Does Renters Insurance Cover Fire and Smoke Damage?

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Fire and smoke are both common causes of home damage and both are covered by renters insurance. In this article we will discuss when your renters policy covers you from fires and smoke, for how much, and how to file a claim.

Does Renters Insurance Cover Fire and 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 claimable under renters insurance. The fire could be the result of a cooking incident, electrical appliance, etc., so long as you did not purposely start it, you're protected. The resulting smoke can also ruin your belongings--especially clothing--but luckily smoke-related damage is also listed in renters insurance policies. The smoke does not necessarily even have to come from a fire in your apartment; the 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. As a renter, you do not need to worry about the walls, cabinets, floors etc.--that is your landlord's responsibility. All you need to worry about as a renter are your personal belongings, which--excluding your car--will be covered by renters insurance. Your landlord's insurance policy will step in then to reimburse for repairs to the structural things in your rental.

How Much Does Renters Insurance Reimburse You For After a Fire?

The vast majority of your belongings will be covered up to the limits of your policy, but some items will be limited as to how much coverage you get. Renters policies will usually cap the amount you can be reimbursed for items such as electronics, jewelry and money. The following table shows all the personl things commonly restricted and what the typical ceiling is:

Personal ItemsCommon Limits to Coverage
Portable electronics$1,500
Jewelry$1,500
Watches$1,500

Plants$500
Fraudulent Credit Card Charges$500
Money$200

If the fire or smoke were to damage any of the items above, you should not expect to be reimbursed their full value. If you scheduled a floater (specially assign some high-value items with higher protection), then you could file a claim up to each item limit and the combined category limit.

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 then immediately 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 be smooth. Your company is going to require you file a "proof of loss" form. The form will basically make you describe the extent of the damage, list what was destroyed as well as their value. If the police or fire department came, you should obtain a copy of their report to attach to the form.

We always recommend renters and homeowners have a preset inventory of everything they own as well as their likely value. You do not need a receipt for everything you own, but your estimate of its value should be reasonable. Once you submitted your claim, your insurer may send over an adjuster if the damage is extensive. If they do not, they will then review your claim, 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 an "loss of use" portion which is meant to cover living expenses should your home become unlivable due to fire and smoke. Coverage will reimburse you for any accommodations you make, meals you purchase, and essentially anything associated with being forced out of your apartment. If you choose to live at another residence either with friends or family, you could still tap into your loss of use policy to cover any excess commuting you would have to do, even extra food you have to buy.

Just be aware however most policies will give about $5,000 worth of coverage. We'd recommend you buy more if you live in a city with higher cost of living, or that has expensive hotel costs like New York City. Those are cases where the loss of use could easily be eaten up by several days outside your apartment.

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