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How to File a Renters Insurance Claim (Process for Payouts on a Loss)

You knew your building’s plumbing was old, but you thought you’d be out of there before anything terrible happened to it. 

An inch of water (and counting) and several panicked calls to your property manager later, you admit you thought wrong. Now, you’re left with the massive, thankless job of replacing numerous possessions, including your mattress, bookcase, and computer, ruined by the burst water pipe in your bedroom ceiling. 

It’s a good thing you have renters insurance — because you’re about to put your insurance company’s promises to the test. 

How to File a Renters Insurance Claim

Renters insurance covers property losses of the sort caused by a burst pipe in your apartment ceiling — or any other peril mentioned in your renters insurance policy. It’s known as personal property coverage.

Usually, it also covers medical and liability claims arising from mishaps in your rental unit. For example, it would cover the party guest who slips on your slick kitchen floor and breaks their ankle or the delivery person who tumbles down your rental house’s icy front steps and suffers a concussion.

The claims-filing process is similar for both types of claims, but you’ll notice some differences in the order of operations.

Filing a Claim for Property Loss or Damage

Depending on the circumstances, a renters insurance claim for property loss or damage begins with a police report or a call to the property manager. You must then document the damage — comprehensively.

Don’t throw anything away or clean up until you’ve completed all these steps. If you erase evidence before the insurance company has fully investigated, you could jeopardize your claim. That said, if the property owner needs to make basic repairs to ensure the property remains habitable or not repairing the damage would make it worse, it’s OK to do what’s necessary. 

1. File a Police Report (if Applicable)

If your possessions are damaged in the course of a potential violation of law, call the police and file a report. 

“Potential violation of law” could mean any of the following:

  • Vandalism
  • Burglary
  • Suspicious fire
  • Theft by a guest

More ambiguous incidents, like a fuel explosion inside or outside your building, warrant a police report too. Incidents like a burst pipe or rough weather don’t require a police report.

The police report is vital because it backs up the story you’ll tell the insurance company. It’s an impartial record of the incident — and the extent of the damage — taken by a respected third party.

When dealing with the police, get the name and badge number of every officer and investigator you speak with, even if they don’t visit your apartment in person. Ensure they take copious photos of the damage, and request a copy of the report when it’s done.

2. Contact Your Property Manager

Next, contact the owner or property manager and let them know what happened. If you live in a multiunit building and the incident affected more units than just yours, they might already know, but call them anyway.

The owner or manager probably won’t help you file your renters insurance claim, but they need to know about the incident because they might need to file an insurance claim of their own. Regardless, they’ll want to assess the condition of your unit or the building itself. Be sure to document any lingering hazards, such as:

  • Broken windows
  • Damaged doors or locks
  • Exposed pipes or wiring
  • Suspected gas leaks
  • Nonfunctioning utilities (such as the power being out or the water being off)

If you feel uncomfortable remaining in your unit due to safety concerns or simply can’t stay there, tell the property manager right away. Your renters insurance policy might cover temporary relocation costs, such as staying in a hotel for a week or two while your unit undergoes repairs.

3. Contact the Insurance Company

Your next call goes to your renters insurance company or to your insurance agent if you need their help to file the claim. 

You might be able to file straightforward claims through your insurance company’s website. Look for a File a Claim button or tab on the homepage. But it’s not a bad idea to call the company or your agent directly if you have questions about the process, aren’t sure your policy covers the incident, or want to figure out whether it’s worth it to file a smaller claim. 

4. Document the Damage or Loss

If you filed a police report, the investigators assigned to your case will take photos and make notes of the damage. But you shouldn’t rely on their report to be the sole record of the incident.

So once you’ve made your initial calls, take the time to document what happened meticulously. Take photos and videos of the scene as you found it. Take photos of individual items that sustained damage. Create a list of damaged, destroyed, or stolen goods with the price paid for each and an estimate of the current replacement value. Make copies of receipts or invoices for any expenses incurred due to the incident, including replacements for damaged or stolen possessions and bills for temporary lodging if your apartment is uninhabitable.

If you’ve previously taken a home inventory, include it in your documentation. A home inventory helps back up your claim and could make it easier for the insurance company to reimburse you quickly. Not having one doesn’t mean the insurance company will deny your claim, but it does increase the chances of an insurance adjuster visiting the premises. 

