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How to file a renters insurance claim
To file a renters insurance claim, you have to follow a seven-step process.
The exact details of the process can vary depending on the type of claim you’re making, your insurance company’s procedures, and which state you live in. However, it’s usually fairly simple — several of the steps just consist of waiting for your insurer to get in touch with you.
In general, to file a renters insurance claim, you need to:
- Record and document the loss
- Inform your landlord
- File a police report if needed
- Contact your insurance provider
- Submit the claim documents
- Wait for the adjuster
- Receive the claim reimbursement
Step 1: Record and document the loss, damage, or incident
If you’ve ever filed a claim after a car accident, you know that insurance companies always want proof of what happened. Renters insurance is no different.
Before you contact your insurance company to file your renters insurance claim, take videos or photos of the damage. This helps your insurer understand what needs replacing and also verifies the damage.
If possible, get witness statements from people who saw what happened — a neighbor who saw the fire or the person who alerted the police to the break-in, for example. Witness verification carries a lot of weight, especially in situations like burglaries when you can’t get photographs.
Step 2: Inform your landlord
Most of the time, your lease will require you to tell your landlord immediately if there’s a serious accident in your apartment, like a fire or burglary. If the unit itself wasn’t damaged, your landlord might not get involved in the claim, but you should still keep them informed.
It’s particularly important to tell your landlord if the loss was caused by something they’re obligated to fix (like faulty wiring that caused an electrical fire).
Step 3: File a police report if needed
If your claim involves a crime, such as a break-in or vandalism, you need to report the incident and fill out a police report.
Make sure you get a copy of the report and the names of any officers involved. The report will give your claim legitimacy.
Step 4: Contact your insurance provider
When you’re ready to actually file the claim, which most insurers require you to do within 48 to 72 hours of the incident, the best place to start is your insurer’s website. There, you’ll find information on how to get the process underway.
You may be able to file your claim:
- Using a form on your insurer’s website
- Using your insurer’s mobile app
- Via your insurer’s email system
- By visiting your local agent’s office (this is almost always optional)
These days, most insurance companies allow you to file claims online. When you file an Allstate renters insurance claim, for example, the website prompts you to either log into your account or download the Allstate app to file and track a claim through your phone.
Many insurance companies have apps like these. App-based filing is often easier for policyholders because you can easily take and attach photos, videos of damage, and even interviews with witnesses.
Step 5: Submit your documentation
Your insurer will provide paperwork that you’ll need to fill out and submit. The exact nature of the paperwork depends on what type of claim you’re filing, but basically, you’ll need to attach and submit any written evidence that supports your claim.
For liability claims, this might include hospital bills or legal notices stating that you bear financial responsibility for someone else’s injury or property loss.
For property loss claims, include receipts for the items in question whenever you can. (If you don’t have receipts for everything, don’t worry — later on we’ll cover filing a renters insurance claim without receipts.)
Your insurer will probably give you a few choices of how to submit these documents. Typical options include scanning, mailing, and uploading photographs on your phone.
Step 6: Wait for an insurance adjuster
After you file your claim, your insurer might decide to send an adjuster to the property to assess the damages. They also might not bother — it depends on how expensive your claim was.
If and when the adjuster arrives, they might:
- Check security cameras
- Walk around the property and survey the damage
- Talk to witnesses
To make the process go more smoothly, try to avoid touching the evidence until the adjuster arrives.
Also, keep in mind that the adjuster might also talk to the police or to your doctors or lawyers to get the facts of the case. It’s all part of their job.
Step 7: Receive the claim reimbursement
At this point, the only step left is to sit back and wait for your insurer to pay you.
Property loss payouts
When you file a claim because your possessions were damaged or stolen, your insurer will usually write you a check to fix or replace them, assuming they’re items that renters insurance covers.
The amount you’ll receive depends on the coverage you choose:
- Actual cash value policies pay what your possessions are worth when you lose them, factoring in wear and tear and depreciation. With this type of coverage, if you file a claim for your couch that you bought for $1,500 more than a decade ago, you won’t get $1,500 from your insurer. You’ll get the $100 or so that the couch would have fetched if you sold it secondhand today.
- Replacement cost policies pay the cost of replacing your possessions with brand new equivalents. With this type of policy, if you bought your couch for $1,500, your insurer will cover its full replacement value ($1,500), no matter how long you had it.
Note that with both types of policies, you still have to pay your renters insurance deductible before you receive any money.
