How to File a Renters Insurance Claim

Learn everything you need to know about renters insurance claims, from what to do in case of an emergency to how to process your claim.
Filing insurance claim

If you’re a renter, you face the same risks as a homeowner. A fire, break-in, water damage, and more can happen unexpectedly, and your potential financial loss can be substantial.

Renters insurance can’t prevent property damage (or liability) from happening, but it can help keep you healthy financially if a loss occurs.

If you’ve ever filed a renters insurance claim, you know it can be challenging to take the initial steps when facing property loss or damage. Hopefully, there won’t be a second time. But if there is, the editors at PropertyNest want you to be well-prepared through this article.

If you’ve never filed a renters insurance claim before, following the steps outlined below and reading the additional information provided will make the claim-filing process go smoothly.

Steps to Take After Suffering a Loss

Staying focused after experiencing any property loss or damage can be hard. You know there are things you need to do, but what they are and the order in which they should be done may not be something you’re familiar with.

Following these five steps, in order, will simplify filing a renters insurance claim for you.

1. Report the incident to authorities.

If you experience a burglary, vandalism, fire, or another event causing a loss, reporting it to the police or fire department is a vital first step.

Depending on the event, they may need to dispatch assistance to your residence to get the details from you. If they do, keep copies of their report. You’ll need them when filing your claim.

Don’t touch anything before they arrive. It may be tempting to clean an area or move damaged items, but the police or fire department needs to see things exactly as they were when you called them.

Be sure to vacate the premises in the event of heavy smoke, the smell of natural gas, or any other indicator that it’s unsafe for you to remain inside your residence.

2. Contact your renters insurance company.

After filing your report with the police or fire department, contact your insurance agent or the insurance company’s claims department. There is probably a specified period to contact a company representative written in your policy. Avoid missing a filing deadline by calling right after speaking with the authorities.

Many insurers will also let you begin the claim-filing process online or through their smartphone app. If you’re comfortable with that, it can be a real timesaver.

Completing a claim form, either digitally or with your agent or a claims representative, will require you to provide details of the incident. Be as thorough as possible, noting what was damaged, how it occurred, and when it happened.

3. Document the damages.

Before you begin cleaning up or discarding items, write down what is missing or was damaged, and photograph or shoot a video of the damages. The insurance company will appreciate any images you can provide, and it can help speed up the claims process and get you paid more quicker.

It will also be very helpful for everyone concerned with the loss or damage if you have pictures of your residence and belongings before the loss. This can help confirm what you’re reporting and speed up the claims process.

4. Make temporary repairs to your residence to make it safe and livable.

It’s okay to make temporary repairs while your claim is being processed. For example, your landlord should repair or replace broken windows and locks.

Don’t begin any major repairs or renovations until your claim has been completed and the settlement amount has been confirmed. And keep the receipts for any work you’ve had done or items purchased.

If your residence can’t be made safe and livable, you may need to temporarily relocate to a hotel while repairs or rebuilding take place, which almost all renters insurance policies cover. Keep receipts of lodging and meals to submit as part of your claim.

5. Make yourself available.

Be prepared to answer emails and take calls from your agent (if you bought through one), the insurance company’s claims department, and a claims adjuster (if one is assigned). The faster you can answer their questions and provide the information they need, the faster your claim can be processed.

How to File a Renter’s Insurance Claim

Your renters insurance policy will help you decide whether to file a claim. The value of the items lost is sometimes less than the policy’s deductible, making it unnecessary to complete the claims process.

For example, if your deductible is $1,000 and the laptop you had stolen would only cost $700 to replace, it would be pointless to file a claim and better for you to pay out-of-pocket to replace it.

Also, if you’re concerned about having your coverage rescinded or your rates hiked because you’ve filed previous claims, you may want to avoid filing a claim.

By talking with your agent or claims representative, visiting the company’s website, or using their app, you can determine what documents you need to submit. You should be able to scan the documents and photographs and submit them online.

More complicated claims may require additional steps, such as providing police or fire department reports.

To complete any necessary forms, you’ll need to have your policy number and complete details about what caused the claim. Take your time completing the forms to avoid submitting an incomplete document and delaying the processing and payment of your claim.

Filing a claim for property loss or damage

Creating an inventory before you file a claim for property loss or damage will save you tremendous time and effort. You’ll be able to tell the insurer exactly what was lost and its value.

With this information, you’ll likely be able to submit pictures and video of any damage through the insurer’s app, which can shorten the time needed to process your claim by days.

Renters insurance typically covers property that isn’t inside your home, like a bicycle you keep on your porch. However, your policy may also cover property owned by others, such as a visitor.

Check your policy for details. Many items are subject to a maximum amount of coverage, in addition to your deductible, which may negate filing a claim.

Filing a claim for liability or medical payments to others

Two types of liability are generally covered under renters insurance policies: personal liability and medical payments to others.

Personal liability coverage enters the picture when you lose a lawsuit filed by someone injured on or in your rented premises or injured somewhere else by someone who usually lives with you.

Under liability coverage, the person claiming to be victimized will file the claim with your insurance company. Thorough documentation and evidence may determine whether the claim is approved or denied.

The victim will need your policy number and instructions on how to file a claim. If you don’t have that information, tell them the name of your renters insurance company and have them call the company’s claims department.

