Renters insurance can reimburse or replace your belongings when they’re lost or destroyed in a covered peril. Your policy’s covered perils (also called “named perils” and “perils insured against”) will be clearly outlined in your policy itself. Any perils excluded from coverage will also be listed.
For most types of perils, your coverage is straightforward. If your belongings are lost in a fire, for example, virtually every single cause of the fire will generate an approved claim, from a child flicking an errant match to a nuclear bomb exploding nearby.
Water damage is another story. Renters insurance typically covers some types of loss caused by water damage while excluding several others. Commonly included water damage perils include water discharged from the plumbing; common exclusions for water damage including flooding or sewer overflow.
Read on to learn more about renters insurance and water damage:
Unless you have an all-perils policy, your renters insurance coverage only extends to damage or loss caused by a named peril. There are typically between 15 and 20 named perils in a renters insurance policy, including weather issues, elemental perils, and malicious human activity.
The following named perils for water damage will likely result in an approved claim if one of them causes damage or loss to your belongings. Renters insurance does not cover damage to the structure itself – that’s on your landlord’s policy – so these coverages specifically refer to damage to your property within.
This peril explicitly refers to water or steam circulating through your home as a result of normal day-to-day use. Usually, the water must be in your plumbing system, including an automatic fire sprinkler system, or as part of your heating (think radiators) or air conditioning. Not only are burst pipes covered; so are household appliances like dishwashers and washing machines.
Both accidental discharge and sudden bulging, cracking, burning, tearing apart are usually covered by your renters insurance policy.
Your policy might exclude damage to the system or appliance that discharged the water or steam. It may also exclude damage caused by mold and fungi growth as a result of water damage.
The weight of snow, ice, or sleet on the building that causes damage to the property inside is covered. That typically means the ice broke through the roof or walls somehow.
Likewise, this coverage applies to the water circulating in your home’s plumbing, HVAC system, or one of your household appliances. If this water freezes and causes damage or loss to your belongings, the renters insurance company will reimburse you.
Note that if you weren’t living in the home at the time of the damage, or the home is under construction, some renters insurance carriers may only consider frozen water damage a covered peril if you took reasonable precautions to maintain heat in your building or removed the water from your appliances and systems.
Rain is covered under the provision for windstorm and hail coverage, but only if the rain gets into your home because the windstorm or hail created an opening in the walls or roof of your home.
Leaks may drop water onto your belongings and ruin them. However, not every type of leak is covered by your renters insurance. If the leak was caused due to corrosion or rot in your house’s roof, you may have to file a claim with your landlord’s insurance, which covers structural damage.
Some renters insurance policies do contain a provision for damage caused by the collapse of a roof onto your belongings. There are many causes for the collapse that will result in a reimbursement, including rain collecting on the roof. But be cautious: Other renters insurance policies have the collapse provision but without allowing for collapse caused by water – unless it’s frozen water, as mentioned above – so be sure to shop around for a policy that covers collapse by rainwater if that’s important to you.
If the water damage is caused by an excluded peril, like sump pump overflow or a flood, you won’t get reimbursement for any damage it causes. However, if excluded water damage causes another type of loss, such as by theft or fire, you’ll still be able to file a claim for damage under the other covered loss.
An exclusion is a named peril from which a loss or damage won’t result in reimbursement from the renters insurance company. It may be possible to purchase a rider (also known as an endorsement) that adds coverage for an otherwise excluded peril, but some riders may be pricey if you live in an area more prone to the type of peril covered by the rider.
Floods are excluded from virtually every basic renters insurance policy. By floods, carriers mean water that rises up from the ground, including but limited to overflow from a body of water, surface water, tidal waves and tsunamis, or discharge caused by a dam or levee breaking.
Sometimes, leaks caused by water seeping through the ground, including through a driveway, sideway or swimming pool, are also not covered under the same provision.
The flood exclusion even applies to floods caused by wind, meaning that you’d be covered by the windstorm or hail provision if the weather causes rain to get into your home, but not if there’s so much rain that it causes a flood.
To get coverage for floods, you’ll most likely need to purchase a flood endorsement. Policygenius’ licensed insurance agents can help you find a carrier willing to offer you flood coverage at a price that won’t make you feel like you’re drowning.
Like the flood provision, this provision excludes damage from water outside the residence premises. That means water that enters through or backs up from sewers, drains, or any system that is supposed to drain water from your home, such as a sump pump.
Insurers will occasionally add a clause to some otherwise covered perils that if you’re not living at the premises at the time the damage occurred, you may not be eligible for reimbursement. This is to ensure that you’re taking the proper precautions against a given peril, such as keeping your pipes heated or barricading your windows in anticipation of a hurricane.
Some named perils may include a caveat that if the damage occurred over a period of time, such that you should’ve been able to anticipate a loss and take action to prevent it, then you may not be eligible for reimbursement if this damage causes a loss.
This is a common caveat for the artificial discharge and burning, tearing, cracking, and bulging named perils, where there may be evidence of damage like mold, rot, and corrosion prior to the peril causing damage or loss.
However, this exclusion sometimes doesn’t apply if you were unable to view the mold or rot because it was within the walls or above the ceiling.
Renters insurance not only protects your belongings. It also protects you from liability when you cause damage to someone else’s belongings. That means if you leave your bathtub running too long and it leaks into your neighbor’s home, any damage you’re liable for should be covered by your renters insurance.
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.
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.