter’s insurance claim you can break the process down into steps. Checking each task off your list can simplify the experience. Here’s a step-by-step guide to submitting a renter’s insurance claim and all the information you need to know.
Types of renter’s insurance claims
What does renter’s insurance cover? Similar to homeowner’s insurance, renter’s insurance is set up to help renters with what are called “covered perils.” These are unexpected, unpreventable events that can cause a crisis in your life such as a break-in, fire, or flood. There are three types of coverage that renter’s insurance will typically cover you for.
A lot of renter’s insurance claims are for personal property damage — if you have a flood — even a burst pipe that causes water damage — or fire, this is the type of claim you would make. Of course, your property has to be damaged in a covered peril listed in your policy. It’s common for your policy to exclude certain perils, perhaps earthquake or tornado damage could be excluded, for example. Keep in mind the food in your fridge is also considered personal property and many policies will cover its replacement if you experience an extended power outage.
When your property is stolen it falls under a different type of claim — property loss. For these types of claims, it’s very important to file a police report and send a copy to your insurance company.
If a guest at your home is injured and you’re found liable for associated medical expenses, it would fall into liability insurance and you would file a liability claim. Your policy will have a maximum limit in which you are covered, usually about $100,000. An example of this portion of your policy would be if your dog bit a guest in your home and the guest needed medical attention. (Of course, you would have to make sure your pet was not on a list of excluded breeds in your policy.)
If the residence you are renting is damaged by a covered peril to the point where it is uninhabitable, your renter’s insurance policy will reimburse your living expenses while you are displaced. This could include hotel bills and food costs.
Steps to filing a renter's insurance claim
Depending on what’s happened to your rental you’ll likely need to contact either the police or the fire department. If there’s been a break-in or extensive damage due to fire your insurance company will want to see official reports.
Do your best to make sure these reports are as accurate as possible by giving the police as much information as you can. For example, if items were stolen try to include information about when you purchased these items and the cost. If you have receipts with the original cost, this is ideal. Remember, if you ordered items online you can search your account history to find the exact information. Make copies of all reports before providing them to your insurance company.
During this stage, you should also remember to contact your property manager about your situation, if you have not already. Keep your contact in writing (such as over email) so that you have documentation in case you need it for any reason in the future.
Document the damage
Get your smartphone ready because you’re going to need to document every aspect of the damage in your rental. Make sure you take photos and videos from each angle to show exactly what’s happened. You’ll want to take these photos in good lighting; retake them if they’re blurry or dark.
Also, take the time to write down any details about the situation. You might think you’ll remember but you don’t want to run the risk of getting a detail wrong, having the facts written down is always best. Think about details such as the time the event occurred or anti-theft or safety measures you had in place.
Start your claim
It’s important to remember that your insurance company could have a policy in place requiring you to start a claim within a limited time period following an incident, such as within 24 to 48 hours. You should check with your insurance company as to what their time frame is and begin your claim as soon as possible.
Many insurance companies will allow you to begin your claim online before finishing it over the phone. Be sure to have information such as your identification, proof of address, and police report.
Meet with your claims adjuster
If there has been damage to your rental home, such as due to a fire or flood, your insurance agent will schedule a time for an adjuster to visit and review. For stolen personal property and personal belongings, your insurance adjuster will likely discuss with you over the phone.
To make sure everything stays organized, prepare photocopies of any documents your adjuster might need, including receipts for any stolen goods. They’ll use your proof of purchase or photos of your possessions to help estimate how much the insurance company will pay you. The coverage for your personal items will be valued based on depreciation and loss of use.
Review your estimate
Your renter's insurance company will send you an estimate of what they expect to pay you based on the adjuster’s findings. If you feel their payout isn’t accurate, you can request them to reassess it. Remember, some policies will pay for you to buy replacement items — if your computer is stolen they’ll pay for you to buy a replacement computer. However, other insurance policies will only pay for the actual cash value of the items at the time they were stolen or damaged. This means if your computer is five years old, they’ll pay for the depreciated value of the device — what it would sell for now. This might not necessarily be enough for you to buy a new computer.
If your policy pays for the value of your items and your estimate is low, it could help for you to research other comparables. You could possibly make a case to your insurer that the comparables they used to quote you were not accurate.
Get your payout
Once you and the insurance company reach an agreement they’ll release payment to you — you could even receive payment earlier if the adjuster visits your rental and you agree to a payout on the spot.
In some cases, your insurance company will send you an advance and then follow up with additional payments. Your insurance company could also send you different checks for each category they’re reimbursing you for — such as a check for damage to the home and a check for your personal property. Your insurer will likely ask for proof that you’ve purchased replacement items if they’re reimbursing you for replacement. Also, keep in mind that the insurance company could pay the owner of your rental directly for any damage.
