How to File a Renters Insurance Claim

Although filing a renters insurance claim isn't difficult, going about it the wrong way can result in wasted time, a lower payment, or even a denial. Here's what you need to do to successfully file a claim on your renters insurance policy.

firefighters battling roof fire

There are a number of reasons it's good to know as much as you can about filing a renters insurance claim before you actually go ahead and do it.

One reason is it gives you the best chance of having a smooth experience. Another reason is it'll likely keep you from receiving a denial notice from your insurer.

It also ensures you'll be in the best position to receive full compensation for whatever loss pushed you to file a claim on your renters policy.

Now that it's clear why you want to approach the claim-filing process as prepared as possible, what else do you need to know? Here are some of the all-important details that will be discussed in this article:

  • how to file a renters insurance claim
  • what you can do to prepare for the experience
  • when you should file a claim and when you shouldn't
  • why an insurance company might deny your renters insurance claim
  • how you can fight a claim denial

What can I do before I file a renters insurance claim to prepare for it? Or what can I do to make things easier on myself if I ever need to file one?

A few of the things you can do to get yourself ready to file a renters insurance claim:

  1. Read through your policy. When you're done, make sure you understand what it covers and what it doesn't cover. That alone could save you both time and disappointment in the future. Why the latter? If you don't fully "get" what your renters policy does and doesn't cover by the time you finish reading through it, you might file a claim only to see it quickly denied. (Because you unknowingly filed it for an excluded, or uncovered, loss.)
  2. Contact your insurance company. After you read through your renters insurance policy, if anything confuses you or doesn't seem clear, pick up the phone and call--or send an email to--your agent and ask about it. Also, don't stop asking questions until you understand what your policy will and won't cover.
  3. Create an inventory of your belongings. If you've done this already, pat yourself on the back and move on to the next piece of advice. If you haven't yet made an inventory of your personal property, though, now's the time to do it. It can take a bit of time, but it'll all be worth it in the end. Like reading and understanding your policy, creating an inventory of your "stuff" can save you both time and hassle down the road should you ever need to file a claim. Don't know where to start? Our article, "Create an Inventory of Your Possessions for Renters Insurance Claims," walks you through the process.
  4. Consider getting riders, floaters, or endorsements for expensive or important possessions. Most renters insurance plans only provide so much coverage for certain "valuables." For example, they often limit coverage of jewelry to $1,000 or $1,500. And they typically limit coverage of business equipment to $2,500 or so. (Learn more about this in our article about what renters insurance doesn't cover.) To ensure you'll be able to replace those items if any of them are destroyed, damaged, or stolen, you have to buy a rider, floater, or endorsement. Thankfully, none of those additions should cost you much, and they'll provide you a lot of peace of mind in return.

How do I file a claim on my renters insurance? What specific steps should I take while filing a renters claim?

Although filing a renters insurance claim isn't all that difficult, there are a number of steps you need to take if the process is to end smoothly and successfully.

  1. Tell your landlord

    Depending on the situation, you may want to talk with the police before you talk with your landlord. Regardless, letting your landlord know what happened should be one of the first two steps you take after your possessions are stolen, damaged, or destroyed.

    Why? For starters, reporting theft or damage in this way is a legal requirement in many states. Many property owners require it via their leases, too. Another reason you should tell your landlord about such an incident: he or she may be responsible for repairing doors, windows, or any other damage done to the unit. (Your rental insurance policy won't cover that kind of loss.) Finally, giving your property owner a heads up allows them to alert your neighbors to the incident.
  2. Call the police

    First things first: you shouldn't always contact the police in this kind of situation. If someone breaks into your rental home, condo, or apartment and steals your stuff, yes, you definitely should give them a call. Right away, in fact. If a friend, or a pet, causes damage to your property, though, or if a leaky ceiling or pipe causes the damage, there's no need to bring in the police.

    If burglary, theft, or even vandalism had a hand in creating your loss, however, contact the police--and other authorities, if you think it's needed--as soon as you're able to do so. Most, if not all, insurance companies require policyholders to officially report these incidents before they can file a claim.

    A few words of advice if you do this: get the names of any police officers or other officials you talk with--you may need them if your insurer asks you any follow-up questions about the incident that resulted in your loss.
  3. Make sure you, your home, and your belongings are safe and secure

    Were any doors or windows broken during the incident that caused your loss? If so, have them repaired or replaced as soon as possible to ensure both you and your possessions are safe and secure. Change the locks on your doors, too, if the situation warrants it.

    Just be sure you keep any and all receipts that are related to these repairs or purchases. You'll need them if you want your insurance company to reimburse you for their costs.

