Fire is covered by renters insurance, meaning your renters insurance will reimburse you for personal property destroyed by a fire. If your home becomes uninhabitable due to a covered fire, your loss-of-use coverage may pay for you to stay at a nearby hotel
If you accidentally set fire to someone else’s property, the personal liability provision of your renters insurance will help reimburse the cost of their damaged belongings
Your renters insurance does not cover any damages to your physical apartment building or dwelling
Installing smoke detectors or sprinkler systems can result in potential renters insurance discounts
Your renters insurance policy protects your personal property and belongings if they are stolen or damaged due to a covered peril. Fire is one of the most common and popular covered perils in a typical renters policy. That means if a fire destroys your belongings, you’re eligible to receive a reimbursement from your renters insurance company for the loss.
It doesn’t matter what caused the fire, either, unless you caused it intentionally. Meaning it could be started by a candle, a kitchen fire, or even an electrical fire — your belongings are still protected.
Fire damage is included in your policy’s personal property loss coverage, but if the fire renders your home uninhabitable, your policy should also have a loss-of-use provision to cover any of your additional living expenses, like the cost of a hotel. Additionally, smoke damage is also covered by your policy.
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Fire damage is a covered peril (or “named peril”) in your renters insurance policy. If your policy doesn’t have covered perils, you may have an all-risk policy, meaning that all perils, including fire, are covered unless specifically excluded.
Renters insurance covers your personal property, but not the actual rental dwelling. Your landlord’s landlord insurance covers the physical building and will help them pay for the cost of damage to the building. For example, after a fire, renters insurance will reimburse you for the cost of a ruined couch but won’t pay you for damage to the actual walls or structure of your apartment — that will be covered by your landlord’s own insurance.
When your personal belongings are damaged or destroyed by fire, your renters insurance company will give you a payout to replace your destroyed stuff. Any losses will be covered up to your coverage limits. Your coverage limits for personal property coverage are listed on your policy declarations page.
When you file a claim for personal property, you’ll also have to pay a deductible, which is the amount you pay on a claim before the insurance company picks up the rest. For example, if fire destroys your $3,000 sofa, and you have a $500 deductible, the renters insurance company will pay you $2,500 to replace the sofa after you pay them the $500 deductible.
Fire damage to your personal property doesn’t have to originate in your own home to be covered. Virtually anything that causes the fire – brush fires, your neighbor’s cigarette, fireworks – could result in an approved claim. Your belongings also don’t have to be in your apartment to be eligible, since personal property coverage applies to belongings anywhere they are. For example, if your car catches on fire and your laptop and a suitcase of your clothes are inside it, your renters insurance may reimburse you for the cost of your laptop and suitcase contents while your car insurance will cover damage to the car itself.
Renters insurance also protects you from liability when you cause bodily injury or property damage to someone else. Liability coverage will pay the medical expenses of someone if you accidentally burn them or somehow destroy their belongings in a fire, as long as it was proven to be an accident.
Similarly, if you negligently set your building on fire – for example, by leaving a candle unattended, throwing away a still-lit match, or even while cooking – your landlord’s insurance company may attempt to recover costs from you. If you have renters insurance, your insurer can pay for some of your liability for the fire, including some legal costs (up to your liability limit).
Loss-of-use coverage pays for the additional expenses you incur if you are displaced from your home due to a covered peril. Since fire damage could be extensive and require a long period of repair, you may need to stay in a hotel or commute from a longer distance to work, and these new costs would be covered by your renters policy.
Where your insurance provider will pay for you to stay depends on your policy and the amount of loss-of-use coverage you purchase. Most insurers will pay for you to stay at a hotel or a new rental similar to your own.
If the fire is started by a separate peril, like a lightning strike, renters insurance will still cover the loss. Some perils, like floods, earthquakes, and sewer overflow, are explicitly excluded from coverage on most policies. However, your renters insurance policy should include a caveat to these exclusions: if they result in a fire, the fire damage is covered.
Renters insurance will cover wildfire damage just like it would cover any other fire damage. However, when a wildfire threatens your home, you may be required by civil authority to evacuate the area. When this happens, your renters insurance policy will typically extend loss-of-use coverage even if your home isn’t directly impacted.
Additionally, if the civil authority accidentally damages your home in the course of putting out the fire or stopping its spread, you are eligible for reimbursement for any losses.
In the event of a major disaster or state of emergency, you may be eligible for assistance from FEMA. If you have renters insurance, you’re required to file a claim with the insurer in addition to applying for FEMA funds. While your FEMA benefits could be reduced by the amount paid in your renters claim, you may be eligible for funds beyond what your insurance company covers.
In addition to fire, smoke damage is also a covered peril. Loss from smoke damage is covered in the same way fire is: protection for your property, against liability, and when you’re put out of home.
Unlike fire, however, the smoke covered peril typically includes a caveat. Insurers don’t cover loss caused by smoke resulting from smudging (an agricultural technique to prevent frost from growing on trees) and industrial operations. Some insurers also exclude coverage for smoke damage caused by the manufacturing of controlled substances.
While fire is typically covered by all standard renters insurance policies, some causes of the fire or specific types of damage will be excluded from coverage.
You started the fire intentionally: Covered losses under a renters insurance policy are only covered if you didn’t cause them intentionally.
The fire damaged the building: Damage to the building, including its walls, structure, and installations is covered by the insurance policy of the building’s owner. If the landlord’s insurance company comes after you for losses, your renters insurer should be able to help defray the costs, as long as the fire was an accident.
Fire damage to your car: Your car insurance covers any damage to the body of the car; no part of renters insurance will apply. However, any property in the car may be covered by your renters policy.
Renters insurance companies typically offer discounts to people who install safety features in their home. You can save money by having some of these common safety features to help prevent fire damage:
Smoke detector or carbon monoxide alarm
Logan Sachon is the co-founder of The Billfold, a groundbreaking personal finance site for millennials that was named one of Time's 25 Best Blogs of 2012. Her work has been published in New York Magazine, Glamour, The Guardian, BuzzFeed and more.
Kara McGinley is an insurance editor at Policygenius, specializing in home, auto and renters insurance. She previously worked as a freelance writer and copywriter, and has been writing about insurance since 2019. Kara is an expert at making complicated topics like property insurance simple to understand. Her work can be found in Teen Vogue, The Culture Crush, and more.
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