Q

Does renters insurance cover smoke damage?

A

Yes, renters insurance includes smoke damage as a covered peril in most cases. However, whether the smoke damage is covered can depend on what caused the smoke in the first place.

Kara McGinley

Kara McGinley

Published February 14, 2020

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Renters insurance will cover smoke damage, unless it is caused by certain exceptions like industrial operations or the manufacture of illegal substances

  • Renters insurance will not cover damage to your personal property from cigarette smoke damage, but if you cause cigarette smoke damage to someone else’s property you can file a renters insurance liability claim

  • Don’t immediately throw away any smoke damaged personal belongings because they can serve as proof of loss for your insurance company

Smoke damage can be costly and hard to get rid of. If smoke damages your personal property, many times you will need a professional clean-up service to get out smells and discoloration left by smoke. Luckily, renters insurance does consider smoke damage a covered peril in many cases.

All three of the main components of a renters insurance policy: personal property coverage, liability coverage, and loss-of-use coverage, can come in handy when dealing with smoke damage. Renters insurance will pay to replace your belongings that were damaged, cover your liability if you accidentally started the fire that caused the smoke damage, and your renters policy may also pay for you to stay in a hotel while your home is repaired from the fire or smoke damage. However, in order for damage to be covered, the smoke damage must have been caused by specific factors.

In this article:

When does renters insurance cover smoke damage?

Renters insurance works like many other types of property insurance: You pay a regular premium to keep your policy in force, and your renters insurance company will pay to reimburse you for damage to your belongings or losses you’re liable for. Renters insurance is one of the cheapest insurance products you can buy, costing an average of $15 a month Unlike homeowners insurance, renters insurance only covers the items in your rental unit, not the structure of the unit itself.

Both smoke and fire damage are considered covered perils when it comes to a renters insurance policy. That means all three provisions of your renters insurance policy will cover smoke damage as long as you did not cause the damage intentionally or out of negligence. Some common causes of smoke damage that your renters insurance will cover include:

  • Fire (if your neighbor’s apartment catches fire and the smoke damage reaches your apartment, your renters insurance will still cover the loss)
  • Lightning strike
  • Short-circuit damage
  • Vandalism
  • Accidental fire or smoke

Your insurance company will only reimburse you for these perils up to your policies limit, meaning the maximum amount of money your insurance company will pay out for a covered loss. Some items have specific sublimits, like expensive jewelry or collectibles, so if you are worried about the value of certain property exceeding your policy’s limit, you should look into scheduling endorsements to your renters policy. A typical renters insurance policy is made up of three different types of coverage, and all of them could help cover costs associated with smoke damage:

  • Personal property coverage: If your personal property is damaged or ruined by smoke, your renters insurance will reimburse you (up to your policies limit) to replace or fix your items. This can be anything from your curtains to your clothes to your bedding. If you have a replacement cost policy then your insurance company will pay you as if your personal property was new and if you have an actual cash value policy you will be paid the depreciated value of your belongings.
  • Liability coverage: Liability coverage covers you if you cause damage or harm to someone else or their property. So if you accidentally cause smoke damage in your friend’s apartment, you could file a renters insurance liability claim to help pay for some of the cost.
  • Loss-of-use coverage: If the smoke damage is so severe that your rental property becomes unlivable, you can file a renters insurance loss-of-use claim. If your claim is approved, your insurance company will pay for you to stay elsewhere, like at a nearby hotel. It will also cover the costs of any additional expenses you accrue, like if you have to eat at restaurants because your hotel doesn’t have a kitchen.

Cigarette smoke damage

Some landlords might prohibit smoking in their rental property. However, not all do. Whether or not smoking is prohibited indoors will most likely be outlined in your policy. That being said, your renters insurance company will not cover your personal property if you damage it with cigarette smoke.

However, you can file a liability claim for cigarette smoke. For example, if your landlord believes you are responsible for cigarette smoke damage in your rental and wants you to pay to fix it, you can file a liability claim, and your renters insurance may help you pay for the repairs.

Basically, your insurance policy will not pay you for cigarette smoke damage you caused to your own property, like if your couch smells like cigarettes after years of smoking on it, or if the smoke stains the headboard of your bed, but they will cover you if you cause cigarette smoke damage to someone else’s property — be it your landlord or friend or neighbor.

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When does renters insurance not cover smoke damage?

Renters insurance will not cover smoke damage under certain circumstances. If the smoke was caused by any of these incidents renters insurance will not consider the resulting damage a covered loss.

  • Manufacturing of controlled substances
  • Agricultural smudging
  • Industrial operations
  • Intentional damage

How to file a claim for smoke damage

If the smoke damage is caused by a fire, you should alert the fire department before doing anything else. As soon as it’s safe, tell your landlord. Before filing a claim for fire or smoke damage, you should take photographs or videos of the damaged items, and record any helpful information, like a timeline of the damage or names and contact information for witnesses..

Do not get rid of any damaged belongings because you may need them to prove your loss. You can either call your insurance provider over the phone or file a claim directly on your insurance company's website or app. There are a few things you should have on hand:

  • Your policy number
  • Proof of loss (photographs, videos, receipts, home inventory)
  • A phone number for your insurance provider to reach you

Once you file the claim, your insurance company will assign you a claims adjuster who may come survey the smoke damage in person to determine if it is a covered loss. If the claim is approved you will first have to pay your deductible before the rest of your renters insurance coverage can kick in.