Most people know that homeowner’s insurance covers damages from wildfires, but what about renters? If a wildfire forces you to evacuate, even if you don’t lose your belongings to the wildfire, you might be able to recover compensation for additional living expenses. However, you must meet your insurance company’s requirements to be eligible.
What to Do if You Were Ordered to Evacuate Due to a Wildfire?
If a wildfire forces you to evacuate under mandatory evacuation orders, you should contact your renter’s insurance company as soon as possible to learn whether your policy covers additional living expenses.
If your insurance company covers you under a mandatory wildfire evacuation, you must provide proof of those expenses. Be sure to save every receipt, whether for lodging, food, a temporary rental, furniture rental, and other additional living expenses.
How to Make Sure You Have Coverage and Can Make a Claim?
Before you get stuck having to evacuate, find out if your renter’s insurance policy covers additional living expenses. You should also be prepared to prove what valuables you had in the rental should it burn. It’s best to get your ducks in a row now, as you won’t have time to do it once a wildfire heads your way.
Sometimes the fire could completely miss you, and other times, with a shift of the wind, you could find yourself right in its path with very little time to evacuate.
- Review your renter’s insurance policy. If you are unsure whether the policy covers additional living expenses or what kind of property it covers, call your agent to find out. Increase your policy if the renter’s insurance doesn’t cover additional living expenses or very little of your personal valuables. If your current rental insurance policy doesn’t cover what you need, you might shop around for another rental insurance policy.
- Make sure you know how to file a claim. You’re best off hiring a wildfire lawyer to do this for you.
- Create an inventory of your possessions. Take pictures of everything. If you have receipts for them, scan them and the photo of that item into a document and save it. Once you have everything documented, upload the inventory list to a secure cloud account. You should also forward a copy to a second cloud account with another provider if something happens to the first account.
- Make additional copies of insurance policies for your renter’s, health, vehicle, and life insurance. Scan them to your computer and then upload them to both cloud accounts. Make an extra copy of the policies and keep them in a climate-controlled and guarded storage unit. Should something happen to one of the cloud accounts or the storage of your documents, you’ll have an extra backup. And, if you use a document storage facility to store your documents, you’ll be able to retrieve them whenever you wish and you won’t have to spend much time looking for them.
- Copies of other important documents, such as your license, vehicle insurance, and registration. Keep the originals in a climate-controlled room, so the humidity and dampness cannot destroy them.
- Program your insurance agent’s phone number into your phone.
Renter’s Insurance Coverage After a Wildfire
Even if the fire doesn’t burn the building, your personal property could suffer from smoke and soot damage, water damage, and mold. If the fire gets close enough to the building, firefighters may spray water on or near your rental. If the water gets inside your rental, it will cause mold to grow.
You need to clean up the water damage as soon as possible, as mold will start to grow within 24 hours. However, in many cases, you cannot return to a fire zone that soon. You not only have to deal with water damage but could lose personal property to mold.
As with any other type of insurance, renter’s insurance will try to pay as little as possible. Every claim it must pay means a cut into its profits. If you have trouble recovering the compensation you deserve, you might need to retain an attorney to help the insurer understand your full losses.
Once you put a claim in and the insurance company forwards you settlement documents, you should retain a renter’s insurance attorney to review the claim and your losses.
You will need to provide proof of your losses. The easiest way to do that is to have photos of your personal property and receipts for each purchase. At this point, an inventory list comes in handy if you keep an inventory list with attached photos and receipts, you can recover compensation much more quickly. Most insurance companies will not pay for personal items lost to a fire or smoke, water and mold damage unless you can prove you owned the property.
Who Can Obtain Renter’s Insurance?
Anyone renting an apartment, house, condo, townhouse, or other living space in California can obtain renter’s insurance. The policy protects your personal property only not the structure. Your landlord should have insurance that protects the structure.
Should I Take out a Renter’s Insurance Policy if I Don’t Have a Lot of Personal Property?
Even if you think you don’t have much say you are a student you should still have renter’s insurance. Renter’s insurance covers much more than damage from wildfires. Before you purchase a policy, shop around for prices and check coverages.
