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What is renters insurance?

A working definition of renters insurance that explains how it works, what it covers, and why we think it’s so dang great.

Renters insurance is insurance for renters, that much you know. But do you know what it covers, how to get it, or why it’s a good idea to have? If that’s less clear, you’ve come to the right place. You won’t find this in Webster’s: it’s a definition of renters insurance that takes into account what it means for you.

Our illuminating guide to renters insurance will answer your questions including:

How does renters insurance work?

Renters insurance is one of the most straightforward types of insurance you can buy — in fact, you can buy renters insurance easily and cheaply online! But before you buy you need to know what you’re getting into, and that means understanding how renters insurance works.

Who is renters insurance for?

Renters insurance is for people who want help replacing their personal belongings if they’re damaged or stolen. Whether you rent a penthouse, a split-level, or a closet under the stairs, you can buy renters insurance to protect your stuff.

Multiple people can be one policy — for example, it’s common for couples to both be named on the same policy — but if you have roommates, it’s a good idea for each roommate to have their own policy to simplify things in case of a claim.

What does renters insurance cover?

Renters insurance covers your personal property — the building itself is covered by your landlord’s insurance. Your renters insurance policy covers your stuff during certain named perils. Check your policy, but most renters insurance policies offer coverage during these events:

  1. Fire
  2. Lighting
  3. Windstorms
  4. Hail
  5. Explosions
  6. Riots
  7. Damage by aircraft
  8. Damage by vehicle (not your own)
  9. Smoke damage
  10. Vandalism
  11. Theft (whether your stuff is in your apartment or not!)
  12. Volcanic eruption
  13. Falling objects
  14. Weight of snow, ice, sleet
  15. Damage from steam-heating/water-heating appliances/systems
  16. Leakage or overflow of water or steam
  17. Freezing of plumbing, heating, air conditioning
  18. Short-circuit damage caused by electrical appliances

Also covered: your personal liability in case someone gets injured in your apartment or an accident that you cause at home causes damage to other people’s stuff (like, you overflow the bathtub and it ruins your downstairs neighbors’ tie-dye ceiling tapestry: your renters insurance would cover that).

What doesn’t renters insurance cover?

That very specific list of things that renters insurance does cover comes with a shorter-but-broader list of things that your renters insurance doesn’t cover. The list of peril exclusions includes damage from:

  1. Flooding
  2. Hurricanes
  3. Earthquakes
  4. Tornadoes
  5. Sinkholes
  6. Pests and vermin (including bed bugs)
  7. Terrorism and acts of war

Most renters insurance policies also don’t cover your stuff if it’s lost (just if it’s stolen).

How do you apply for renters insurance?

The renters insurance application process is one of the easiest and fastest in the insurance game. Here’s how it works:

  1. Create a home inventory of everything you own. You have to know what you have in order to know what to cover! Luckily, you just need the list — receipts are not necessary. Does the idea of making a list give you hives? You can move forward without a full accounting of what you own — most insurance companies can give you an idea of the coverage that works for most people. So if you’re willing to take the chance that you fall in the average range, you can move ahead without a list (though we really think the list is the way to go).
  2. Start shopping. Find out the best renters insurance companies and explore who offers policies in your neighborhood. (Not a comparison shopper? We can offer you a free renters insurance quote from our policy provider Stillwater.)
  3. Apply. To get a quote online, you’ll need to share your name, address, and birthday; how much coverage you want (that’s why the inventory is the first step!); and some info about your home and claim history.
  4. See if you qualify for discounts. If you have sprinklers, a burglar alarm, or other home safety and security equipment, you could be eligible for discounts. Share what you have to see what you save! One note here: Always be totally honest! If you say you have a deadbolt and you don’t and your apartment gets broken into you, your claim may be denied!
  5. Add riders. Basic renters insurance policies just cover the basics. Once you find a policy that works for you, you can add riders (also known as endorsements or floaters) to cover more of your stuff (like your Prussian coin collection) in more situations (like an earthquake). Note: Many insurance companies let you add riders as part of your initial sign up; others will put this step later and have you add them after you’ve enrolled in a plan.
  6. Sign up! Once you find a plan that works, sign on the dotted line, pay your first premium, and bam, you and your stuff are covered.

