How do you file a renters insurance claim?

Filing a claim requires you to provide a lot of information to the renters insurance company. When your claim is approved, the carrier will make a payment to you.

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Zack SigelManaging EditorZack Sigel is a former managing editor at Policygenius who oversaw our mortgages, taxes, loans, banking, and investing verticals.

Updated|9 min read

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Renters insurance protects you when your personal belongings are stolen, vandalized or destroyed, or you incur liability from someone getting injured in your home. In order to make use of your renters insurance coverage, you need to file a claim for the loss or damages.

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Filing a claim requires you to provide a lot of information to the renters insurance company. Depending on the type of claim, you may need many different types of documents, including a sheet documenting the value of lost property or a police statement detailing an incident in the home. That information is submitted to the carrier and the carrier will make an assessment about its obligation to you.

When your claim is approved, the renters insurance company will make a payment to you. However, in many cases, you’ll have to hit a deductible, which is a dollar amount you have to pay on any claim before the carrier pays the rest. Additionally, the renters insurance company may impose maximum amounts on how much they’ll pay for certain claims, which are called limits of liability.

Creating an inventory

Before you even take out a renters insurance policy, you should create an inventory of all the items you’d need to replace if they were destroyed or stolen. This inventory should be as specific and thorough as possible, listing each item’s model number and price.

The inventory can help you figure out how much coverage you need, but it’ll also become very important when filing a claim. Store the inventory along with any receipts or related documentation. When you file a claim, the renters insurance company may ask to see your inventory to determine what items were lost and how much it needs to pay to replace them.

Learn more about how to create a home inventory.

First steps after suffering a loss

The first thing you should do if you need to file a claim is document all the damage or loss. If the damage was caused by a weather catastrophe or a covered elemental condition, it may tempting to throw out ruined items. But many renters insurance companies caution against this – you should leave the mess in place while the carrier sends someone to examine your loss. Then tell your landlord, especially if you think if the loss was caused by something he or she is obligated to fix, like a broken window or lock. You may also want to call the police; a police report could be helpful in gathering evidence in support of your claim.

Next, pull up your renters insurance policy and find the contact information for the carrier. That may simply be the company’s website or a phone number for a representative or agent. More and more, you should be able to file a claim online or through your renters insurance company’s smartphone app.

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Take as many pictures or as much video as you can of the damage. While renters insurance doesn’t cover damage to your building (which your landlord’s own insurance covers), having thorough visual evidence of what happened can help the carrier not only verify your claim quickly but also offer you the correct amount of reimbursement money. Create this video evidence fast lest the condition that caused the damage causes your items to deteriorate further.

Gather all the documentation related to the claim. If you’re claiming personal property loss, that could mean anything from store receipts and Amazon order confirmation emails to bills from repair shops. For liability and medical claims related to another person getting injured in your home, make sure you have the hospital bill or legal notice stating what you owe.

How to file a claim

Check with your renters insurance company’s website to determine what documents you need to submit to file a claim. You may be able to scan in the documents, including photographs, and submit directly through the site, but more advanced claims may take additional steps.

You’ll need to give all the details about what caused the claim. Be prepared to give your policy number, too, especially if you’re just making an account with your renters insurance carrier’s online claims portal for the first time.

Having your policy close at hand will be helpful in deciding whether you need to file a claim at all. Sometimes, a given claim’s deductible is so high that it would be more cost-effective to simply pay the for the loss out of pocket, especially if the item is an older model that you can replace on the cheap. You may want to avoid filing a claim if you’re worried that you’ve already filed too many claims, which could cause the carrier to rescind your coverage, or if you’re at fault in the loss, which could cause your premium could go up.

File a claim for property loss or damage

This is where your inventory will come in handy. Tell the renters insurance company exactly what you lost and how much it was worth. In many cases, you can submit pictures and video of the destruction straight through the carrier’s app, and this could result in a claims approval within minutes or even days.

Your renters insurance policy should cover property you own that isn’t in your home, such as bicycle you park outside. (Certain items that seem to fall under this rubric are usually not covered, like aircraft.) It may also cover property owned by others that a person who lives in your insured residence damaged, as well as property owned by others that happens to be in your home. Check your policy for the exact details. Many items are subject to a maximum amount of coverage, which is called a limit of liability, in addition to the deductible. That means that although you may file a claim for a certain amount, the payout you receive could be much smaller.

File a claim for liability or medical payments to others

There are two types of liability coverage. The first, personal liability, comes into play when you lose a lawsuit filed by someone who is either injured on in your insured home or is injured on another premises by someone who normally lives in your insured home. The other type of liability coverage is called medical payments to others, which is when you’re responsible for medical bills incurred from an injury in your home or caused by someone who lives in your home to someone.

Regardless of the type of claim, you should document all the damage, including any witnesses to what happened. Under liability coverage, the victim will file the claim with your insurer, and your documented evidence could mean the difference between the injury being covered. Make sure the victim has your policy number and instructions on how to file with your insurance company. That could mean the injured person going online and looking for a section specific to filing a claim when the policy is not his or her own.