The average deductible is around $500, so with a replacement cost policy, you’d actually receive $1,000 for a $1,500 couch. With an actual cash value policy, you wouldn’t receive anything — so it wouldn’t be worth filing a claim.
If you file a liability claim, your insurer will pay for your liability expenses up to your coverage limit. These may include damages, legal fees, and settlement fees.
If you have to defend yourself in court, your insurer will take an active role in the process, up to and including selecting legal counsel for you.
The four types of renters insurance claims
The process of filing and receiving reimbursement depends on the type of claim you need to file. There are 4 basic types of renters insurance claims:
1. Property damage claims
As the name suggests, you file a property damage claim when your possessions are damaged by a covered peril. Renters insurance covers most common household disasters — think of kitchen fires and burst pipes.
If you can, leave the damage in place to help your insurance adjuster evaluate your claim. However, your first priority should be to prevent further damage. If you don’t, any subsequent damage may not be covered.
Property loss vs. property damage
You file a property loss claim when someone steals your property. For example, if you have a bike chained to the front porch of your apartment and someone steals it, you can file a property loss claim to have it replaced because renters insurance covers bike theft.
Insurers treat these claims the same way they treat property damage claims. From their perspective, it doesn’t matter whether an item was stolen or damaged. They’re both forms of “loss,” and they have to pay for you to replace the item either way.
The difference is that theft is more difficult to prove than damage. You can’t document the absence of a bicycle on your porch (at least not without your insurance adjuster wondering if you just left it out of the frame).
That’s why it’s important to file a police report when a theft occurs. The report will serve as physical evidence.
3. Personal liability claim
Liability claims cover you if you injure someone or damage their property, or if someone sues you for any reason. You might file a liability claim if:
- Someone gets sick after eating food that you cooked for them
- The mail carrier slips while delivering a package to your doorstep
- Your dog bites a neighbor or delivery driver
- Your child damages a neighbor’s property
- You damage your rental unit, and your landlord (or their insurer) seeks compensation from you
Liability claims cover other people’s medical bills and property replacement or repair costs. They don’t cover your medical bills as the policyholder — that’s what your health insurance is for.
How liability claims work
Liability claims work a bit differently than property damage claims. First of all, the person who was injured or whose property was damaged needs to file a claim against your insurance.
If your insurance adjuster determines that you’re at fault for the incident, the company will offer a settlement to the claimant. If the claimant doesn’t accept and files a lawsuit instead, your insurance company will handle the process, including hiring a lawyer.
Whether the case goes to court or not, your insurance company will cover all costs up to your policy’s limit. You don’t have to pay a deductible when you use your policy’s liability coverage.
To have a better shot at a favorable outcome, if you’re involved in an accident that you might be found liable for, take detailed notes about what happened and how. List any witnesses and get statements from them if possible. You don’t need to call the police unless the incident involved an assault or another type of criminal activity.
3. Guest medical claims
Guest medical claims are similar to personal liability claims. If someone is injured on your property and requires medical attention, your renters insurance will pay for it. The difference is that your guest medical coverage kicks in even if you’re not held liable for the accident.
For instance, let’s say your friend trips in your apartment and breaks their collarbone. You weren’t in any way responsible — they didn’t trip over junk that you left lying around, it was just an unfortunate accident that nobody could have anticipated.
Even though you weren’t at fault, your insurer will pay for a portion of their hospital bills (usually a fixed amount that’s somewhere between $1,000 and $3,000).
4. Loss-of-use claim
This type of claim lets you file for reimbursement if damage renders your home uninhabitable. Loss-of-use coverage covers reasonable expenses that are necessary to maintain your standard of living but that exceed your normal living costs.
For example, if your rent is $1,000 per month and you have to move out for a month due to fire damage, your insurance will cover the costs of staying in a hotel or short-term rental that’s equipped similarly to your current apartment. If you have a full kitchen and a washing machine, for instance, you’re entitled to stay in a short-term rental that also has those.
Your insurer will only cover the additional costs that you incur. In other words, if your temporary home costs $1,200 a month, your additional living expenses reimbursement will be $200, since you’d have normally paid $1,000 in rent.
Can I file a renters insurance claim without receipts?
Yes, you can usually file a renters insurance claim without receipts. Adjusters and insurance companies know that people don’t always save every receipt when they buy something. Also, adjusters have a good sense of what common, everyday items cost.