Learn more about how renters insurance works..

How do you file a renters insurance claim?

Insurance is one of the few things we buy that we hope to never have to use (right up there with Pepto Bismol and drain snakes). But if you do need to make your renters insurance flex for you, filing a claim is super easy, especially if you’ve taken care of these two easy pre-steps:

  1. Create a home inventory. You probably did this when you applied for renters insurance, but if you skipped that step, please, please do it ASAP. This list of stuff you own will make filing a claim so much easier if case a Bad Thing happens. Also helpful: photos, receipts, even appraisal reports. Talk to your insurer about what’s required.
  2. Keep copies of your home inventory and your renters insurance policy somewhere safe that isn’t your home. Like at your office. Or on the internet.

So hopefully you’ll do those two pre-steps, your insurance on your insurance, and a Bad Thing never happens, and it's All Good. But in case a Bad Thing does happyen, here’s how you’ll file a claim:

  1. Call a non-insurer expert to fix the problem. Did a pipe break and your apartment flood? Call your landlord or super to fix the pipe! Did someone smash a window and grab your laptop? Call your landlord or super to fix the window and then call the police to file a report (and get a copy of your police report — your insurer may want it).
  2. Document the damage. It’s list time again. Make a list of what’s damaged or missing. Photos and videos of damage are also super helpful. Get that police report. You can even collect a witness statement from neighbors.
  3. Call your insurer to file a claim. Now it’s claim time. Call your insurance company and talk to an agent about what happened and the damage. (And don’t delay: some companies require that you file a claim within 48 to 72 hours of the incident, so hop to it!)
  4. Fill out claim forms. Your agent will send you forms to fill out. Be honest, be thorough, and share all the photos, videos, and other documentation you have.
  5. Welcome the claims inspector. Most claims will require a visit from a claims inspector, who will visit your home to survey the damage. Don’t be scared! The claims adjuster isn’t scary. She's nice.
  6. Cash your check. The claims adjuster may cut you a check on the spot, or you might get a check mailed to you later. Either way, take it to the bank. That’s your money.
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How much does renters insurance cost?

Renters insurance is one of the most affordable insurance types you can buy. Policies can cost just a $10 to $20 a month, though specific costs vary on where you live and how much coverage you want.

For example: the most expensive state for renters insurance is Mississippi, where the average policy is $262 a year, while the least expensive state is North Dakota, where the average policy is just $114 a year. Find out out how much the average renters insurance policy costs in your state.

Additional riders for expensive tech equipment, high-carat bling, or priceless artwork can make that number creep up alongside the level of protection, while security enhancements like sprinklers can offer you discounts.

What are the advantages of renters insurance?

“Protecting your stuff” sounds like a good enough reason for most people to get renters insurance, but in case you need even more convincing, we’ve broken down the types of coverage that renters insurance offers:.

Personal property coverage

  • Protects your stuff in the event of damage
  • Protects your stuff in the event of theft outside the house
  • Protects stuff you borrow in the event of damage

Liability coverage

  • Protects you from getting sued if a guest is injured in your apartment
  • Pays the medical bills if a guest is injured in your apartment
  • Protects you from damage you or your family members cause to others while home (so, if you spill a glass of wine on a friend’s laptop — or a cup of hot coffee that burns her leg — your policy may pay)

Additional living expenses

Customizable coverage

  • You can up your coverage levels based on what you own and what you want covered, and with the addition of riders, you can add on to your coverage any time.

Why is renters insurance important?

Just to bring it all home, four reasons renters insurance is important:

  • It protects your stuff. Your landlord’s insurance covers the building; a renters insurance policy will cover your personal belongings!

  • It protects you. If a guest gets hurt in your apartment or you accidentally hurt someone outside of your apartment, your own health insurance won’t cover it, and your landlord’s property insurance won’t either. Your renters insurance will, though.

  • It fills coverage gaps. Your car insurance will replace the windows if your car is broken into, but it doesn’t cover your laptop that was stolen out of the back seat. (Your renters insurance will.)

  • It’s an easy and affordable way to protect yourself. Renters insurance is one the cheapest ways to protect yourself from some of the perils that life can throw at you.

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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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