As with personal property coverage, there may be limits to liability coverage, as explained in your renters insurance policy. After you file a claim, the insurance company may provide a lawyer to defend you in court or try to reach a settlement with the victim. Payment will be made directly to the injured person, but you’ll be responsible for any amount that exceeds the renters insurance company’s limits of liability, as well as any deductible.

Investigation and claims adjustment

Renters insurance claims (as well as those under homeowners insurance) often involve the carrier sending someone to investigate damages. This person, frequently called a claims adjuster, will assess the damage and determine whether how much you’re eligible to receive in reimbursement.

There are two types of reimbursement provisions: a replacement cost value policy essentially pays for the item (if your $1,000 bed gets damaged, you’ll get $1,000 from the insurance company), and an actual cash value policy pays out the depreciated cost of an item (you bought your $1,000 bed five years ago and is only worth $200 today, so that’s what the insurer pays).

Using one of those reimbursement provisions, the investigation will determine the amount you’re owed. The claims adjuster will make sure that the claim is valid and eligible under the policy descriptions for covered losses. If the claim is for liability coverage, the claims adjuster will contact the claimants’ doctors or lawyers on behalf of the carrier. He or she may also consult with the landlord, a law enforcement official, or a relevant professional who can provide context for an uncertain claim.

The claims adjuster may have the authority to authorize a claim. If he or she suspects or discovers during the investigation that you claim is fraudulent, you could be denied reimbursement and even prosecuted for insurance fraud (not to mention for the damage you caused).

The claims adjuster’s evaluation is almost certainly the last word on your claim, but some renters insurance carriers let you appeal his or her decision. Also, keep in mind that not every claim requires an investigation, but for especially catastrophic damages, a claims adjuster who does not work for the renters insurance company may try to contact you. This person, called a public adjuster, may get you a much higher payout, because the insurance company’s adjuster may be trying to save money for his or her employer. However, while the insurance company’s claims adjuster works for free, a public adjuster will charge a fee for his or her services.

How to get the most money back with your claim

For personal property loss claims, you should be completely honest about the loss. The insurance company will make sure you’re getting a fair reimbursement for the cost of the item either as a replacement of the item bought new (minus depreciation if you have an actual cash value policy) or a different item with the same features. Lying about the item’s features could constitute insurance fraud.

Using the example of a toaster, a former claims adjuster on reddit explained how minor differences in the way you describe the item could have a great impact on the amount you get reimbursed. The user said that if all you’re asking reimbursement for is a “toaster”, without any other defining characteristics, the insurance company may satisfy its obligation by buying you a low-quality one from Walmart for $4.88.

But, the user went on, your description could change everything. For example,

If you said "toaster - $25", we would have to be within -20% of that... so, we would find something that's pretty much dead-on $20.01. If you said "toaster- $200", we'd kick it back and say NEED MORE INFO, because that's a ridiculous price for a toaster (with no other information given.) If you said "toaster, from Walmart", you're getting that $4.88 one. If you said "toaster, from Macys", you'd be more likely to get a $25-35 one. If you said "toaster", and all your other kitchen appliances were Jenn Air / Kitchenaid / etc., you would probably get a matching one. If you said "Proctor Silex 42888 2-Slice Toaster from Walmart, $9", you just got yourself $9. If you said "High-end Toaster, Stainless Steel, Blue glowing power button" ... you might get $35-50 instead. We had to match all features that were listed.

The redditor also explained that you should list everything you could possibly recoup value for, including individual grooming items like every loofah, face mask, or shower curtain ring you own. Even for the smallest items, the costs add up, and you could receive payouts for each one, especially if those costs help you meet your deductible.

Reasons your claim was denied

Your claim could be denied for a number of reasons. When that happens, you may be able to file an appeal, which could require retaining legal counsel. Here are some of the most common reasons your claim was denied:

  • You haven’t met your deductible. Your deductible is outlined on an attachment to the renters insurance policy called the policy declarations sheet, but there may be different deductibles for different types of claims. You have to pay up to the amount of the deductible before the insurance company will pay the rest.

  • The damage you’re claiming isn’t covered. This applies to claims for property, such as certain high-value items, that isn’t covered and medical payments to others or liabilities that aren’t covered. Your renters insurance policy will spell out exactly what is and isn’t covered in thorough detail, so make sure you adhere to those rules when making a claim.

  • You took too long to file the claim. Renters insurance companies require you to file a claim within a certain period after the damage as incurred. Every policy is different, so make sure you clarify with your representative, and be sure to file the claim as soon as possible.

  • You didn’t have enough corroborating evidence. In many cases, your claim will be approved or denied very fast. But for more extensive damage, the renters insurance will need to conduct a full investigation. Sometimes, you’ll be asked to provide evidence that you actually owned the property you claim to have lost, such as receipts or proofs of purchase, and without them your claim could be denied.

  • You’re committing fraud. Don’t try to file a claim on an $800 television you never owned in the first place.

  • The damage falls under your landlord’s homeowners insurance. Renters insurance doesn’t cover damage to the building itself, which is covered by your landlord’s homeowners insurance. Report any damage to the roof or façade to the landlord so his or her insurance will cover it. However, if that damage leads to the loss of your own property, or you’re forced to leave your home because of it, your renters insurance will pick up the bill for the property itself or your alternative accommodations.