Flood Insurance for Renters

Flood insurance will cover what your renters insurance probably doesn’t.
Sarah Schlichter
By Sarah Schlichter 
Edited by Caitlin Constantine Reviewed by Brenda J. Cude

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Nerdy takeaways
  • Most renters insurance policies won’t pay for flood damage.

  • Consider buying a separate flood insurance policy to cover your personal belongings.

  • Flood insurance for renters can cost as little as $99 a year.

It's been pouring for hours outside your first-floor apartment, and suddenly, you see water seeping under the front door. A disaster like this could cause thousands of dollars in damage, and renters insurance likely won't cover it. So if your home is at risk, you might want to look into flood insurance for renters.

Does renters insurance cover flood damage?

Most renters insurance policies won't pay for damage due to flooding. One exception is USAA, which does include flood coverage in its standard renters policy. However, USAA's policies are available only to active military, veterans and their families.

Note that your renters insurance may cover certain types of water damage, even if you don’t have separate flood insurance. Say a windstorm knocks a tree through your window, letting in the rain. You’d likely have coverage for the subsequent damage to your stuff because most renters insurance policies pay for wind damage.

But most policies won't cover water damage from a river overflowing its banks, a hurricane-related storm surge or a flash flood due to heavy rain. For those, you'll need flood insurance for renters. Most people buy it through the National Flood Insurance Program, run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

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What does renters flood insurance cover?

Renters can buy what's known as "contents coverage" from the NFIP. This type of policy pays for damage to the personal belongings inside your home. (Your landlord is responsible for covering the structure of the building.)

Contents coverage pays for flood damage to things like:

  • Furniture.

  • Clothing.

  • Computers, phones and other electronics.

  • Original artwork and other valuables up to $2,500.

  • Washers, dryers and portable air conditioning units.

  • Other personal belongings.

You can buy up to $100,000 worth of coverage.

The NFIP covers your belongings on an "actual cash value" basis. That means that if you file a claim, you'll receive an amount equal to each item's value at the time of the flood. This payout will likely fall short of the amount you'd need to buy brand-new replacements for older items.

To be eligible for NFIP insurance, you must live in one of the more than 22,000 communities participating in the program.

What's not covered?

Federal flood insurance has several exclusions that renters should know about.

Additional living expenses

An NFIP policy won't cover the cost of living elsewhere while your home is being repaired after a flood. So, for example, if you need to stay in a hotel for a few nights or pay for restaurant meals while you're displaced, you'll have to cover those costs yourself.

Your car

Flood insurance won't help if you find your car up to its doors in floodwaters. Instead, the comprehensive coverage on your auto policy could pay for the damage.

Cash and valuable papers

If you've got stock certificates, money or other important documents in your home, flood insurance won't cover them. Consider keeping these items in an elevated, waterproof safe or a bank security deposit box.

Items in basements

NFIP flood insurance won't cover personal belongings in a basement, with very few exceptions. Washers, dryers and air conditioning units are covered, but furniture, clothing, electronics and other belongings aren't.

This coverage gap poses a significant problem for renters living in basement apartments. Such units may have a high risk of flooding, but federal flood insurance won't provide much financial protection.

If you live in a basement apartment, you can try contacting an independent agent to see if the private flood insurance market in your area offers any better options. Otherwise, it may be wiser to build an emergency fund instead of buying flood insurance, which wouldn't provide much financial support.

If a flood is expected in your area, FEMA recommends that basement renters move their valuables to higher shelves to protect them. If possible, you can also remove them from your apartment altogether.

Do I need renters flood insurance?

You can check your home's flood risk by entering your address into FEMA's Flood Map Service Center. If your home is located in a zone that starts with the letters A or V, you're in a "special flood hazard area," which means your home has a 1% or higher chance of flooding in any given year. Flood insurance is probably a good idea for those renting a house or first-floor apartment in one of these zones.

If you're in a high-risk zone and you've received federal disaster aid to replace personal belongings damaged by a flood at your current address, you'll likely need to buy flood insurance for as long as you live there in order to maintain eligibility for future disaster assistance.

Not located in a high-risk area? That doesn't mean you're home free. About 40% of NFIP claims from 2015 to 2019 (the most recent period for which data is available) came from policyholders who lived outside the highest-risk flood zones, according to FEMA.

🤓Nerdy Tip

Another source you can check to assess your flood risk is RiskFactor.com, a tool from the nonprofit First Street Foundation. It incorporates climate change projections to show how your flood risk might change over time.

Keep in mind that there's generally a 30-day waiting period between when you buy your policy and when your coverage takes effect — so you can't just buy flood insurance when you see a hurricane in the forecast.

How much coverage do I need?

Consider buying enough flood insurance to cover the value of all your personal belongings. The calculator below can help you quickly estimate the cost of your stuff.

🤓Nerdy Tip

If you're in a multistory home and your budget is tight, make sure that you have at least enough flood insurance to cover what's on the first floor.

How much is flood insurance for renters?

The NFIP advertises rates as low as $99 per year for its contents-only coverage. However, your rate will depend on various factors, such as how much coverage you need, the deductible you choose and the flood risk in your building. (A deductible is the amount of a claim you have to pay yourself.) Learn more about the cost of flood insurance.

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