4 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Renters’ Insurance and Natural Disasters

published Apr 21, 2021
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
Credit: VeaVea/Stocksy

Whether renting, owning, or house hunting, a newer concern is factoring into home protection decisions: climate change. As the recent winter storms in Texas and other parts of the South left millions of people without vital resources, renters, in particular, faced overwhelming challenges. In addition to the daily struggle for survival, renters later navigated returning to normalcy only to be confronted by the task of contacting renters’ insurance companies for help picking up the pieces.

While folks on the West Coast are familiar with wildfire safety, Tornado Alley residents are no strangers to the aftermath of twisters, and the Southeast navigates hurricane season with plenty of experience, the evolving nature of weather patterns necessitates that renters prepare for the unexpected. I spoke with Yael Wissner-Levy with Lemonade, a licensed insurance carrier of homeowners, renters, and pet insurance, about the surprising things renters insurance will cover after disaster strikes. Take notes, and take care!

Where damage comes from is important in questions of coverage.

There are a handful of natural disasters that are prone to certain regions: wildfires, cold snaps, tornados, earthquakes, and flooding among them. When these disasters occur, insurance companies, including Lemonade, see a prevalence of certain types of claims. 

With regard to floods, it’s important to identify where the water damage comes from. Wissner-Levy says that renters’ policies cover damage occurring inside the home, whereas “‘flood insurance’ is a policy that covers floods coming from the outside in, such as from weather.” According to Wisser-Levy, this type of flood insurance is offered through FEMA.

In the event of a tornado, damage to the building itself due to major debris like falling trees or dislocated structural elements (think of anything you saw floating around in “Twister”) will not be covered by renters’ insurance. However, a renter’s personal property is covered. “During wind storms or tornadoes, the damage to the home may be severe enough to cause damage to the personal property inside,” says Wisser-Levy.

Personal property is also covered by renters’ insurance policies in the event of wildfires. Wisser-Levy explains, “Wildfires typically see smoke damage to personal property such as physical damage from smoke or smells that linger on personal property.”  

That said, if you’re a renter and disaster strikes, your landlord (the homeowner, in this case) should be insured for external building damage. If you’re signing a lease in a high-risk area of the country, it’s worth asking about — and understanding — your landlord’s insurance policy.

You could be covered for living expenses after evacuation orders.

In the event of dangerous weather conditions, civil authorities may enforce an evacuation order. When this happens, Wisser-Levy explains, Loss of Use coverage is activated. “This means your policy will cover additional living expenses elsewhere for up to two weeks. Renters are covered for the cost of living in a temporary accommodation until you get back on your feet,” she says. Renters’ insurance companies typically see an influx of these types of claims following wildfires. 

But what if a rental property is destroyed or completely unlivable following the disaster? “If your property itself sustains damage due to fire or smoke from a wildfire (or any named perils), your policy’s Loss of Use coverage would kick in if your home became unlivable,” Wisser-Levy explains.

Disaster relief can sometimes be found in the details.

Renters may be disappointed to learn that earthquake or flooding damage typically isn’t covered in renters’ insurance. However, details about the nature of those types of damage will work in a renter’s favor. 

“It may surprise you to learn that direct loss by fire, explosion or theft resulting from an earthquake or flood is covered under the base renters’ policy,” says Wisser-Levy. So what does that mean, exactly? “For example, if an earthquake causes a gas leak which results in an explosion/fire, damages from that explosion/fire would be covered by the base renters policy,” she explains.

Following the deadly cold snap in Texas earlier this year, many renters were left with spoiled food. “Generally speaking, power outages, without other physical damage to the building itself, aren’t covered as part of your renters’ policy,” says Wisser-Levy. Therefore, spoiled food is excluded from this coverage. 

Make it a point to understand your policy limits and premiums.

If you’re a renter living in a disaster-prone region or climate, orienting yourself to the details of your policy (and possibly your landlord’s homeowners insurance policy) is critical. You should expect your premium to reflect where you live. “If you live in a high-risk area, you might see an increase in your premium or certain limitations on coverage,” Wisser-Levy says.

As confusing or tedious as it may be for someone outside the realm of insurance policies to navigate, folks in these areas should be as familiar with their policy limits as they are their monthly budget. “Understand the loss of use coverage on your policy,” Wisser-Levy adds. “This is the most common claim after a disaster and making sure you understand what insurance will pay for after a disaster will help you be more prepared.”

Having a general idea of how a renter’s budget would be impacted by disaster — or simply insurance itself — is key. “Check to make sure the limits are sufficient for covering expenses including food and hotel in your area,” explains Wisser-Levy. It’s hard to prepare for the unpredictable, but understanding renters insurance policy details will give a renter peace of mind when they need it most.