Fire, theft, floods, and other dangers could instantly take everything you own. If you can’t afford to replace it, you need insurance. Even if you can afford to replace it, why take on the financial burden when you don’t have to?
Even if you have used furniture you believe is nearly worthless, it’s important to have renter’s insurance as it pays enough to purchase new furniture. Additionally, if you cause damage to another’s property, the renter’s insurance protects you from paying damages. For example, if you were cooking and turned away for a minute, then a grease fire started, your neighboring tenants might sue you over their losses. Your renter’s insurance often protects you from such situations.
How Much is Enough Renter’s Insurance?
You can obtain renter’s insurance to cover as little as $15,000 but is that really enough? It might be enough if you have a few pieces of furniture, clothing, and school books. However, if you inadvertently caused damage to other renters in your building, the renter’s insurance could cover you if someone sues you.
You can best determine how much renter’s insurance you need by adding up the value of everything you own the replacement value, not the value of your possessions if you were to sell them. When you total everything up, add 50 percent for all the items you likely forgot.
While you are doing this, you should take a photo of everything you own you will need to prove that you owned it to collect from the renter’s insurance. Once you have a list and photos, upload a copy to a secure cloud account. Your computer or phone might suffer damage in a fire, theft, or other disaster. When you use a secure cloud account, the list is available from anywhere you can log in.
When considering the amount you should have for liability coverage, consider choosing at least $300,000 instead of the $100,000 that most landlords require. It doesn’t cost much more to get significantly more coverage and it will protect you in the event you cause damages.
New Rental Insurance Laws
Commissioner Ricardo Lara, the commissioner of the Department of Insurance, sponsored a bill written by Sen. Bill Dodd.
Senate Bill 872, which Gov. Gavin Newsome signed in 2021, created new protections for wildfire survivors, including:
- Before this bill, insurance companies could deduct the land value from a homeowner’s insurance claim for wildfire damage. That practice usually forced people to rebuild in the same place. Under the new bill, insurance companies can no longer deduct the value of the land from the claim, meaning claimants can move and rebuild in a different place. This change could affect a renter if a landlord chooses not to rebuild in the same place. Renters in this position should contact a renter’s insurance attorney to learn more about their options.
- Renters and homeowners under mandatory evacuation because of a wildfire can receive additional living expenses for up to two weeks. However, the renter can ask for extensions if they cannot gain access to their rental after two weeks.
- If a rental or home becomes uninhabitable because of a wildfire, even if the damage is not to the home, insurance companies cannot restrict additional living expenses. In prior cases, insurance companies would restrict additional living expenses even though water and power lines were damaged while the home was not. The restrictions forced people to pay out of pocket for living expenses or move into a home with no water or power.
- If the renter or homeowner suffers a total loss because of a wildfire, the insurance company must provide the residents at least four months of additional living expenses. With proper documentation, the insurance company must pay additional benefits if a consumer requests them.
- While it is best to use a company-specific inventory form to document the loss of personal belongings, it is not a requirement. The inventory list could include groups of items instead of listing everything out. For example, instead of counting the number of shirts you have, you could list all clothing on one line as “clothing.” Other items that qualify for groupings include DVDs, food items, books, and shoes.
Finally, if a renter or homeowner was in a mandatory evacuation zone, insurance companies must allow a 60-day grace period on policy premium payments.
However, just because the law states an insurance company must take certain actions doesn’t mean it will not still try to get out of paying your full expenses.
While the state legislators and the governor approved and signed off on Senate Bill 872, insurance companies did not support the legislation and will still use tactics to try and reduce the compensation you recover.
You could run into a situation where the insurance refuses to pay the compensation you deserve after a wildfire. Thus, you must keep receipts showing your additional living expenses. You must also keep receipts for any large purchases you make before a wildfire. Scan the receipts and keep them with your inventory list and photos. If your renter’s insurance company gives you trouble paying out the money you deserve, a renter’s insurance attorney can help.
Contact a wildfire attorney for a case evaluation if you suffered losses because of a wildfire and are having trouble getting your insurance company to pay what it owes you.