Renter’s insurance companies
Renter’s insurance is often a condition of your lease, but even if it isn’t it can still be valuable to have because an unexpected event can significantly set you back financially if you have to cover the costs yourself. Here are some leading rental insurance companies to compare.
Lemonade’s innovative business model is unique amongst rental insurance heavyweights in their space. They’re a B-corp, meaning they are legally bound to serve the interests of their employees, shareholders, and clients.
Unique features: Lemonade is markedly different from other insurance providers in that they take a flat fee from your premium (rather than keeping all the money that isn’t paid out in fees). When you join Lemonade, they add you to a peer group based on similarities between the causes you care about. The money that is left in your peer group after Lemonade takes its flat fee is used to pay out claims. Each year, leftover money is donated based on the interests of your peer group.
Best for: If you’re looking for a modern approach to renter’s insurance with a social justice twist, Lemonade could be for you. They also offer pet health insurance, for renters who would like to bundle their policies. Keep in mind, Lemonade is only available in the following states: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.
Nationwide is an established insurer with multiple products such as renter’s insurance, auto insurance and life insurance.
Unique features: Nationwide offers renters extra protection by including credit card coverage in their standard rental policies, protecting you from unauthorized purchases on your credit or debit card up to the policy limit. Nationwide also provides replacement cost coverage meaning it will pay to replace the item(s) and not just the depreciated cash value.
Best for: Because you can bundle your insurance policies and save, Nationwide is best for shoppers who are looking for more than one insurance policy.
Travelers has been in business for over 165 and offers everything from renter’s insurance to auto and business insurance.
Unique features: Travelers stands out for the variety of insurance coverage they offer, plus the add ons renters can opt into. For example, a standard Traveler’s renters policy includes medical payment coverage, in addition to property damage and loss as well as liability. Renters can add insurance for damage to improvements they have made, contents replacement costs and protection for valuable items.
Best for: Travelers is another option for renters who want to bundle their policies to save.
Typical renter’s insurance costs
How much does renter’s insurance cost? Here are some of the costs associated with a renter’s insurance policy that you should be aware of.
- Premium: Your premium refers to how much you’ll pay on a monthly or annual basis to keep your policy current. Data from 2017, shows the average premium for renter’s insurance in the United States was $15 a month, or $180 per year.
- Deductible: Your deductible refers to the amount you’ll pay before the insurance company pays their portion. The average deductible ranges between $500 to $1,000.
- Out-of-pocket costs: Your insurance company will expect you to pay for some costs out of pocket before they reimburse you. An example of this is if they offer to replace your belongings — you’ll often have to pay the cost of the new belongings upfront and provide receipts before you’ll receive the funds.
Saving money on rental insurance
It makes sense to shop around and find the best rental insurance deal. Here are some ways you can potentially save money on your renter’s insurance.
- Claim-free discount: Some insurers will offer you a better rate if you go a certain period of time without making a claim.
- Bundle your insurance: Getting more than one policy with the same insurer could help you earn a discount.
- Add alarm: Devices such as smoke alarms and anti-theft alarms could help you qualify for a discount with your insurer.
Should you submit a renter’s insurance claim?
Even if you have renter’s insurance, there might be some instances where you don’t want to submit a claim and instead want to cover the cost of repairs or replacing your items yourself. Here are some advantages and disadvantages to filing a renter’s insurance claim.
- Save money: If your property damage or loss is greater than your deductible — especially if that’s by a significant degree, then submitting a renter’s insurance claim will save you money.
- Necessary for lease: Many landlords or property management companies require you to hold a renter’s insurance company. They’ll often ask for a copy of your policy before you move in.
- Covers cost of temporary housing: If your residence is uninhabitable due to a covered peril, insurance can pay for temporary housing and living costs.
- Increased premiums: Many renter’s insurance policies have discounts for those who are claim-free, which can discourage people from making a claim for something small.
- High deductible: If the cost of replacing your items or fixing the damage is about the same cost as your deductible it might not be worth filing a claim.
- Paperwork: Insurance companies can often seem at odds with their insurers, not to mention filing can be a paperwork-heavy claims process, depending on the policyholder's insurer. For smaller claims, the hassle might not outweigh the advantages.
The bottom line
Renter’s insurance is often necessary to obtain before moving into a rental property. While the process of filing a claim could be arduous with some insurers, following the steps and keeping detailed documentation can ease confusion. Also, shopping around for the best policy can net some rewards such as credit card monitoring or innovative give-back initiatives. Make sure you review any possible ways to get discounts on your renter’s insurance and find the policy that works in your best interests.