Does renters insurance cover earthquakes?

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Renters insurance covers your personal property from damage, referred to as insurance perils. A peril is an event that may damage your belongings and is specifically listed in your insurance policy. Common insurance perils include fire, lightning, theft, ice, snow, sleet, wind, hail, smoke, vandalism, and freezing.

But some events, including natural disasters, are not covered and require a separate policy.

Does renters insurance cover earthquakes?

Earthquakes, floods, government seizures, mudslides, ordinance updates, sewer backups and sinkholes are all perils that will not be covered by homeowners insurance, according to Hippo Insurance. Those will require add-on rider or separate coverage.

Renters will need separate earthquake insurance coverage.

*Available as add-on coverage

Flood insurance is separate coverage

What is earthquake insurance?

Although earthquakes are a regular occurrence in California, earthquake insurance is not required for California residents, according to the California Department of Insurance. However, it said that “if you have homeowners insurance in California, your company must offer to sell you earthquake insurance.” 

“Earth movement” coverage refers to shifts in land resulting from an earthquake, according to Steve Wilson, senior underwriting manager at Hippo Insurance. Aftershocks happen after an earthquake and can occur over a period of time up to 72 hours. 

FEMA has earthquake hazard maps that show the intensity and likelihood of seismic activity across the country. Even if you don’t live near a fault line, seismic activity can happen as seen in Oklahoma due to oil drilling activity, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

For renters who live in areas where earthquakes are rare, Wilson said most policy language offers coverage for “resulting damage.” For example, in New York City, earthquakes aren’t covered but if the earthquake caused a fire, damage from the fire will be covered.

It’s best to talk to your renters insurance carrier to determine if you need “earth movement” coverage or if standard renters insurance is enough.

How much is earthquake insurance?

According to the Insurance Information Institute, “rates for earthquake insurance can vary significantly deductibles for earthquake insurance plans are higher than those in standard homeowners or renters insurance, usually from 5 to 15 percent of the policy limit.”

If you are a California resident and having a hard time finding earthquake coverage, it’s available from the California Earthquake Authority (CEA).

Will renters insurance cover relocation?

Loss of use” coverage, also known as “additional living expenses” or ALE, is included in most renters insurance policies and provides reimbursement for temporary housing when a peril causes damage that makes your rental unit inhabitable. 

For “loss of use” and “additional living expenses,” much depends on your insurance carrier and it varies by provider. Some carriers will reimburse you for temporary housing. Others may have a list of housing alternatives.

Don’t assume that your insurance carrier will pay additional living expenses, because the definition of inhabitable varies by company. 

If you’re considering leaving your home due to earthquake damage, contact your renters insurance provider first and take detailed pictures of the damage. Make sure to lock up and secure the premises as well. 

What to do if you experience earthquake damage 

After experiencing a disaster, Wilson recommends staying in touch with your renters insurance company to let them know what’s going on at your home and take the following steps when submitting insurance claims:

  1. Contact the insurance carrier to file a claim in a timely manner. Also inform your landlord or property management company, as they are responsible for the building and structure.
  2. Take pictures of the damage before disposal and cleanup. 
  3. Prevent further damage to your property. 

Customer service is key for renters in disaster-prone areas. Renters need to understand the risks and have good coverage with an up-to-date policy. 

Is your renters insurance provider communicating with you about how to evacuate and file claims when a disaster is coming? Is your provider transparent about your coverage? Is your insurance company proactively reaching out to assist you? If not, consider changing your renters insurance company.

Ronda Lee

Associate Editor, Insurance

Ronda Lee is an associate editor for insurance at Personal Finance Insider covering life, auto, homeowners, and renters insurance for consumers. Before joining Business Insider, she was a contributing writer at HuffPost with featured articles in politics, education, style, black voices, and entrepreneurship. She was also a freelance writer for PolicyGenius. She worked as an attorney practicing insurance defense and commercial litigation. You can reach Ronda at rlee@businessinsider.com.

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