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No, your renters insurance policy will not cover a roommate, unless they are listed on the policy. Roommates are excluded from all renters insurance policy coverages, including personal property, liability and loss of use. Each roommate should purchase their own renters insurance policy.
Why roommates are not covered
A roommate is not covered by another's renters insurance, because the policies are not priced for that risk. Insurance companies use a long list of factors to price renters insurance for only one individual. For each person a policy covers, the likelihood or the severity of a claim increases.
Can I add roommates to my renters insurance policy?
Some companies allow policyholders to list other individuals on their renters insurance policy, but this is widely discouraged. Do not add a roommate to your renters insurance policy.
More important, if you share a renters insurance policy with someone, you can't use that policy to file a claim against them. If your roommate causes damage to your property, you want to be able to file a claim on their insurance — and if you accidentally cause them harm, you want your policy to cover you, as well.
What's more, if a roommate listed on a renters insurance policy ever needs to file a claim, the consequences for the policyholder can be serious. All property insurance claims are registered to the Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange (CLUE) reporting system by LexisNexis. Insurers check this database when pricing personal auto and property policies (including renters insurance). So if a roommate listed on a renters insurance policy files a claim, it will appear on the policyholder's CLUE report.
A higher renters insurance premium due to a claim on a CLUE report might not equate to a lot of money. However, higher homeowners or auto insurance rates could mean the policyholder is paying hundreds of dollars more each year.
Consider two roommates who split the cost of furniture for an apartment and need to file a small claim for the sofa in their living room. Even though the policyholder would have a claim on their record, both roommates would benefit from that claim being paid out. They would be getting money back that both of them contributed for the furnishings. But only the policyholder would face higher insurance rates in the future due to the claim.
Remember that the policyholder tarnishes their history with each claim they file, including claims filed by anyone else listed on the policy. Renters insurance liability claims aren't as frequent as other types, but they are some of the most expensive claims filed, and carriers consider severity when evaluating rate increases and nonrenewals.
For example, a roommate might cause a fire and be liable for $100,000 in damages to a rental complex, but the policyholder would be the one filing a claim. Whether a policyholder was the cause of the fire is irrelevant to an insurance company. Companies calculate risk based on a policyholder, the number of claims and their severity but not on how those claims came to be.
Roommates might save money with one policy, but it's not worth it
The argument made for listing a roommate on a renters insurance policy is that it saves money. That savings is small and not worth the risk to the policyholder.
Assuming two roommates are splitting the cost of a renters insurance policy, they are only saving themselves about $108 per year. (The average annual premium for renters insurance in the US is only $216.) As a policyholder, you don't want to face years of higher property insurance rates because you had to file a claim due to your roommate.
Do not attempt to claim property that is not yours
As a policyholder, do not attempt to claim the personal property of a roommate if they are not listed on your renters insurance policy. Filing an insurance claim for property that does not belong to you is fraud, and insurance companies dedicate resources to detecting and investigating potential fraud cases.
Insurers frequently conduct an examination under oath if they suspect a claim is fraudulent. They usually hire outside counsel to administer the examination, during which they ask the policyholder questions and ask them to bring documents and receipts proving ownership of the property claimed.
Examinations under oath can be extremely broad, and if a policyholder does not cooperate in any way, insurance companies can use that as grounds to deny their claim.
An attorney usually administers an examination under oath, but an insurance adjuster can administer one, too.
Siblings, partners, students and college roommates
There are circumstances when it might make sense for a policyholder to list someone on their renters insurance. The two most common are when a policyholder's roommate is a sibling or a girlfriend or boyfriend.
If a policyholder is the legal guardian of a sibling they live with, then the policyholder should list the sibling on their renters insurance policy. A sibling who is older should purchase their own renters insurance policy, separate from the policyholder.
A policyholder who lives with a girlfriend or boyfriend also might want to list them on their renters insurance. However, this is something the policyholder should discuss with their significant other. A policyholder might be uncomfortable taking on the risk of their boyfriend or girlfriend by including them in their coverage. Regardless of the relationship between roommates, the policyholder is the person with something to lose if a claim must be filed.
Roommates at a college or university might need renters insurance. Roommates living in a dormitory owned by the university are probably covered by a parent or guardian's homeowners policy and don't need renters insurance. However, roommates renting a house or apartment off campus need to each have their own renters insurance policy.