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Fire and smoke are common causes of home damage, and both are covered by renters insurance.
Does renters insurance cover fire or smoke damage?
Should a fire start in your rental home, any damage to your belongings caused by the fire or the subsequent smoke will be covered under renters insurance.
It doesn't matter what caused the fire, from a cooking incident to an electrical appliance malfunction. So long as you did not purposely start it, you're protected.
Smoke as a result of a fire can also ruin your belongings, especially clothing. Luckily, smoke-related damage is also covered in renters insurance policies — even if the fire wasn't in your apartment. Smoke can seep in from a fire in a neighboring apartment or house, and you would still be covered.
What doesn't renters insurance protect from fire and smoke damage?
Anything involving the structure of your apartment won't be covered by your renters insurance policy.
The walls, cabinets, floors and other infrastructure are your landlord's responsibility. As a renter, all you need to worry about are your personal belongings, which — excluding your car — will be covered by renters insurance.
Your landlord's insurance policy will be used to reimburse for structural repairs to your rental.
How much does renters insurance reimburse you after a fire?
The vast majority of your belongings will be covered, up to the limits of your policy, but some items tend to have limited coverage. Renters policies will usually cap the amount you can be reimbursed for electronics, jewelry and money, among other things. The following table shows personal items that are commonly restricted and a typical ceiling for reimbursement.
Personal items category
Common limit to coverage
If the fire or smoke were to damage any of the items above, you should not expect to be reimbursed for their full value.
How to file a claim after fire or smoke damages your rental
After addressing any potential medical issues from the fire and smoke, you should begin filing a claim with your renters insurance company. When it comes to insurance claims, the sooner after the incident you file, the more likely the process will go smoothly.
Your insurer will require you to file a proof of loss form. This form will have you describe the extent of the damage and list what was destroyed, as well as each item’s value. If the police or fire department responded to the fire, you should obtain a copy of their report to attach to the form.
We always recommend that renters and homeowners maintain an inventory of all belongings and their likely values. You do not need a receipt for everything you own, but your estimate of its value should be reasonable. Once you submit your claim, your insurer may send over an adjuster if the damage is extensive. If they do not send one, the company will review your claim and then cut you a check for what they determine to be fair value for your lost possessions.
What to do if your apartment is unlivable
Most renters policies come with a "loss of use" portion. This is used to cover living expenses should your home become unlivable due to fire or smoke damage. The coverage reimburses you for any lodging, meals and essentially anything associated with being forced out of your apartment. If you choose to live at another residence with friends or family, you could still tap into your loss of use policy to cover things like excess commuting costs or extra food you have to buy.
Just be aware that most policies will give about $5,000 worth of coverage. We'd recommend buying more if you live in a city with a higher cost of living or one that has expensive hotel costs, such as New York City. Those are cases where the loss of use could easily be eaten up in a matter of days outside your apartment, which could leave you on the hook for housing costs until the damage is addressed. Opting for a higher coverage limit may cost you more for the policy, but it would pay off in cases like this.