What renters need to know about liability and pets.
Spot the dog is your best friend and most loyal companion. But if you rent your home, Spot can also get you in a lot of trouble — and cost you a lot of money. From biting to scratching, Spot and his canine and feline compatriots can be a major source of liability for pet parents. How can ensure that your furry best friend doesn’t bankrupt you? Renters insurance — and pet liability insurance — to the rescue.
Read on to find out:
If you rent, you need renters insurance. This is true whether you rent a room in a shared flat, an apartment of your own, or a free-standing house — and it’s especially true if you share that space with an animal pal.
Renters insurance covers your personal belongings in the event of theft or damage from a covered event or peril (think: fires, wind storms). It also offers you liability coverage in case you get sued and some funds for medical payments in case you (or your pet) accidentally hurt someone, and that’s where it really shines for pet owners.
The CDC reports that 885,000 Americans are bitten by a pet each year with enough severity to require medical attention, and according to the Insurance Information Institute (III), dog bites are the most common liability claim on homeowners insurance policies.
So even though we know that Spot would never, ever, ever bite someone, you need renters insurance because the liability coverage that comes with it also serves as your pet liability coverage (most of the time — see below).
Learn more about what renters insurance does and doesn’t cover.
Say Spot bites a neighbor. (He was totally provoked, we know — justice for Spot!) And yet: the neighbor needs stitches and wants you to pay.
Renters insurance to the rescue: your policy includes some cash to pay medical payments. After the bite, immediately tell your insurance company what’s up — then your neighbor can file a third-party claim with your insurance company, who will reimburse them for medical costs. Result: stitches covered.
But what if your medical payment limits aren’t enough and the neighbor sues? Renters insurance saves the day again — your insurance company will pay to defend you in court, covering your legal fees and any settlement, up to your coverage limits.
So how much liability insurance do you need if you have a dog? The III reports that the 2017 average dog bite payout was $37,000, and that the number is trending upward. So at least that much, but probably more. Many experts recommend that if you have a pet, $100,000 is the minimum liability coverage you should buy.
If Spot destroys your couch or chews up your carpet, your renters insurance will not pay. “My dog got stressed and ate my couch” isn’t a covered peril, and you’ll be responsible for the costs.
But if your dog chews up someone else’s couch, your liability coverage could come into play. (The same is true with kids, by the way: if your kid gets a Sharpie and draws all over your white leather lounger, you’ll be paying for paint yourself; but if your kid gets artistic at a friend’s house, your renters insurance will pay.)
One complication for covering your liability as a pet owner is that there are some dog breeds that insurance companies consider to be such liabilities that they never cover them.
Each insurance carrier has its own list of excluded breeds, also referred to as uninsurable breeds, prohibited breeds, or aggressive breeds, but some commonly blacklisted dog breeds include:
Dog owners shopping for renters insurance quotes should confirm that their chosen company will cover their dog. Military-only carrier USAA and State Farm are two companies that accept all breeds. Alternatively, some carriers will still offer you a policy but exclude any dog-related claims.
If you own an excluded breed and can’t qualify for liability coverage, you may still be able to get pet liability coverage through either an umbrella policy, which is additional liability insurance that you buy on top of your homeowners, renters, or auto insurance policies, or a canine liability policy, which is separate insurance that you buy specifically to protect you from liability related to your dog. Canine liability insurance is often available through smaller carriers. Costs depend on your dog’s breed and history, and costs can range from under $100 per year to $1,000 per year. One note: it may be tempting to not tell your insurance company about your dog’s breed, but that won’t work out well. If you make a claim and haven’t disclosed your dog, your claim can be denied and your policy canceled, and you’ll be left with the bills. Get covered before something happens.
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.