What renters need to know about flood insurance

Protect your stuff from rising waters, dam breaks, and other floods by buying flood insurance for renters.

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Logan SachonSenior Managing Editor, Life Insurance & ResearchLogan Sachon is a former senior managing editor of life insurance and research at Policygenius. As a journalist, her work has appeared in The Guardian, Business Insider, CNN Money, BuzzFeed, Money Under 30, VICE, New York Magazine, and elsewhere.

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You searched for the perfect apartment, passed the background check, and signed a lease. You even bought renters insurance to make sure your stuff is covered in the event something goes wrong.

But before you kick up your feet and get too comfortable, there may be one more policy you need to consider: flood insurance for renters.

Flooding is not covered by renters insurance, so if you live in an area at risk of flooding, you may need a separate flood insurance policy.

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What is flood insurance for renters?

Flood insurance is insurance that protects you in the event of a flood from storm surge, melting snow, too much rain, or broken levees or dams. (Not covered: water damage from burst pipes, some plumbing issues, or broken washing machines — those are covered by renters insurance.)

There are two different types of flood insurance policies available – those that cover structures, and those that cover property inside those structures. If your landlord has flood insurance (and if you’re in a flood zone, the terms of his mortgage likely require him to), his insurance will only be for the structure and will not pay for any damage to your stuff.

If you want to be covered, you need flood insurance.

One important thing to note: flood insurance does not include additional living expenses or loss of use coverage, and your renters insurance policy won't provide coverage for floods, either. That means that if you need to vacate your apartment becuase of a flood caused by rising waters, neither renters insurance nor flood insurance will cover your living expenses. (It may be worth making a claim to your renters insurance company anyway — anecdotally, we've heard of instances where they've paid additional living expenses after storm damage, even flooding.)

You may have one other option to get additional living expenses paid for: if the president has made a major disaster declaration (often referred to as a "state of emergency" declaration) for your area, then you may be able to apply for grants or loans from FEMA. These individual grants can cover additional living expenses.

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Why renters need flood insurance

There are three reasons renters should consider flood insurance:

1. Your landlord’s insurance doesn’t cover your stuff, ever.

You already learned this when shopping for renters insurance, but it pertains to flood insurance, too: your landlord’s insurance only covers the building and doesn’t cover any of your stuff or your costs if you need to vacate your apartment or home.

2. Your renters insurance doesn’t cover your stuff in a flood.

Because flood damage is so pervasive and expensive, damage from floods is one thing that renters insurance explicitly doesn’t cover.

3. Even minor floods can cause a lot of damage.

Floods are expensive. According to FEMA, one inch of flooding can cause as much as $20,000 in damage to a building and $3,000 to $6,000 worth of damage to the contents inside, depending on the house size.

4. You can't count on FEMA funds

It's true that if the president declares a state of emergency, you may be able to apply for grants or loans through FEMA that could pay to replace your belongings and for additional living expenses if you can't stay in your home. But most floods will not trigger a disaster declaration from the president, meaning no FEMA funds. You need to be protected whether there's a declaration or not.

How to decide if you need flood insurance for renters

It seems obvious that people who live near coastlines or rivers would need flood insurance, but more people are at risk of flooding than you might think.

All 50 states can experience flooding, whether it’s from hurricanes, snow melts, or heavy rains causing flash floods, and nearly a quarter of flood insurance claims come from areas designated as moderate-risk flood zones.

So are you at risk? You don’t have to go with your gut. First, check FEMA’s list of participating communities to see if flood insurance for renters is available in your area.

Then look up your address using FEMA’s Flood Map Service to see what zone you live in and assess your risk.

If you think there’s a chance that your home could be flooded — and everywhere has some chance of flooding — then you should consider buying flood insurance.

Here's a little more about how FEMA categorizes risk:

High-risk flood areas include most coastlines, and could include mountainous areas at risk of flooding from melting snow. These are the areas most likely to have mandatory flood insurance requirements set by either the government or mortgage lenders. The highest-risk areas are known as Special Flood Hazard Areas (SFHA). They’re measured as having an annual flood risk of 1%, and a 26% chance of flooding over the life of a 30-year mortgage.

Moderate-risk flood areas are those areas that have a 0.2% annual chance of flooding. But, as mentioned earlier, around a fifth of all flood insurance claims come from these areas.

FEMA also designates minimal-risk flood areas, which are below the 0.2% threshold, and undetermined, or unmapped, areas (which are few and far between).

It’s a good idea to know where your home sits before you get a flood insurance quote so you know whether you should expect a high rate or might qualify for a Preferred Risk Policy (see below).

How to buy flood insurance for renters

If buying a specific disaster-related government insurance policy sounds complicated, don’t worry – it’s easier than it sounds. Here’s everything you need to know about buying flood insurance and getting the best flood insurance rates.

1. Get a renters flood insurance quote

Flood insurance is provided throughout the United States by the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), a division of FEMA and a program of the U.S. government. But it’s sold by and administered through private insurance companies, which FEMA refers to as “write your own” companies.

Flood insurance prices are set by the NFIP and are consistent no matter who you buy your policy from; check with your renters insurance company to see if they sell flood insurance.

Flood insurance prices, like renters insurance prices, are based on where you live and what kind of building your live in. For contents-only flood insurance policies, prices can range from between $150 to $900 per year.

2. Find ways to save

Flood insurance might have a few quirks, but once you commit to doing it, it’s easy to buy — and because it’s regulated, you don’t have to worry about shopping around. There are two ways you can save on flood insurance, however:

  • Flood insurance discounts. The main way to get a discount on your flood insurance is through the Community Rating System, "a voluntary incentive program that recognizes and encourages community floodplain management activities." Participating in the Community Rating System can discount premiums up to 45%.

  • Flood insurance Preferred Risk Policy. Based on your flood zone and other factors, you may qualify for a Preferred Risk Policy, which are discounted flood insurance policies for lower risk areas. If you qualify, your flood insurance premiums for a contents-only plan could be as low as $50 per year.

3. Don’t wait to sign the dotted line

There’s typically a 30-day waiting period between when a policy is bought and when it goes into effect. After you sign your lease, you check out flood maps, assess your risk, and decide whether it makes sense to buy flood insurance. And if it does? Buy it now. You don’t to wait until a storm is coming or the rivers are rising before thinking about flood insurance — by then it’s too late.

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