So you bought renters insurance. Congrats! According to a 2016 report from the Insurance Information Institute, only 41% of renters had insurance, so you’re doing better than a majority of the pack. But, like...how does renters insurance actually work? Your stuff gets damaged or stolen...and then what? Luckily, filing a renters insurance claim is pretty easy – especially if you’re prepared and know what to expect. Here’s what you need to know about how to file a renters insurance claim.
Tell the authorities and/or your landlord
Who you talk to depends on the nature of your situation. If your stuff was damaged because a pipe burst, you'll obviously want to tell the landlord. Your renters insurance only covers your stuff, and the landlord’s insurance will cover the damage to the actual building. Same goes for if your stuff was stolen in a break-in: If a window or door was broken, you’ll want to let the landlord know.
In the event of theft or vandalism, you’ll also want to tell the police. Not only is filing a police report a good idea so they can try to track down the perp, but the insurance company may require one when you file a claim.
Get all of your information ready
Before you call your insurance company, be prepared. Collect everything you might need to make the claim filing process as smooth as possible, including:
Your home inventory. You did make a home inventory, right? That catalogs all of your items and, ideally, their value. Your insurer may require an inventory to prevent fraud, especially for high-ticket items. If you haven’t made an inventory, it’s not too late; in fact, these apps make it super simple to snap a picture of your items and log all of the pertinent information. When you have an inventory, you can easily bring up what’s been damaged or stolen, and how much it cost.
Your policy number. To avoid confusion, have your policy number so the insurer can easily track down your policy and see what you qualify for.
A police report, if necessary. Again, depending on why you’re filing, you may be required to offer a police report as evidence. Better to have this now than fish around for it later.
Damage documentation. Important note: Don’t toss your items because they’re ruined. Take pictures and keep the items for as long as you can. The last thing you want is to say something was water-damaged and then not be able to actually prove it, resulting in a claims rejection.
Witnesse statements. It’s always nice to have people who are able to corroborate your story. If there are witnesses, collect their contact information, just in case.
Contact your insurer
Now’s the time to actually get in touch with your insurance company. You’ll want to do all of the above as quickly as possible, because most insurers have a deadline for filing a claim. You’ll usually have 48 to 72 hours from the time of the incident to file your claim.
Complete a claims form
After you let the insurance company know that you’re filing a claim, you’ll have to fill out a form. Be as detailed as possible, and make use of the information you gathered earlier. Depending on your claim, the insurance company may require an inspection and send out an adjuster.
Collect your claim
Once everything has been squared away, the insurance company will cut you a check. The amount of money you get is contingent on a few things. The items you’re claiming will obviously help determine how much money you get. But your policy itself also plays a big role, specifically what type of replacement it covers, and what perils it covers.
Renters insurance policies come in two flavors: a replacement cost value policy essentially pays for the item (if your $1,000 bed gets damaged, you’ll get $1,000 from the insurance company) while a actual cash value policy pays out the depreciated cost of an item (you bought your $1,000 bed five years ago and is only worth $200 today, so that’s what the insurer pays). An actual cash value policy is cheaper, but because it’s paying out the depreciated cost you’ll be on the hook for making up the difference.
There are also named peril and all risk policies. Named peril policies only cover things that are specifically mentioned in the policy; all risk policies cover everything except for any exclusions specifically mentioned.
Why your claim was denied
File a claim but learn your insurer isn’t going to cover you? It’s rare, but it happens. Here’s why:
- You haven’t met your deductible. As with health insurance, you need to pay a certain amount out of pocket before the insurer will chip in. Your deductible is outlined in your policy.
- The items you’re claiming aren’t covered. Check your policy to see if it’s a replacement cash value or actual cash value policy, and see what perils are covered. For expensive items like electronics and jewelry, the insurer may only cover up to a certain amount.
- You took too long to file the claim. If you miss the window outlined by the insurer, you may not be eligible to file.
- It’s a case of fraud. Look, just don’t commit fraud, okay? Don’t try to file a claim on an $800 television you never owned in the first place.
- Your landlord is covering it. If your roof got damaged because the upstairs neighbor flooded his bathtub, don’t bother filing a claim. Tell your landlord instead, because their insurance will cover it. Remember, your landlord’s insurance covers damage to the building. Your renters insurance policy covers damage to your stuff.
Still confused about renters insurance? We’ve got the answer to 20 questions you’re too embarrassed to ask right here.