Our pets are part of the family, but they can also be a pretty large liability. From dog bites to cats scratching the furniture, there’s a lot to think about when you bring an animal into your home. What will your renters insurance cover when it comes to your pet liability and damages?

What is renters insurance?

Renters insurance is similar to homeowners insurance but for renters. This includes if you’re renting a house, condo, or apartment. It can help cover your personal belongings from theft and damage due to covered perils, and it also can help cover personal liability if you are found at-fault for another’s injuries. See some scenarios where you might need renters insurance here.

Read: It’s My First Time Buying Renters Insurance, Where Do I Start?

Renters insurance usually doesn’t cover pet damage

Renters insurance only offers personal property damage coverage for “covered perils,” like fire or theft. Damages caused by your pets are not considered a covered peril. So if your cat tears up your leather couch or your dog swallows your engagement ring, your insurance company likely won’t pay out. You are responsible for any damage your dog does to your own property. Bringing a pet into your home is a risk that you assume.

However, if your dog damages someone else’s property (like pees on a friend’s expensive carpet or tears up their couch), your renters’ insurance liability portion might step in to cover their damages.

Renters insurance can cover pet liability

We know your dog would never hurt a fly, but things happen. Some dogs are more aggressive or dominant, or they don’t trust people in hats, or one day they’re in pain—and they bite a neighbor or friend. Even the most well behaved dogs can have a bad day for unknown reasons.

The CDC reported in their most recent data that nearly 4.5 million Americans suffer dog bites annually. (Over half of those bites are at home, but that’s still a large number that could make you liable.) Of those, 885,000 are severe enough to require medical attention.

These liability claims aren’t inexpensive. In 2019, the average cost for a dog bite claim was $44,760—which was up from $39,017 in 2018. Without renters insurance, that cost would be completely out of pocket for a pet owner.

Thankfully, renters insurance can cover liability related to your pet, but your insurer needs to know about your pet. For some dog owners and exotic pet owners, you may find that many insurance companies do not cover certain pets. This is due to increased risk of claims from certain breeds or animals. It’s best to disclose your pet, even if yours is one of the “riskier” breeds, since your coverage could be canceled and claims voided if your insurer finds out about an undisclosed pet.

If your policy’s coverage does extend to your pet, then that means if you’re sued for medical payments that you or your pet caused (accidentally), your insurance can help pay for the claim up to your limits. Whoever was injured can file a third party claim with your insurance company, and they’ll reimburse for those medical costs.

This can include incidents that happen on and off your property. So whether the dog bite is in your rented home or at a park or a friend’s house, your renters liability coverage extends everywhere (unless otherwise stated).

This liability also helps cover costs if your dog causes damage to another person’s property. For example, your friend is dog sitting while you’re on vacation, and your dog destroys their furniture. The liability part of your renters insurance may help pay your friend for the damages, up to your coverage limits.

Fun fact: When it comes to liability claims, you don’t have to pay your renters insurance deductible.

How much liability do I need?

What if your liability limits aren’t enough? How do you know if your renters liability will cover the cost of a dog bite or other pet problem?

If the cost of the victim’s medical payments are higher than your liability limits if your renters’ insurance, then you are personally responsible to pay the remainder out of pocket. That’s why it’s important to have enough liability insurance.

You want to make sure you have enough coverage so that situation doesn’t happen. You want at least $45,000 in liability coverage, since that’s the current average pay out for a dog bite (which is typically the most expensive pet-related liability). A lot of people will choose higher limits just in case. We typically recommend a minimum liability of $100,000 on your renters insurance for pet and other personal liabilities.

In general, you want enough liability to cover all of your belongings and assets in the case of a major lawsuit. If your renters’ insurance limits won’t go as high as you might need, you can consider an umbrella policy for supplemental liability insurance.

What if it wasn’t my dog’s fault?

Your insurance company will likely pay to defend you in court, covering legal fees and any settlement, up to your coverage limits. If you believe you or your dog aren’t at fault for the incident, you could go to court and have a judge decide the settlement. (Your insurance company will still only pay up to your renters insurance liability limits, including both the legal fees and the settlement. So, if you lose the case, you might have to pay the remaining amount of the payout.)

What about excluded dog breeds?

There’s an important exception to all this. Some insurance companies have “excluded dog breeds,” which means these breeds won’t quality for liability coverage. In some cases, the insurance company will simply not pay out for dog-related claims. In other instances, the insurance company might deny renters or homeowners coverage entirely if you own one of these dogs.

Every insurance carrier has its own list of excluded dog breeds, which might also be called: uninsurable breeds, prohibited breeds, or aggressive breeds. (How they choose the excluded breeds may be based on studies or on the carriers’ own claim history with certain breeds.)

If you have an excluded dog breed and can’t qualify for liability coverage, you can look into:

  • Umbrella insurance
  • Canine liability policy, which offers liability specifically for your dog (only offered by some carriers and price can range based on dog breed and history)
  • Certain insurance companies like USAA or State Farm
  • Talk to your InsuraMatch advisor to find the perfect policy for you and your pup—we can help!

An important note: Make sure you disclose all information about pets and your home. If you fail to disclose a dog because they are an excluded breed and later your insurance company finds out, they have the right to deny your claims or halt coverage altogether. It’s important not to lie or omit information with your insurance company.

Tips for your pup

  • Make sure your dog has all the necessary vaccines. This will help minimize any medical issues and damages if they bite someone.
  • to know your pet and their body language. Know when your cat is feeling threatened or your dog is about to get aggressive.
  • If you have an excluded dog breed or you know your dog can get aggressive or destructive easily, keep them in a safe home, away from excitable areas like dog parks as much as possible.
  • Train your dog. Bring him/her to a professional trainer. Dogs want to please their owners; they just need to learn how.
  • Play with and exercise your pets often. This will tire out your pet, so they’re less likely to get destructive at home.
  • Get your pet groomed often. This keeps their nails short and teeth healthy, so they’re less likely to do damage in your home.

Renters insurance and pet damage

Your renters (or homeowners) insurance will typically cover you under the liability portion of your coverage if your dog damages someone else’s property or injures a third party. It won’t, however, cover any damage your dog causes to your own property or family.

If you’re sued for damages your dog caused, your renters’ insurance will pay up to your liability limits. So make sure those limits are high enough to protect your assets in the case of a serious incident.

Make sure you and your pet are covered. Chat with an InsuraMatch advisor at (844) 522-0543 to find the right policy for your needs.

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