5. Submit the Claim

You’re now ready to submit your claim. Visit your insurance company’s website to download or fill out the required forms and upload photos, videos, notes, and the police report to support your claim. 

If you’re having trouble finding the required forms or submitting your information electronically, contact your insurance company or your insurance agent. Your agent might offer to file the claim on your behalf, though you must be available to answer the insurance company’s questions.

Be sure to file your claim before any deadline imposed by your insurance company. This deadline could come as little as 48 hours after the incident. If more information comes to light or you incur additional expenses after you file, you can update your claim.

6. Prepare for the Investigation & Claims Adjuster Visit

If your claim is fairly small and straightforward, the insurance company might take you at your word and accept your claim without much trouble. In this case, you can start cleaning up your place and move on to the next step — reviewing your settlement offer.

If your claim’s value is higher, the circumstances are murky, or you haven’t provided enough documentation to support your claim, your insurance company could investigate further. Wait to throw out damaged possessions or clean up your space until you hear back.

If your insurer wants to investigate further, expect a call and possibly a visit from a claims adjuster. This person’s job is to verify your story and determine how much compensation you actually deserve for the loss. 

If they visit the property, they’ll take pictures of the damage and make notes for their own report. Be prepared to point out less obvious evidence of damages or losses, and have your home inventory handy to corroborate your claims.

The claims adjuster might also want to talk to others involved in or who have knowledge of the incident. That could include your roommates, houseguests, and the property owner or manager. It could also include the police investigator who wrote up your report.

7. Review the Settlement Offer 

If the insurance company accepts your claim, you’ll receive a settlement offer. 

It’s a formal payout offer for the amount the insurance company is willing to pay to settle your claim after subtracting your policy deductible. It could be about what you thought the damage or loss was worth — less the deductible — or significantly less, depending on how the insurance company values the claim. 

A lot depends on whether the insurance company uses replacement value or actual value when calculating your total personal property claim value. Replacement cost pegs the value of lost or damaged items at what it actually costs to buy new replacements for them. In contrast, actual value (or actual cash value) takes depreciation into account. The difference can be stark: A three-year-old TV with a replacement value of $500 might have an actual cash value of just $100 or $150. 

If your policy has a maximum coverage amount for certain types of personal belongings claims and your place sustained a lot of damage or became uninhabitable for months, you could find your total payout capped at an amount much lower than what you deserve. 

In either case, it’s your responsibility to review the settlement offer and determine whether it’s acceptable to you. If you’re not sure, ask your insurance agent. 

Filing a Claim for Personal Liability and Medical Payments

Renters insurance covers more than your personal possessions. It also protects you from costly liability issues arising from mishaps in your rented home. Without it, you could be on the hook for houseguests’ medical bills, among other injury-related expenses.

Filing a personal liability or medical expenses claim with your rental insurance company is a bit different from filing a property damage claim. To get it done, follow these steps in order.

1. Document the Damage

First, take copious photos and videos of the scene of the incident as soon as you can. For example, if a guest at a party you hosted fell through a railing on your second-floor unit’s balcony, you’d want to take photos of the damaged railing and the area where they hit the ground. 

Next, create a record of the incident as you remember it. If no video record exists, a written record will have to suffice. Describe where you were when it occurred, how you became aware of it, and the sequence of events that followed. 

2. Give Your Insurance Information to the Injured Person

You won’t be filing this claim yourself — the injured person will. To do that, they need your insurance information: company name, your name, and policy number.

It’s their responsibility to reach out to you about this, either directly or through a lawyer. However, you should do everything in your power to help them file the claim, including giving them your insurance agent’s contact information or helping them navigate your insurance company’s online claims forms. 

3. The Injured Person Submits the Claim

When they’re ready to file, the injured person submits their claim to your insurance company. They’ll provide hospital bills, physical therapy bills, receipts for medical equipment like crutches or wheelchairs — any costs arising from their injury. 

Don’t worry about submitting your photos, videos, and notes on the incident at this time. But do hold onto them until the injured party settles the claim, as your insurance company may want to review them.

