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Does renters insurance cover fires?

What renters need to know to protect themselves from fire and smoke damage.

Open your renters insurance policy. Turn to the page listing your covered perils. In all likelihood, the very first covered peril is fire. That means if a fire destroys your belongings, you’re eligible to receive a reimbursement from the renters insurance company for the loss.

It doesn’t matter what caused the fire, either, unless you caused it intentionally. Rays of sunlight beaming through a magnifying glass, a candle in the wind, an explosion: if it starts a fire, your belongings are protected.

Fire damage is covered by 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. Additionally, smoke damage is also covered by your policy.

Read on to learn more about renters insurance and fire damage:

How renters insurance covers fire damage

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.

Personal property coverage

Damage or loss to your belongings caused by fire will result in a payout from the renters insurance company to replace your destroyed stuff. Your coverage limits for personal property coverage are listed on your policy declarations sheet.

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. When fire destroys your $3,000 sofa, and you have a $250 deductible, the renters insurance company will pay you $2,750 to replace the sofa.

Fire damage to your personal property doesn’t have to originate in your own home to be covered. Virtually anything that causes the fire – brushfires, your neighbor’s smoking habit, serial arsonists – could result in an approved claim. The item also doesn’t have to be in your apartment to be eligible, since personal property coverage applies to items anywhere they are.

Make sure all your personal property is covered by speaking to a licensed representative at Policygenius, who can help you find a renters policy that offers the most robust protection for your stuff.

Liability coverage

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 burn him or her or somehow destroy their stuff with fire, as long as it was 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, the insurer will pay for some of your liability for the fire, including some legal costs (up to your liability limit).

Loss-of-use coverage

Loss-of-use coverage pays for the additional expenses you incur while you have to be away from home because of 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.

Mandatory evacuations

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 eligible for funds beyond what your insurance company covers.

Fire caused by another peril

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.

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Coverage for smoke damage

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.

Fire damage that renters insurance doesn’t protect against

While fire is typically covered, some causes of the fire will be excluded from coverage.

You started the fire intentionally

This should be a no-brainer. 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 insurance company 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. Still shopping for car insurance? Your insurer could let you bundle your renters (or homeowners) policy with your car insurance to save money on your premiums.

Nuclear explosions… maybe

In general, nuclear explosions are not covered by your renters insurance policy, whether accident or intentional. However, in some cases, your policy may cover fires that result from the nuclear explosion. Since a nuclear bomb is itself essentially a cosmic blast of superhot energy, it’s unclear how the insurer would distinguish between the heat of a nuclear explosion and a resulting fire.

Protecting against fire damage can save you money

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
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Sprinkler system
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Disclaimer: Policygenius’ editorial content is not written by an insurance agent. It’s intended for informational purposes and should not be considered legal or financial advice. Consult a professional to learn what financial products are right for you.

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