    If property damage or safety concerns make you feel uneasy about living in your home, condo, or apartment until repairs are completed, seek lodging elsewhere. Many rental insurance policies will reimburse you for these costs, too. Again, though, save your receipts--and not only for your "temporary residence." Save the ones tied to any meals you buy during this time, too.

    One more thing: while you secure your home, don't throw away or otherwise get rid of any damaged belongings. If your insurer involves a claims adjuster (expect it), he or she likely will want to see them.
  4. Contact your insurance company

    This may be the fourth bullet point shared here, but don't take that to mean you can drag your feet in taking care of it.

    The truth is, you want to let your insurance company know about your loss as soon as you can do so. That's because all insurers require policyholders to file these types of claims within a certain amount of time--usually no longer than 72 hours after the incident occurs.

    Some of the information you should gather before you call your insurance company:
    • any questions you have about your policy, what it does and doesn't cover in this area, and the timing of your upcoming claim
    • the number of the police report tied to the incident (assuming you got the police involved, of course)
    • your renters insurance policy number
    • details about your loss, such as what happened and when it happened
    • at least an estimate of what you think needs to be replaced
  5. Document your losses

    What does this mean? It means go through your property and make note of anything that was destroyed, damaged, or stolen.

    And don't just make note of it on paper. Along with that, take photos and even video of any damaged or destroyed items.

    That inventory you created earlier will come in handy here, so get it out (or open it up if you use a computer program or phone app) and put it to use during this part of the process.
  6. File your claim

    Your insurance company or agent will give you the forms you're supposed to fill out and send in as part of the claim-filing process.

    Complete them with all of the information you gathered earlier and don't forget to include any additional documentation that could help make your case.

    Some of the details you should expect to share on these forms:
    • the brand and model of each damaged, destroyed, or stolen item
    • when you bought each item
    • where you bought each item
    • how much you paid for each item

    After you submit your claim, your insurer may start an investigation. If it does, don't be surprised if an adjuster visits your apartment, condo, or house to assess the situation. This usually happens within 24 hours of you filing a claim, but not always.

    The adjuster has a lot of power here, so help in any way you can.

    Should he or she approve your claim, your insurer will send you documents that explain the settlement of your claim. Review them. If something doesn't make sense to you, ask about it. If you don't agree with something, contest it.

    Once that is out of the way, sign and make copies (for your own records) of the settlement documents before returning them to your insurance company.

    Now you can expect to receive a check that reimburses you for the value of your lost or damaged property, minus your deductible. (Want to know more about this aspect of your policy? Check out our article, "Renters Insurance Deductible Frequently Asked Questions.")

    Depending on the particulars of your policy, you'll be reimbursed for the replacement value or the actual cash value of your possessions. Find explanations of both in this article: "Actual Cash Value vs. Replacement Cost for Renters Insurance."
  7. Update your inventory

    Sorry, your work isn't done after you get your hands on your claim payment.

    Thankfully, this last step probably is the easiest. After all, it only requires you to return to that inventory you created earlier (right?) and update it.

    Hopefully you won't need to pull it out again for a good long while. But if you do, updating it now will keep you from experiencing any headaches or other annoyances then.

When should I file a renters insurance claim?

If you've never before filed a renters insurance claim--or a homeowners or auto insurance claim, for that matter--you may be wondering, Why should I worry about when I should or shouldn't file a claim? Shouldn't I be able to file a claim whenever my property is damaged, destroyed, or stolen?

You can do that, of course. Nothing is stopping you. Or at least nothing like the law is stopping you.

The insurance company that sold you your renters insurance policy may stop you, though. How so? One example is it may increase your premium--potentially dramatically. Another example is it may decide to cancel your policy altogether.

Admittedly, most insurers won't take either of those steps if you file just a single claim, but they could. And seeing at least a modest premium bump is a real possibility even if you've never before filed a claim.

To avoid those scenarios, think twice about filing a renters insurance claim unless:

This will be the first claim you've ever filed on your renters insurance policy. People who have never "used" their plans are in the best position to file a claim for a loss and not be hit with a premium hike or a policy cancelation. Even then, you shouldn't file your first claim flippantly. Insurers expect policyholders to only rarely file claims. Specifically, most of them react negatively to anyone who files more than one claim every 10 years. Given that, pick your battles. If you suffer a big loss and you've never filed a claim, this may be the perfect time to do so. If you suffer a fairly small loss, though, you might want to cover it yourself if you think it's possible you'll need to call on your renters policy at some other point in the next decade.

