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It's been pouring for hours outside your first-floor apartment, and suddenly, you see water starting to seep 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. For example, say a windstorm knocks a tree through your window, letting in the rain. The subsequent damage to your stuff would likely be covered because most renters insurance policies cover damage due to wind.
But most policies won't pay for water damage from a river overflowing its banks, a hurricane-related storm surge or a flash flood due to heavy rain. For that, you'll need flood insurance for renters. Most people buy it through the National Flood Insurance Program, run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
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:
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.
Your belongings are covered on an "actual cash value" basis. That means that if you file a claim, you'll be paid an amount equal to each item's value at the time of the flood. This price could 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 24,000 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 a few restaurant meals while you're displaced, you'll have to cover those costs yourself.
Flood insurance won't help if you find your car up to its doors in floodwaters. Instead, the comprehensive coverage on your auto policy would pay for the damage.
Cash and valuable papers
If you've got stock certificates, money or other important documents in your home, they won't be covered in case of a flood. Consider keeping these items in an elevated, waterproof safe or a security deposit box at a bank.
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.
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 for basement renters to build up an emergency fund instead of buying flood insurance, which wouldn't provide much. If a flood is expected in your area, FEMA recommends that you move your 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 zone," 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.
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.
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. (If you're in a multistory home and your budget is tight, make sure that you have at least enough to cover what's on the first floor.)
The calculator below can help you quickly estimate the cost of your stuff.