I filed a renters insurance claim for theft

Renters insurance protects your personal belongings if they’re damaged or stolen, both inside and outside of your home. Here’s one woman’s story of filing a renters insurance claim after her car was broken into.

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Kara McGinleySenior Editor & Licensed Home Insurance ExpertKara McGinley is a former senior editor and licensed home insurance expert at Policygenius, where she specialized in homeowners and renters insurance. As a journalist and as an insurance expert, her work and insights have been featured in Forbes Advisor, Kiplinger, Lifehacker, MSN, WRAL.com, and elsewhere.

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Welcome to Claims Diary, an ongoing series where we interview real people who filed real insurance claims to learn about how the claims process actually went.

Renters insurance is designed to cover your personal property if it’s damaged or stolen — whether that happens inside or outside of your home. 

In this installment of our Claims Diary series, we spoke to one woman about filing a renters insurance claim after her car was broken into. 

A normal morning 

Sara Howard started that August morning in 2018 off like any other. She woke up, got ready, and drove her 2012 Nissan Rogue to her local gym in Chicago. Except this morning, something felt different. 

“It was around 5 A.M., and I went to go get on the treadmill, but I just had a feeling. I felt like I just had to leave. Something felt off,” explained Sara. 

It turned out that Sara’s gut feeling was right — in the 10 to 20 minutes Sara spent in the gym, her car window had been smashed in. Sara’s backpack, along with her MacBook, iPad, jewelry, and other belongings, had been stolen out of her car. 

“The volume of the items that were taken was pretty significant,” said Sara. In all, she estimated around $5,000 worth of items were stolen.

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A police report and a renters insurance claim

After Sara contacted the police, she was told to call her renters insurance company. “I was unaware that this claim would be filed through my renters insurance until I went through the process. Interestingly enough, this topic comes up pretty often and I have yet to meet someone who is aware of this unless they've been through it themselves,” said Sara. 

It’s understandable to assume you’d only need to contact your auto insurance company in a scenario like Sara’s, but auto insurance doesn’t actually cover the cost of replacing stolen belongings after your car is broken into, that’s where renters insurance comes in (auto insurance would cover the cost of repairing the broken window and any other damage to the car itself, just not the stuff that was stolen). 

That’s because unlike auto insurance, renters insurance includes personal property coverage that protects your belongings from damage and theft, even if they’re stolen outside of your home like Sara’s were. 

Tracking down receipts

When you first get renters or homeowners insurance, experts recommend you take a home inventory of all your items so that you know how much personal property coverage you need, and how much all your belongings are worth in the event of a covered loss. 

Unfortunately, it can be easy to forget to record your smaller items, like your clothing, personal products, and other belongings that aren’t major parts of your home in the same way that your furniture and technology are. And for Sara, things got a little complicated. 

“Initially I was told I had to provide a detailed police report that reflected each item that was taken. Then I was told I had to acquire an itemized receipt for each item that was listed in the police report, including make up I had bought a few weeks prior, to show proof of purchase. If I was unable to get a receipt, I had to provide a photograph to receive 50% reimbursement for that item,” Sara explained. 

This isn’t always required, but some insurers may be stricter than others when it comes to home inventories, as seemed to be the case with Sara. Depending on the insurance company, screenshots of receipts, estimates of the cost of your belongings, or pictures or videos of your property may be accepted instead of an itemized home inventory. 

A yearlong process 

Your insurance company will have a set timeframe in which they must complete a claim payout for an approved covered loss, but the claims process can still drag on. For Sara, because she was originally told to get an itemized receipt detailing each belonging that was stolen, it ended up being a long, time-consuming process. 

And it turned out that some of that work wasn’t even necessary. “After about a year of running around with Chicago PD and different retailers, I was able to submit my claim. I called the insurance company to let them know I had an updated police report with all of the items and all of the receipts, and I was told they just needed an estimate of the items. It ended up being an extremely lengthy and frustrating process that could have been avoided if I had received the correct information,” said Sara. 

A claim settlement at last

It took about a year for Sara to receive her claim payout, but despite the grueling process and miscommunication, Sara was happy with her reimbursement. “It was a pretty large payout because of the amount that was stolen,” she said. 

“They did factor in how many years I had owned everything, and paid out the depreciated value,” Sara explained. This is because Sara had actual cash value (ACV) coverage for her personal property, which factors-in depreciation when reimbursing you for stolen or damaged items. You can upgrade your renters insurance policy to replacement cost value (RCV) which reimburses you as if your items were new, however RCV policies are more expensive than ACV. 

Some items, like jewelry, have coverage sublimits, meaning a lower maximum limit to how much your insurer will reimburse you if those specific types of items are damaged or stolen. For example, renters insurance may have a specific coverage sublimit of $1,000 for jewelry, even if your general limit is much higher. That said, you can typically schedule an endorsement to your policy for extra coverage for specific items. 

“I did not know my plan only covered up to a certain dollar amount for jewelry coverage, so I received a smaller payout for those items,” said Sara. But even though not every item was fully reimbursed, renters insurance still paid off.

Prior to this incident, Sara only had renters insurance because her landlord required it, but now she has a policy in-force no matter what her property manager’s requirements are. “My current building doesn’t require renters insurance, but I still have it anyway because I know what can happen,” she said. 

Renters insurance can offer thousands of dollars in protection for your personal belongings (as well as your liability), but it only costs around $15 a month on average, making it a smart buy for any renter, even if it’s not required.

Have a claims story of your own to share? Email your story to Kara.Mcginley@policygenius.com and you could be featured in a future Claims Diary

Image credit: Getty Images