The amount of your loss far exceeds your plan's deductible. You've already heard (and you'll hear it again in a minute) that you shouldn't file a claim if the amount of your loss is less than your deductible. But you also probably shouldn't file a claim if the amount of your loss is only slightly more than your deductible. Why? Consider this: say the total of your loss is $2,000 and your deductible is $1,000. Sure, filing a claim may save you $1,000 right now, but it may cost you down the road if the insurance company hikes your premium enough. And it could cost you even more should you suffer another incident in the next couple of years that destroys or damages your belongings. Will you file a claim then, too, and risk an even higher premium (or, worse, a policy cancelation), or will you repair or recover your possessions using all of your own money?

A key takeaway related to the above: think of your renters insurance policy as being only for catastrophes--major incidents that would cost you many thousands of dollars if you had to pay for it out of your own pocket. Pretend it doesn't exist whenever you suffer relatively small losses.

When shouldn't I file a claim on my renters insurance policy?

To be sure, a lot of the advice shared below is the opposite of the advice shared in the section above. Still, most of it can't be said too often, so here it is again.

You shouldn't file a renters insurance claim if:

You've already filed one or more other claims on your policy. Be especially wary if you filed these other claims within the last few years. People who file more than one claim in a couple years' time are basically asking to have their policies canceled.

The damage was caused by an excluded event or an incident your renters plan doesn't cover. This is why it's important to read through your policy and understand what it will and won't cover. That will keep you from accidentally (and embarrassingly) filing a claim the insurance company is sure to deny--and then possibility use against you.

Your claim is at all suspicious. If the circumstances surrounding your loss are iffy or sketchy in any way, you might want to reconsider your decision to file a claim. It's far more likely your insurer will deny such a claim, so repairing or recovering your items with your own cash could be a far better bet than filing and risking a higher premium or a canceled plan.

How long does it usually take an insurance company to send out a claim payment? Or how long should I expect to wait for my renters insurance claim payment?

As you might suspect, the amount of time it takes an insurance company to send claim checks to policyholders varies a lot.

For example, it's not unheard of for an adjuster to cut a settlement check on the spot if the claim is small enough or straightforward enough. That said, it's also not unusual for the process to take a good while longer than that.

If your insurer doesn't give you an estimate of when you can expect to receive your payment, ask about it.

Why might an insurance company deny my claim? Or what are some of the reasons insurers deny renters insurance claims?

Insurance companies deny rental policy claims for all sorts of reasons. Here are some of the most common:

The costs associated with your loss are less than your deductible. Let's say the deductible tied to your renters insurance policy is $1,000. If someone steals your $500 tablet and you file a claim about it, don't be shocked if your insurer replies with a denial. And don't be shocked if your insurer increases your premium as well. Filing a claim, even one that ends up being denied, can prompt such hikes. As a result, think long and hard before you make a claim for a loss that's worth less than your deductible.

You filed a claim for something your renters policy doesn't cover. Most standard rental insurance policies don't cover damage or destruction caused by flooding or earthquakes. Some also won't cover damage or destruction caused by hurricanes or tornadoes. To be protected in that way, you need additional coverage or insurance. So if you file a claim against your standard renters policy for flood- or earthquake-related losses, look for your insurer to deny it.

The information you gave to your insurer was inaccurate or untruthful. If you told the insurance company that your front door is secured by deadbolts or watched by video cameras and it finds out during its investigation that's not the case, it may deny your burglary or theft claim. Other, similar situations could result in a denial, too. The moral of the story here: tell the truth when you take out your renters policy as well as when you file a claim on it.

The insurance company suspects fraud. Going along with the above, if your insurer or adjuster thinks you may be lying to them about the incident that resulted in your loss or about the items you say were stolen, destroyed, or damaged, you may be hit with a denial. Again, be honest. And do yourself a favor by keeping, collecting, and sharing all the proof you can to support your claim. Receipts, instruction manuals, photos, and even video footage can take you a long way toward success.

You're not up to date on your policy premiums. Did you miss a few premium payments in the lead-up to filing your renters insurance claim? If so, that may be enough for your insurer to deny it--and maybe even flat-out cancel your policy as well.

Your landlord is responsible for the loss. There are all sorts of circumstances that could prompt the owner of your rental unit, rather than you, to be responsible for your loss. In such cases, your insurance plan wouldn't cover it; his or hers would. If you're at all unsure about the situation surrounding your potential claim, bring it up when you contact your insurer. Someone there will be able to tell you if your rental policy will kick in to cover the loss or if the property owner's policy will have to do it.

What can I do if my renters insurance claim is denied? What are my options?

In most cases, policyholders can appeal claim denials.

That usually means a handful of insurance adjusters will review your claim and then give their opinions on the matter, but don't take that as gospel.

If you're at all unhappy with how your insurer responds to your claim, ask what you can do about it. Find out what steps you can take moving forward--whether that means filing an appeal or something else entirely.

Regardless, don't feel like you have to accept whatever comes your way.

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