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HOME INSURANCE INSIGHTS

The average renters insurance policy covers fire and smoke damage, even if the fire didn’t originate in your apartment.

Home fires are more common than you may realize, based on a new report from the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA).

The Home Structure Fires report shows that there were about 346,800 home structure fires, more than 11,000 civilian fire injuries, and about $7.3 billion in resulting property damage each year from 2015 to 2019. Approximately 75% of civilian fire deaths and nearly 72% of reported injuries were related to home fires.

Cooking is the leading cause of home fires and related injuries, while smoking claims the most lives in home fire deaths.

With fires so commonplace in the home, insurance for fire damage is something that renters can’t afford to skip. If you rent your home, this is what you need to know about renters insurance, fire, and smoke damage.

KEY TAKEAWAYS
  • Fire and smoke damage are covered perils for renters insurance.
  • While your landlord covers any physical damage, your insurance covers your personal belongings and guest injuries.
  • Your insurance company doesn’t cover fires you started yourself.
  • Renters insurance also typically includes loss of use coverage, providing reimbursement for shelter and sustenance if you’re forced to leave your home due to fire-related damages.
  • You can save money and reduce your risk of a fire with safety devices like smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, and sprinkler systems.

What does renters insurance cover for fire damage?

Fire and smoke damage is typically covered by renters insurance.

Fires can easily start for several reasons -- a cooking mishap, an electrical appliance gone awry, an errant candle. Even if a fire doesn’t start in your home, your home could still be affected by smoke damage. Renters insurance helps if your personal belongings are destroyed or damaged.

Basic renters insurance covers several perils, and fire is one of them. Cliff Auerswald, president of veteran-run All Reverse Mortgage, says renters insurance generally covers:

  • Fires started accidentally in your home
  • Fire damage from outside your home
  • Mandatory evacuations in your area
  • Smoke damage
  • Fires started by natural disasters

Renters insurance includes coverage for your personal belongings in a fire or related smoke damage. While the physical dwelling remains the responsibility of your landlord, your insurer will typically pick up the bill for personal items. This can include several different items:

  • Clothing
  • Furniture
  • Electronics
  • Appliances
  • Computers
  • Jewelry
  • Art
  • Pets

“Personal property items that are covered are everything that one owns, from the draperies all the way to personal care items, such as a toothbrush,” says Benjamin Bruinekool, principal of AAA/Western Michigan Insurance Agency.

Your landlord picks up the tab for any physical damages to your dwelling, such as wall, roof, or other structural issues.

Renters insurance fire coverage limits

The amount of the average renters insurance policy typically includes $20,000 or $30,000 worth of coverage. Valuables like jewelry and antiques may require additional coverage beyond the standard renter’s insurance.

To help you determine how much coverage you should carry, take an inventory of your belongings to determine appropriate coverage.

“I advise insureds to periodically walk around their home or apartment using a video camera and store the videos to the cloud,” shares Bruinekool. “This way, if there is a loss, the video helps trigger a memory of what they had.”

The value of your belongings will help decide your renters insurance rates.

Type of coverageIdeal for...Property coverage limitsLiability coverage limits
Minimum renters insurance coverageFew belongings, cheap premiums$10,000 - $20,000$100,000
Mid-level renters insuranceAverage coverage$50,000$100,000+
Premium renters insurance coverageExpensive jewelry and valuables$60,000$300,000

Another factor that can impact your coverage limits is whether your policy includes actual cash value or replacement cost coverage. Actual cash value (ACV) can be a less-than-ideal situation for some belongings because it accounts for depreciation. Replacement cost covers the full value of the item’s replacement.

“When you set up your insurance, you agree to pay a deductible,” explains Jim Pendergast, senior vice president of altLINE, a division of Alabama’s Southern Bank Company. “In the case of a fire, the insurance company will pay for everything listed in your damages list except the deductible. So, if your $1,000 sofa goes up in flames and you have a $100 deductible, the insurance company would pay $900 to help you get a new sofa.”

However, there are limits that may apply. Before you finalize your policy, talk to your renters insurance company to see what coverage is most suitable for your belongings.

“The renter should verify that fire is one of the perils covered by the policy,” says Rob Drexler, vice president of operations for PuroClean – Commercial Storm at PuroClean, a company known as the “Paramedics of Property Damage.”

“Each policy and coverage limits are different and you must understand what is/is not covered in the event of a loss. The time to figure this out is before you experience this loss, so you’re able to anticipate the outcomes from significant events, such as a fire,” Drexler adds.