That said, it’s a good idea to keep records of any unique or expensive items you have. Adjusters are naturally wary of claims that include these items. Having a receipt or credit card statement documenting the cost will add validity to your claim.
Can you file a loss-of-use claim without receipts?
It’s tougher to make a loss-of-use claim without receipts, and there’s really no reason to try. Keep receipts of every food and housing expense you incur while you’re displaced so that your insurer can reimburse you appropriately.
How renters insurance claims work: the adjustment and payment process
When you file a renters insurance claim, first your insurer will conduct a claim investigation and adjustment. Then you sit back and wait for the payout.
Renters insurance claim investigation and adjustment
As you’ve learned, renters insurance claims often involve someone coming to your home to investigate the damages.
This isn’t always the case — some claims are straightforward enough that the adjuster can work from the documentation you sent with your claim. That’s more common for renters insurance than other types of insurance, because renters insurance claims are usually fairly small (measured in hundreds or thousands of dollars, not tens of thousands).
Renters insurance payouts
Most of the time, you’ll get your payout in the form of a check, but some insurers prefer to use wire transfers.
Remember, the size of your check will depend on whether you chose actual cash value or replacement cost when you set up your policy.
Your payout will also depend on your deductible and policy limits. If your policy limit is $10,000, your insurer will never pay out more than that. No matter what your property is worth, when you file a property loss claim, you’ll have to pay part of the cost out of your own pocket. (Again, this is called your deductible.)
How long does it take to pay out a renters insurance claim?
The time you’ll have to wait to receive a check depends on:
- The complexity of your claim
- How long it takes the adjuster to investigate the incident
- How much processing time is required on the insurer’s end
Often, insurance companies can process a claim in a matter of days. In other cases, you might have to wait several weeks. Don’t hesitate to ask your insurance company for an estimated timeline so that you can follow up if necessary.
When to file a renters insurance claim
The sooner you can file a claim after an incident, the better. Insurance companies have deadlines for when you can file, which are usually between 48 and 72 hours after the loss occurred.
Keep in mind that you don’t have to file a claim just because you had property damage. Sometimes, the risks of filing a claim outweigh the rewards.
How does filing a renters insurance claim affect my policy?
Insurance companies don’t like writing checks. If you file too many claims — one claim every 10 years tends to be the norm — your insurer will see you as a higher risk and your rates could go up.
If your claims are particularly excessive, your insurer could cancel your policy altogether. Filing two or more claims within three years could put you in this position.
Reasons your renters insurance claim was denied
Insurance companies don’t approve every claim. Here are some common reasons why renters insurance claims get denied:
1. The information on your policy is wrong
A lot of people move and forget to update their renters insurance. If you end up having to file a claim and the address on your insurance is incorrect, your claim could easily get denied.
Make sure you update your policy whenever your address changes or you need to update your coverage. If you acquire something particularly valuable, like a diamond ring or art collection, ask your insurer if you need to list it explicitly on your policy.
2. Your policy doesn’t cover that type of damage
Your insurance paperwork will tell you what types of damage it covers. Remember that structural damage falls under your landlord’s insurance, not your renters policy.
Also, certain incidents like floods and bed bugs aren’t covered by most renters insurance policies, and damage caused by your own negligence isn’t covered either.
3. You didn’t submit enough evidence
It’s okay not to have receipts for every little thing, but you have to submit some proof if you want to get reimbursed. This is especially true if you’re claiming damage or loss for something expensive.
4. You filed after the deadline
If you have 48 hours to file a claim but don’t submit the paperwork until a week after the incident, your insurance company may deny your claim. Try to file as soon as possible!
5. The person in question isn’t on your policy
Renters insurance doesn’t automatically cover your roommates’ possessions. If you live with someone and want your insurance to cover them, you need to contact your insurer to add them (although it’s often safer for them to buy their own individual policy).
Needless to say, if your policy doesn’t cover someone’s property, it also won’t cover their liability. If you have a party and your roommate puts his fist through your neighbor’s window, your insurer won’t cover their liability if your neighbor comes after him for money. (Although they’ll probably cover yours.)
6. You didn’t pay your premiums
Setting up auto-pay is usually the best way to avoid this situation. If your insurer doesn’t offer auto-pay, set up an alert on your phone so that you remember to pay each month.
What to do if your renters insurance claim is denied
If your insurer denies your claim, check to see if you can appeal the decision. If so, you can request a different adjuster to review your claim, or you can choose to pay for a public adjuster.
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