4. Prepare for the Investigation & Claims Adjuster Visit

Be available to answer any questions from your insurance company during the investigation, and don’t be surprised if they send a claims adjuster to assess the scene of the incident. If you haven’t already done so, the claims adjuster visit is a good time to share your own documentation.

5. The Injured Person Reviews the Settlement Offer 

After completing its investigation, the insurance company sends the injured person a settlement offer for review. If they accept, the insurance company reimburses them and closes the claim. 

For medical-only claims, your insurance company typically covers the portion of the injured person’s medical bills not covered by their own health insurance. 

For personal liability claims, where the injured person sues you for damages, your insurance company covers the amount of the judgment and the injured person’s legal fees if you lose. If you win, your policy might cover your legal fees, but you won’t owe anything to the injured person.

Remember that reimbursement kicks in only after you hit your policy deductible. If the claim is worth $10,000 and your liability deductible is $1,000, the insurer covers $9,000 and you pay $1,000 out of pocket.

Likewise, every renters insurance policy has a personal liability and medical expense coverage limit. If the victim’s injuries are severe, you could blow through this limit. Umbrella insurance provides an additional layer of liability protection — typically starting at $1 million — in such cases.

Renters Insurance Claim FAQs

Filing a renters insurance claim can be confusing and stressful. These are some of the most common questions that come up during the process.

How Long Does the Renters Insurance Claims Process Take?

It depends on the type of claim, the claim value, and what caused the damage or injury.

The insurance company can usually resolve simple, lower-value renters insurance claims within a business day. You file the claim online and upload supporting documentation, and the insurance company gets back to you with a settlement offer within hours.

More complicated claims can take days or weeks to resolve. You might need to provide more documentation, including receipts for expenses incurred days or weeks after the event. If the claim involves significant damage to your unit, you’ll likely need to wait for a claims adjuster to visit and write a report about what happened too.

Does Renters Insurance Cover Temporary Living Expenses?

Some renters insurance policies do cover additional living expenses if you’re forced to move out of your unit temporarily. Usually, the policy caps this coverage at a specific amount of money or number of days.

Check your policy for details about this type of coverage. If you don’t have it and think you need it, ask your insurance company or insurance agent to price it out for you. Temporary living expense coverage will increase your premium, but you’ll be glad you have it if you have to move out of a damaged apartment.

Will Filing a Renters Claim Affect My Insurance Rate?

Probably. How much is a more interesting question. 

Generally, liability, fire, and theft claims increase premiums more than medical claims. Don’t be surprised if your premium jumps by 20% or more after a fire or theft claim. Medical bill-only claims should still increase your premium, but by a more reasonable rate — typically under 20%, depending on your insurer. 

What Happens if the Insurance Company Denies My Claim?

It depends on why the insurance company denied your claim. 

Sometimes, there’s not much you can do about a denied claim. If your policy specifically excludes the type of incident or expense, your insurer has every right to deny the claim. Even if your policy covers the claim type under normal circumstances, a smaller claim might fail to hit your deductible.

That said, if your claim is truly legitimate and the insurance company denies it anyway, whether due to suspected fraud or a differing interpretation of your policy’s terms, you can appeal. It’s a time-consuming process that requires you to submit additional documentation, but it’ll pay off if the insurer reverses its decision.

If the company denies your appeal, you can hire an insurance attorney to press your case. They’re well-versed in insurance legalese and can craft arguments you wouldn’t even know to make. In the worst case, they can take your insurer to court.

Final Word

Filing a renters insurance claim could be easier than you think. The best renters insurance companies generally have online or app-based claims processes that let you submit and get approval for uncomplicated claims without ever meeting face-to-face with a claims adjuster.

Even if you have to welcome a claims adjuster into your apartment, it’s not the end of the world. If you’ve filed a police report, documented the damage or injuries, and kept good records of your expenses, your chances of getting a legitimate claim approved are quite good.

Sure, the process takes some time. But that’s a reasonable price to pay for avoiding a big hit to your bottom line.

Brian Martucci writes about credit cards, banking, insurance, travel, and more. When he's not investigating time- and money-saving strategies for Money Crashers readers, you can find him exploring his favorite trails or sampling a new cuisine. Reach him on Twitter @Brian_Martucci.

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