Types of fire insurance coverage

The standard renters insurance policy consists of different types, with each playing a different role. You will need to pay a deductible before your insurance coverage pays for a loss, with the average deductible around $500 or $1,000 for the average renters insurance policy.

Personal property

The personal property portion of your renters insurance coverage includes repairing and replacing your personal belongings, like clothes and electronics.

Liability coverage

Liability insurance protects you when you’re found at fault for a loss. For example, if you accidentally burn someone else or destroy someone’s belongings, this coverage would assume financial responsibility for any expenses covered under your policy. Liability protection can also apply if you are found negligent and responsible for reimbursement to your landlord.

“It safeguards you from the financial loss that you will be undergoing to compensate a third-party for physical or financial harm that might have befallen them as a result of your actions. If the third-party presses charges, the insurance company will cover you, according to [your] plan,” says Anthony Martin, CEO & founder of Choice Mutual.

Loss of use

A fire can cause severe damages to your home, making it inhabitable in many cases. Should you be unable to live in your home, loss of use coverage provides reasonable living expenses to reimburse you for things like shelter and food. Most renters insurance policies will reimburse hotel stays, meals, and even increased commuter costs.

You can check the declarations page of your policy to see exactly what is covered and the limits for each.

Reasons when renters insurance may not cover fire damage

While your renters insurance includes coverage for your personal belongings, the rental unit itself isn’t included.

This helpful chart breaks down tenant insurance for common items.

Renters insurance
Dwelling/structure
Personal liability
Personal belongings
Loss of use
Water damage
Wind/hail
FloodMay require an additional policy
EarthquakeMay require an additional policy

Your renters insurance doesn’t cover the physical rental unit. Instead, that is covered under landlord insurance, including coverage for things like the walls, flooring, and cabinetry.

There are some specific exclusions to the average renters insurance policy. Your insurer may not cover these damages and events.

Events not coveredDamages not covered
Intentional fires

Car fires

Floods

Earthquakes

Sewer overflow
Physical dwelling

Roommates

Airbnb or other business-related guests

Business equipment

Some dog breeds

Policyholder medical injuries

However, many insurance companies offer separate coverage, like earthquake insurance and sewer overflow coverage. Flood insurance may be available from your insurer, or you can purchase a separate policy from the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).

Fire safety devices and renters insurance discounts

The average renters insurance company offers several discounts to help you save money on your policy. This includes fire-specific safety discounts that can help lower the risk of an accident occurring in your rental home.

Some of the popular discounts commonly available for renters insurance include:

  • Fire alarm
  • Smoke detector
  • Carbon monoxide alarm
  • Sprinkler system
  • Fire extinguisher

You could also lower premiums with other safety-related savings, such as discounts for deadbolts or a burglar alarm system. Ask your insurance company what discounts are available to help you save money on your policy.

How to make fire damage claims on renters insurance

If a fire occurs in your home, there are several steps you need to take to receive reimbursement from your renters insurance company. Here's the process to file a claim.

  1. Immediately contact your insurance company: As soon as possible after the fire, contact your insurer to begin the claims process. The sooner you file, the sooner the insurance company can begin the process to issue a reimbursement.
  2. Complete a “proof of loss” form: This details the damages incurred from the fire. To expedite the process, be sure to include any photos or videos of damaged property.
  3. Include an official report: Provide a copy of the report from the police or fire department, if available.
  4. Provide a copy of your inventory: Your inventory should include reasonable estimates for value; receipts aren’t typically required.
  5. Share living arrangements: If you must leave your rental property due to fire or damages, contact your insurer immediately to find out about loss of use coverage limits.
  6. Schedule the adjuster: Your insurer may require that an adjuster visit the property to determine the extent of the damages.
  7. Wait for approval: After collecting all necessary information, your insurance company will review your claim to determine appropriate reimbursement.
  8. Receive payment: Once your claim is approved, your insurer will send you a check.

If you have questions or require assistance, customer support or your local agent can help.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does renters insurance cover smoke damage?

In addition to fire, the average renters insurance policy covers smoke damage from accidental fires.

Who pays when a neighbor’s fire spreads to your apartment?

While the landlord insurance protects the physical building, renters insurance reimburses fire and smoke damages, even if it did not start in your apartment. However, some exclusions may apply.

What precautions should you take to protect your home from fire?

To help avoid fires in the home, never leave burning candles unattended and always supervise cooking, turning off the oven and stove when you are finished cooking. It’s highly recommended to have a fire alarm, smoke detector, and fire extinguisher within the home in case of a fire.

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