What Is Renters Insurance, and What Does It Cover?

Renters insurance can be a smart (and affordable) investment, but it doesn't cover everything.
Sarah SchlichterJul 1, 2021

Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This may influence which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own. Here is a list of our partners and here's how we make money.

What’s inside

Key takeaways

One of the perks of renting is that it’s your landlord’s responsibility, not yours, to insure the building and make repairs when necessary. But as a tenant, you’re not off the hook completely. Your landlord’s insurance won’t pay to replace your belongings if a storm destroys the building or a thief breaks into your apartment. If you want coverage for these and many other disasters, you’ll need a renters insurance policy.

Renters insurance covers your personal belongings and provides liability coverage when you’re living in an apartment, house or condo that you don’t own.

Also known as tenants insurance or an HO-4 policy, renters insurance is similar to in that it covers many of the same scenarios — such as fire and theft — but it’s much cheaper because it only includes what’s inside your home and not the structure itself.

» MORE:

A standard renters policy covers your personal items, pays your expenses if you need to relocate temporarily during covered repairs and includes liability insurance in case you are sued for negligence. Below are the four types of coverage included in most renters insurance policies.

Most renters insurance reimburses you for the loss or destruction of items such as clothing, jewelry, smartphones and other personal belongings due to 16 specific events:

Note that your personal belongings aren’t just covered when they’re in your home, but also when you’re out and about. So if your bike is stolen outside a store, or a pickpocket nabs your phone when you’re traveling abroad, your renters insurance policy will cover you — with a few caveats. First, your deductible will apply, and second, there may be a limit on how much coverage you have outside your home (typically 10% of your total personal property limit).

If your home becomes uninhabitable due to circumstances covered by your policy, renters insurance coverage generally pays for additional living expenses as your home is repaired. These include hotel bills, restaurant meals and other costs above what you would normally pay.

If someone is injured in your rental and sues you, a lawsuit could wreck your finances for years. The liability portion of your renters insurance policy covers you in these events, paying out for someone else’s bodily injury or property damage. It also covers damage you and your family accidentally do to others.

may also pay out if your dog bites a visitor, neighbor or stranger, either on or off the property. However, some insurers exclude dog bites or certain breeds from renters policies, so if you have a dog, check with your agent to be sure you’re covered.

Renters insurance typically covers legal representation in a lawsuit and any money awarded to the other party.

Similar to liability insurance, this coverage pays out if someone is injured on your property. The difference is that medical payments coverage will pay no matter who’s at fault for the injury, while liability insurance is triggered only if you’re found responsible.

In addition to the standard coverage listed above, you can usually pay a little extra to customize your policy with endorsements that add extra coverage. Here are a few of the most common.

A standard renters policy pays to replace your belongings based on their “actual cash value.” That means if your ruined sofa is 10 years old, your claim check would be enough to buy a used sofa. To get a new one, you’d pay the difference yourself.

With replacement cost coverage, you’ll get the actual cost of replacing your possessions with new ones. In the example above, you’d receive enough from your insurer to buy a brand-new sofa.

Renters policies typically cap the amount they’ll pay out for valuable items such as jewelry, firearms and electronics. To get coverage for items that are worth more than this limit, you may want to add a scheduled personal property endorsement to your policy.

For example, say you’ve inherited a diamond ring from your grandmother. Your insurance company will likely ask you to get it professionally appraised and then add specific coverage for the ring onto your renters policy (for an extra cost).

Some insurance companies offer optional coverage for expenses associated with identity theft. This may include credit monitoring services, coverage for legal fees and help replacing your documents.

Every insurance policy has exclusions, and renters insurance is no exception. Below are a few things renters insurance won’t pay for.

Most renters insurance won’t cover damage from flooding, so you’ll have to pay for repairs yourself or purchase separate if your home is at risk. (One exception is, which includes flood coverage as a standard part of its renters policies. USAA insurance is only available to active military, veterans and their families.)

Earthquakes are another disaster that won’t be covered by the majority of renters insurance policies. (Again, USAA is an exception.) You can buy  separately or as an endorsement or rider to your renters policy.

Most renters insurance, mice or other unpleasant infestations.

However, you may be able to get bedbug coverage with an renters policy, depending on where you live. Another option is , which is available only at participating properties but includes $300 worth of bedbug coverage in its basic policies.

Most renters insurance won’t cover your roommate’s possessions unless the two of you share a policy, which not all states or insurance companies allow. In most cases, it’s best if you each get your own renters policy.

» MORE:

No, but some landlords require proof of renters insurance before you sign a lease, or within a certain time period. Usually, though, it’s your call.

If your worldly possessions amount to a futon, a coffee maker and a toothbrush, you probably don’t need renters insurance.

But for everyone else, it can be a smart (and surprisingly affordable) investment that could prevent you from paying out of pocket to replace everything that could be damaged or stolen: your jewelry, TV, computer, furniture, clothing and so on. And a landlord’s insurance policy won’t pay for your living expenses while the building is under repair, either. Renters insurance generally does.

» MORE:

The amount of renters insurance you need depends on how much stuff you have and what your savings and other assets are worth. The more you have to lose, the more insurance you need.

Before buying renters insurance, take stock of your belongings to decide how much personal property coverage you need. Several home inventory apps are available to help you catalog your possessions. This can also be useful if you ever file a claim.

To get an idea of how much your belongings are worth, use our renters insurance cost calculator below.

Liability limits typically start at $100,000 and top out at $500,000. You’ll want at least enough to protect your current assets, including savings and any vehicles, because they're part of your and could be seized in a lawsuit.

» MORE: 

The varies from state to state but is generally about $14 a month, according to NerdWallet's rate analysis. Most insurance companies offer discounts if you bundle your auto and renters insurance policies, or if your apartment has a security system, smoke detectors or deadbolt locks.

If you’re looking for more ways to save money, consider raising your . That’s the amount that will be subtracted from an insurance claim check.

For example, if you have a $1,000 deductible and a claim for $5,000 in property damage, your insurance check will be for $4,000. The higher your deductible, the cheaper your premium.

When deciding on a deductible amount, ask yourself: How much can you pay out of pocket in the event of a disaster? Keep in mind that you’ll pay the deductible each time you file a claim for personal items. Your rate is likely to increase after each claim, so weigh carefully whether to file one for an amount close to the deductible.

» MORE: 

Ready to buy a policy? Take these steps.

1. Evaluate your needs. Figure out how much coverage is right for you by using the calculator and tips above.

2. Research insurance companies. Most major U.S. insurers sell renters policies, including,,, and. You may also want to consider newer insurance startups such as and Toggle, which offer quick coverage, slick apps and affordable rates.

3. Shop around. We recommend getting from at least three companies. You can generally search for quotes online or call an agent to talk through your options.

» MORE: 

On a similar note...
Dive even deeper in Insurance