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Obtaining Pet Liability Coverage Through Renters Insurance

Obtaining Pet Liability Coverage Through Renters Insurance

If you're a tenant and a pet owner, renters insurance is usually the easiest way for you to get liability coverage. This may come in handy if your pet ever injures someone or damages property. If your pet is excluded from liability coverage because of its species or breed, other options such as a personal umbrella policy may be necessary.

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Do Renters Insurance Policies Cover Pet Liability?

Most renters insurance policies provide some form of pet liability. Therefore, if you do have a pet, renters insurance is a straightforward way to cover legal risk in case your pet causes injuries or property damage to other people. With or without a pet, if you are a tenant, we strongly recommend you shop for an individual renters insurance policy, as its liability coverage will extend to a variety of incidents for which a tenant could be found liable.

How Does Renters Liability Insurance Cover Your Pet?

Renters insurance generally provides three types of financial coverage.

  • Personal property coverage: This covers your home's contents and personal belongings.
  • Liability coverage: This covers you and your family members from liability lawsuits.
  • Additional living expenses coverage: If your home or apartment is unlivable, this covers living expenses associated with temporarily living outside your residence.

Property damage or injury inflicted by your pet on others, inside or outside your residence, will generally be protected under the liability coverage of your renters insurance policy. Liability coverage gives you financial protection against any fees associated with the incident up to your policy's limits. Consider two scenarios related to pets and their outcomes.

  • Injury liability: Your pet cat scratches a guest in your house, and it's severe enough to cause your guest to go to the hospital. To pay for that hospital bill, your guest files a claim through your insurance company. If you are found liable, your insurance company will attempt to reach a settlement with your neighbor, who can file a lawsuit if they find the settlement unacceptable. Whether the case is settled or taken to court, all associated fees will be paid for you under your liability insurance coverage.
  • Property damage liability: Your pet dog, while chasing your pet cat, crashes through your neighbor's expensive screen door. To pay for the damage, your neighbor files a claim through your insurance company. Although this is related to personal property rather than injury, the same process will play out, with your insurance company covering the costs if you're found liable.

Renters Insurance Pet Liability Coverage Limits

Your renters insurance company is only willing to cover your liability claims for qualifying events up to a certain limit. You can typically choose your liability coverage limit, but standard renters insurance liability coverage extends up to $100,000 of costs associated with legal costs or damages. Beyond the limit, you will be responsible for paying liability costs.

We recommend you choose your renters liability coverage limit based on the likelihood that damages will happen, the severity of those potential damages and your personal risk tolerance. If you own a pet fish, for example, the associated liability risks are almost certainly much lower than a dog with a history of serious bites or an exotic animal. Coverage of up to $100,000 may sound excessive—it would likely easily cover cat scratches or a broken screen door—but in extreme scenarios, it may not be enough.

For reference, one of the most common liability insurance claims is for dog bites. The average cost for a dog bite claim in the U.S. is about $35,000. But in a severe dog bite incident, medical and legal fees could far exceed the $100,000 limit. Even seemingly harmless animals could lead to high liability costs. For instance, you could be held liable if an elderly guest is seriously injured tripping over your docile pet cat.

When Doesn't Renters Liability Insurance Cover Your Pet?

Not all pet-related incidents will be protected by rental insurance liability coverage, nor will all pets. The coverage provided for your pet relates strictly to liability issues. It is distinct from pet insurance, which typically refers to plans that cover your pet's wellness. Moreover, if damage is caused by your pet to your own personal belongings, your insurance will not cover you. For instance, if your pet goat upends your kitchen cabinet and destroys your fine glassware, your renters insurance will not cover this damage under either liability or personal property coverage. On the other hand, if you're a tenant and your pet damages your guest's property, that event may be covered by your renters liability policy.

Pet Liability Exclusions and Sublimits for Coverage

If you are a pet owner, you should check whether your pet's species or breed is excluded under your liability policy. The following are examples of exclusions on a policy.

  • Exotic pets: Animals such as reptiles, monkeys and wolves will almost certainly be excluded under traditional renters insurance liability coverage.
  • Specific breeds of dogs: Exclusions can also extend to certain dog breeds. Many insurers have a list of aggressive dog breeds, such as pit bulls, that they will refuse to cover.
  • Dogs with a history of bites: Individual dogs with a history of bite incidents could also be excluded by insurance companies.

You should also check whether there are sublimits to your coverage for particular animals. For example, your renters liability policy could have an overall limit of $100,000. But if your dog has a reputation for biting, your insurer could put a limit, for example $5,000, on claims that relate to your dog. If your Doberman bites someone and causes $8,000 worth of medical damage, your insurer would pay $5,000 and you'd pay the other $3,000 out of pocket. However, your insurer may offer optional additional coverage, called a rider, that can increase your protection for specific events, like a dog bite.

Options if Renters Liability Insurance Doesn't Cover Your Pet

If your renters insurance policy doesn't cover the legal liability posed by your pet, you're not out of options. You can purchase a personal umbrella policy for increased coverage.

A personal umbrella policy will supplement your renters insurance policy, filling the gaps between your current personal liability protection and what you need. For instance, if your renters insurance limits or excludes your pet pit bull from liability coverage, you may be able to purchase an umbrella insurance policy that grants or increases coverage for your pit bull. Umbrella insurance coverage will initiate after your renters insurance liability limit or sublimits are fully utilized. For example, if your renters insurance only covers pit bull liabilities up to $5,000, you will only utilize the umbrella policy in the event your liabilities exceed that amount.

Standard liability coverage for umbrella insurance starts at $1 million, and you should ensure your policy indeed covers the specific risks that made your renters insurance insufficient. In most cases, an insurer will require you to have already have purchased an insurance policy with liability coverage from them, such as renters insurance, before buying umbrella insurance. The cost of an umbrella policy will vary depending on your requested coverage and personal risk factors, but you should check to see if insurers offer discounts for bundling your renters and umbrella policies.

In the event none of these policies work for you and your pet, then consider pet liability insurance. This is a policy specific to your pet, although fewer insurers offer this type of policy compared to renters insurance and umbrella policies.

Mark is a Senior Research Analyst for ValuePenguin focusing on the insurance industry, primarily auto insurance. He previously worked in financial risk management at State Street Corporation.

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.