Medical payments to others pays for other people’s medical bills resulting from an injury on or in your premises or an injury caused elsewhere by someone who lives with you.

Regardless of the type of claim, document all damages and note any witnesses to what occurred. The insurance company may provide an attorney to represent you in court or settle with the victim.

Similar to personal property coverage, there may be limits to personal liability coverage and medical payments to others. Any liability or medical payment will be made directly to the injured person or the person who lost the property.

You will be financially responsible for any amount exceeding your policy’s limits and your deductible.

How are renters insurance claims investigated and adjusted?

Renters insurance claims often involve the insurer sending a claims adjuster to your residence to investigate the loss or damage, particularly with larger claims. This is done at the insurance company’s expense.

The adjuster will determine if you’re eligible to receive reimbursement according to the terms of your policy and the amount you’re owed.

If the claim is for liability coverage, the adjuster will contact the claimant’s lawyers or doctors on behalf of the insurance company. They may also consult with your landlord, law enforcement, or other professionals who can provide information for a questionable claim.

If the claims adjuster suspects or discovers that your claim is fraudulent, you can be denied reimbursement and possibly prosecuted for insurance fraud. You’ll also be financially responsible for any damage you cause.

The claims adjuster has the final say on your claim, but some insurers will let you appeal the decision.

Getting the Most Money Back from the Insurance Company

To maximize the amount the insurer reimburses you, be as detailed as possible concerning the item(s) lost or damaged.

For example, if your 55-inch flat-screen television is stolen, don’t just request reimbursement for a “55-inch flat-screen television.” If you list the item generically, you’ll probably get a much lower payout from the insurer. They may determine you can buy a 55” flat-screen T.V. at Walmart for $599.

However, being very specific about your lost item will likely get you a better settlement. If you list the stolen television as a “55-inch Sony 4K LED flat-screen T.V., $1499” that you purchased (having the receipt or a picture of it will help), you’ll likely see a much larger reimbursement check coming your way.

Don’t be afraid to list small items when filing your claim. Small items add up, and you may receive a payout for each item, which might help you meet your deductible.

Common Reasons Renters Insurance Claims are Denied

There are several reasons your claim could be denied. Here are some of the most common:

  • You haven’t met your deductible. You have an amount you must pay first before the insurer pays your claim, called a deductible. Deductibles are usually $250, $500, or $1,000 (the lower your deductible is, the higher your premium will be). If your claim amount is smaller than your deductible, your claim won’t be paid.
  • The damage or loss isn’t covered. Your policy will explain what is and isn’t covered. For example, it may state that rare coins aren’t covered by your policy, which would result in your claim being denied if you submitted one for a rare and valuable silver dollar you owned.
  • Too much time lapsed before you filed your claim. Your policy specifies a specific period, typically 48 to 72 hours after the damage happened. Filing after that time has passed gives the insurer a reason to deny your claim.
  • Your landlord’s insurance covers the claim. Their homeowner’s or commercial property insurance covers the exterior of the building, its roof, common areas, and other things specified in their policy, not your renters policy. You’ll find this exclusion in your policy.
  • It’s not a covered peril. If your policy doesn’t list or name a peril, it won’t be covered if you submit a claim for it. For example, earthquakes and natural floods are usually not covered perils in renters insurance policies. Unless they’re specifically listed as being covered in your policy, claims for these will be denied.

How to Find the Best Renters Insurance

There are several ways to find the best renters insurance.

First, the old-fashioned way – talk with an agent who has an office nearby. Agents who know your area can advise you about how much coverage you need and the best deductible for you. They can then provide you with a quote.

A few insurance companies offer discounts if you bundle your renters insurance with your car insurance. If you use an agent, ask about that.

The second way to find the best renters insurance will save you time and money – comparing quotes and applying online.

Many people prefer not to talk with an agent if they don’t have to. They are comfortable buying things online, and renters insurance is no different.

You only have to answer a few questions to get a quote, like the estimated value of your property, the zip code you’ll be renting in, and the deducible you prefer.

After that, you’ll see multiple renters insurance companies side-by-side with their policies coverage limits and premiums. In most cases, you can submit your application at that time without having to call an agent.

Bundle discounts are also available for online buyers.

Frequently Asked Questions

Should You Contact Your Agent if You Have a Claim?

An agent will likely refer you to someone else in the company since they typically don’t handle or adjust claims. In most cases, you’ll save time by contacting the insurer’s claims department and filing your claim. Many leading insurers now have apps on which you can submit a claim, or on their website.

How Long Does it Take to Get Your Claim Paid?

The amount of time it takes to get your claim paid depends on the size and complexity of your claim. For example, a stolen bike claim could be settled in minutes or a few days, whereas a fire that destroyed your property could take weeks or longer.

What Constitutes Claim Fraud?

Knowingly providing false information or withholding relevant information concerning a claim are two common reasons for a claim being called fraudulent. For example, if you intentionally inflate the prices of lost or damaged items, that is considered claim fraud, as is damaging property yourself and reporting a claim.
Aimee Parrott
About the author

Aimee Parrott draws her expertise from having worked in the insurance industry for over a decade. After moving into commercial finance, she has spent the past eight years writing about financial topics, including insurance, credit, and mortgages. She lives in New Haven.