Renters' Insurance Claims for Damaged or Stolen Property

Learn the basics of filing a claim under your renters' insurance policy.

In the event that you need to a file a renters' insurance claim for damaged or stolen property, you'll want to get compensated for your loss as soon as possible. Understanding the basics of the claims process will help you save a lot of time and hassle, and is useful, even if you don't need to file a claim right now. Filing a renters' insurance claim is similar to filing most other types of insurance claims, and if you don't follow the filing process correctly, you may run the risk of getting your claim denied or getting less than you're entitled to.

Here are the basic steps involved with filing a claim under your renters' insurance for property loss or damage.

Report Damages or Losses to Your Landlord

Your landlord should be notified immediately regarding any damages or losses. Not only is this reporting mandatory in most states and a typical lease requirement, but your landlord may also be liable for repairing broken doors, windows, or any other damage to the unit. If your home was broken into, your landlord can also alert your neighbors of the incident.

Report Damages or Losses to the Police

In the event of a theft, vandalism, and/or burglary, you'll need to contact the police as soon as possible. In fact, reporting a theft or a home break-in is typically required in order to file a renters' insurance claim, assuming that your policy covers loss from theft. In addition, a police report will not only establish additional proof to show your renters' insurance company, but it can help the claims process run smoother as well. Be sure to get the names of any police officers you speak with just in case your insurance company has additional questions.

Keep in mind, however, that damage caused by a pet or a leaky roof, assuming your renters' insurance covers these types of damages, usually doesn't warrant a police report. Use your best judgment when deciding on a police report.

Safeguard Your Home and Belongings

Before you begin the claim process, make sure that the rest of your belongings and your home are safe. Board up any broken windows, if needed, and make any other necessary repairs, such as changing the locks on your doors, to ensure you're as protected as possible. Be certain to keep all maintenance and repair receipts.

If you can't repair broken locks or windows right away, or if you have security concerns, make temporary living arrangements, but be certain to keep record of all expenses. Some renters' insurance companies will cover temporary living expenses while your home is being repaired. Refer to your policy to see if you have coverage for this situation, which is normally referred to as "loss of use."

Contact Your Renters' Insurance Company

Aside from contacting your landlord, calling the police (if appropriate), and safeguarding your property, one of the first things you need to do is contact your renters' insurance company immediately after property damage or loss. For one thing, you'll want to find out if your loss is covered. In addition, almost every insurance company has a deadline for filing a claim, which is typically between 48 to 72 hours after the damage or loss happened. Ask your agent exactly how long you have to file your claim so that there will be no surprises.

To make the process smoother, be certain to have the following items handy before you call:

  • your policy number
  • details regarding the damage, including when and around what time it occurred, and
  • a phone number where you can be reached easily

Even if you haven't documented all of your losses, it's imperative to contact your insurance company and give them an estimate of what you think needs to be replaced. Again, most insurance companies have strict time requirements after property is damaged, and the sooner you contact your company, the better.

Document Your Losses

When you start to document your property, make sure to video or take photos of everything damaged. For example, if your items were damaged due to fire, be as detailed as possible, noting each and every item. In addition, do not throw any of your damaged items away until a claims adjuster has inspected your property. If a claims adjuster is not necessary, such as with items with lower values, your insurance company will let you know. Until then, keep all of your belongings and be certain to utilize your personal inventory sheet (assuming you've done one). A previously prepared inventory is highly recommended and will make the process much easier if your property was stolen.

A detailed written home inventory is useful for several reasons. First, writing down a list of your damaged or lost possessions will help you file a claim more quickly and with more completeness, especially if you include photos or videos. Second, your insurer will be in a better position to determine the replacement cost of your damaged or lost items. This allows your insurer to settle a claim faster.

Complete a Claims Form

After you have all of your losses documented, you'll need to fill out a claims form. A claims agent will usually call you shortly after you've contacted the renters' insurance company. Again, it's imperative to document every detail on your claims form as well. For items with a higher value, a claims adjuster may come to your home for inspection, as mentioned earlier. Make sure to have all documentation, expenses, receipts, and if applicable, a police report available.

Once you've submitted your claim, your renters' insurance company will start the investigation process. The amount of time to get your claim taken care of will vary according to how extensive your damages or losses are. Some claims may only take a few hours while others can take longer. In most instances, your insurance company will give you an average estimated time.

Update Your Personal Property Inventory (or Complete One for the First Time)

If you already have a personal property inventory list, it's a good idea to keep it up-to-date. If you haven't done so already, now is a great time to create a home inventory and list of all of your belongings. Make sure to be as detailed as possible, including model numbers, brand names, and serial numbers, if applicable.

Understand Why Your Renters' Insurance Claims May Be Denied

Keep in mind that insurance companies thoroughly investigate all claims, and in most cases, as long as you follow the steps discussed above, your claim will be approved. However, there are a few reasons that claims are denied.

Damage Costs Are Less than the Deductible

If the cost of your damages falls below your deductible amount, your claim will be denied. For instance, if you have $500 in damage or loss, but your deductible is $1,000, then the claim makes no sense. However, if you suffer more damage or loss later on in the same year, this amount can be applied to the $500 from your previous damage or loss.

Uncovered Disasters and Losses

There are certain disasters that your policy won't cover unless you opted for additional coverage. For example, if you don't have flood coverage and your items were damaged after a flood, you won't be able to make a successful claim. This may also apply to hurricanes, earthquakes, and tornadoes. In addition, if you run a business from home, your office products may not be covered under your policy unless you've added extra protection prior to damage or loss. In other words, if your fax machine or other equipment used for business is damaged or stolen, they may not be accepted on your claim if you don't have additional business property coverage.

The Damages Were Intentional

Although rare, in some instances people plan damages in order to replace their belongings. In other instances, intentional horseplay resulted in property damage. Renters' insurance companies are extremely thorough when investigating claims, and if the damage wasn't accidental and unintentional, the claim is usually not honored.

The Landlord Is Responsible for the Loss

In instances in which your landlord is responsible for your damage and loss, your claim may be denied. For instance, if your landlord failed to repair faulty wiring which in turn caused a fire which damaged to your couch, then your landlord may be liable for the damage incurred.

Additional Resources on Renters' Insurance Claims

Your own insurance company's website will provide details on the claims process. Also, check out the United Policyholders' website for resources on the claims process for renters' insurance, including state-specific insurance resources.

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