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Does renters insurance cover flood damage?

Fact-checked with HomeInsurance.com

    Article Highlights

    Flooding is a natural disaster that can happen almost anywhere in the nation. In fact, FEMA estimates that 99% of counties in the U.S. have experienced some type of flooding in the last 15 years. Even if you rent rather than own your home, this kind of water damage can be a frustrating disruption. If you’ve ever wondered whether or not renters insurance covers flood damage, it’s important to understand the circumstances in which coverage applies.  

    When does renters insurance cover flood damage?

    While homeowners insurance is designed to cover the property’s structure as well as the possessions within, renters insurance only includes protection for your belongings, not the building itself (your landlord’s policy covers that). However, you do receive liability coverage and additional living expenses for claims that require it. When it comes to flood damage as a specific cause of loss, renters insurance does not provide coverage. You would need a separate policy to have any protection of your belongings from flooding. 

    Here are the common covered perils you will find in your standard renters insurance policy.

    Fire or smoke

    A standard renters insurance policy will cover anything damaged by a fire or smoke. This includes personal property, liability and additional living expenses if your rental home becomes unlivable from damage. If your building’s sprinkler system goes off because of the fire and causes water damage to your belongings, you’ll also likely be covered by your policy. 

    Frozen or burst pipes

    If any type of plumbing freezes or bursts for reasons other than negligence, any damaged belongings will typically be covered under your policy. 

    Damage from water heating system

    Any flooding caused by an appliance that leaks or becomes damaged in some way will likely be covered by your renters insurance. However, if you’re found responsible for some type of negligence, you may not be covered.

    Lightning

    Any damage caused by a strike of lightning, including a power surge, is usually covered by renters insurance.

    Windstorm and hail

    Windstorms and hail are included as covered perils in standard policies (including hurricanes), but on for damage caused by the wind itself. Any flooding that occurs during the same event will not be covered, but water damage that results from wind or hail will likely be covered. 

    Vandalism, theft or riots

    Your personal possessions are also protected in the event of vandalism, theft or riots. Typically it requires you to file a police report for these incidents, so your insurance company has a clear record of what exactly happened. 

    Damage from aircraft or vehicles

    A standard renters insurance policy also covers your belongings in case an aircraft or vehicle damages them in some way. The exception is if the vehicle belongs to you. So if you back into your own bicycle while parallel parking outside of your apartment building, you probably won’t be able to file a claim for your bike. 

    When doesn’t renters insurance cover flood damage?

    While some types of water damage are covered by your policy’s named perils, flooding caused by natural disasters is typically not part of the standard coverage. If a heavy rain or hurricane hits your area and gets inside your apartment, your policy will not cover damage to your belongings. Here are the two main perils not included in a standard renters insurance policy. 

    Flood damage

    A separate policy is required to gain coverage for flooding. If you don’t have one in place and a flood occurs, then you won’t receive any reimbursement for damages or additional living expenses. 

    Earthquakes

    The same holds true for earthquakes; this is not a covered peril under a standard renters insurance policy. You’ll need an additional earthquake policy to be reimbursed from any damage that is caused, or living expenses you incur while building repair takes place.

    Do you need flood insurance as a renter?

    Your lease agreement generally  won’t require you to get a flood insurance policy on top of your standard renters insurance. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a good idea, particularly depending on the risk level of where you live. You can look up your address on FEMA to see if you live in a flood zone and how frequently flooding typically occurs. Consider the following advantages and drawbacks if you are unsure about whether you should have flood insurance:

    Pros

    • More comprehensive financial protection
    • Potentially higher limits for covered damage

    Cons

    • Extra annual cost
    • No guarantee you’ll need it

    In some states, there is a greater or lesser risk of flooding and need for flood insurance. However, even within states, risk can vary widely. Speak with your renters insurance provider to better understand the risks for your ZIP code.

    StateHighly recommendedSuggestedOptional
    AlabamaX

    Alaska

    X
    ArizonaX

    ArkansasX

    CaliforniaX

    Colorado
    X
    ConnecticutX

    DelawareX

    District of ColumbiaX

    FloridaX

    GeorgiaX

    HawaiiX

    Idaho
    X
    IllinoisX

    IndianaX

    IowaX

    Kansas
    X
    KentuckyX

    LouisianaX

    MaineX

    MarylandX

    MassachusettsX

    Michigan
    X
    Minnesota
    X
    MississippiX

    MissouriX

    Montana
    X
    Nebraska
    X
    Nevada
    X
    New HampshireX

    New JerseyX

    New MexicoX

    New YorkX

    North CarolinaX

    North Dakota
    X
    OhioX

    Oklahoma
    X
    Oregon
    X
    PennsylvaniaX

    Rhode IslandX

    South Carolina
    X
    South Dakota
    X
    TennesseeX

    TexasX

    Utah
    X
    VermontX

    VirginiaX

    Washington
    X
    West VirginiaX

    Wisconsin
    X
    Wyoming
    X

    How to buy flood insurance for a rental property

    Flood insurance for renters is available in one of two ways: from FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program or from private flood insurance, which both have unique differences. Your local community must participate in the NFIP program in order to qualify for coverage. You’ll also have a 30-day waiting period, so you should plan ahead if you want coverage on your rental at the time you move in. While the program is backed by the government, you’ll typically still work with an external insurance agent who specializes in the NFIP.

    A private flood insurance policy can have a higher or lower premium. However, you are not limited by a specific coverage amount. Additionally, you won’t have the 30-day wait period, so you’ll be protected right away. 

    How much does renters flood insurance cost?

    Cost varies based on the risk of your area and whether you go with government coverage or private insurance. For example, FEMA renters flood policies can start as low as $100 a year

    Preventing flooding 

    You can’t control Mother Nature, but you can control how you handle flooding and the damage that can take place. As a renter, here’s what you can do to protect your belongings.

    Use a waterproof safe

    Avoid having your sensitive documents, cash and other small valuables from becoming water damaged by storing them in a waterproof safe. While you’re at it, make sure the safe is fireproof as well so you have all your bases covered.

    Keep items off the floor

    Also keep your belongings up and off the floor, especially high ticket items like your electronics. Get a good system in place that ensures your belongings are always protected from unexpected floods, rather than waiting to pick things up when a major storm is underway.

    Report smaller issues early

    Water damage from bad plumbing or other maintenance issues is just as dangerous as natural events like storm surges. Anytime you notice a minor leak or other water-related red flag, report it to your landlord immediately.

    The takeaway

    • Most flooding is not covered under standard renters insurance.
    • Water damage that is not caused by flooding may be covered.
    • You can purchase federal flood insurance or obtain it from a private provider.

    Whether or not you live in a flood-prone area, adding flood insurance to your existing renters insurance could be a smart move. For a relatively-low annual cost, you can have the peace of mind, knowing that you’re well-covered when it comes to most types of water damage.

    Lauren Ward

    Lauren Ward is a writer for Coverage.com. She specializes in all things personal finance, including insurance, loans, and real estate.

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