Does Renters Insurance Cover Tornado Damage?

Yes – many renters insurance policies include coverage for damage due to wind or windstorms, which naturally includes tornadoes.

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Tornadoes in the US

Tornadoes and severe thunderstorms are one of the top leaders of insured losses from natural catastrophes in the United States. On average, 1,200 tornadoes occur in the U.S. annually. However, in 2019, over 1600 tornadoes were recorded, and the number is expected to continue rising. Tornadoes are mostly concentrated on the Gulf coast, the southern and northern Plains, and the upper Midwest. However, tornadoes have been known to occur in the Pacific Northwest and the Southwestern United States. 

According to the Insurance Information Institute, tornadoes were responsible for nearly 40% of insured disasters from 1997 to 2016. In 2018 alone, insured losses due to tornadoes and thunderstorms exceeded $14 billion. The top three most expensive tornado disasters have occurred in the last ten years (twice in 2011, and once in 2019). 

Renters Insurance and Tornado Damage

Renters insurance can help you repair or replace property, especially in instances where a landlord has neglected to obtain insurance of their own. Generally, this type of insurance is based on specific types of damage rather than the type of storm (tornado, hurricane, snow, etc.). Personal Property Coverage covers belongings damaged caused by weather hazards such as hail, lightning, windstorms, or wildfires. 

When purchasing renters insurance, you can typically choose between actual cash value and replacement cost coverage. In the event of damage due to a tornado, the actual cash value would reimburse you for the depreciated value of the item before it was damaged. For example, if the item in question was a 50% used high-end shampoo from the salon that was purchased for $40, the actual cash value would reimburse you for $20 because that is the value of the item at the time it was damaged. 

By contrast, replacement cost coverage would reimburse you for the amount it would cost to buy a similar item right now. So, in the same example, it would cost you (in theory) $40 to replace your high-end shampoo right now – replacement cost coverage would reimburse you for the full $40. 

Personal Property Coverage also extends to the items in your fridge or freezer. Provided that the tornado caused a mechanical or power failure in your apartment, renters insurance policies will cover any refrigerated food lost due to spoilage. 

Renters Insurance – Additional Coverage 

Renters insurance can provide other assistance besides reimbursing you for the cost of any lost or damaged personal property. For example, renters insurance can pay for additional living expenses, such as hotel or food costs, if the home or unit that you are renting is left uninhabitable from a weather event like a tornado. This is especially critical for renters because a landlord is not responsible for finding you adequate housing if the property you are renting becomes inhabitable. 

Unfortunately, renters insurance generally does not apply in the event of a preemptive evacuation. So, in the case of a government-mandated evacuation, you may want to consider applying for federal disaster assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which can come in the form of grants or loans. 

Sometimes, people will try to pack as many of their highly valued possessions as possible to bring with them as they flee a storm. Although the general guidance in a tornado is to sit tight and weather the storm in a cellar or shelter, if you remove items from your home to protect them from damage, and they end up being damaged anyway, renter’s insurance can help to cover the costs of repairing or replacing those items.

Flood Damage and Earth Movement

Two things to consider that your renter’s insurance will not cover are flood damage and earth movement, even if they are an immediate consequence of a tornado. However, if a tornado rips the roof off your house (or otherwise significantly damages the structure) and rainwater enters your home, the resulting water damage would be covered. Although confusing, it only further underscores how important it is to read the specific language in your insurance policy and what type of damage was caused. 

If you live in an area that may be subject to flooding, earthquakes, or mudslides, you should speak to an insurance agent about what additional coverage may be a good fit for you. 

Final Thoughts

It is prudent to do a walk-through of your apartment or rental unit with a camera to photograph or video everything you own – from the towels in the bathroom, to the slippers by your bed, to all your pet toys. Doing so can help you assess the actual value of the items in your home and help you maximize your claim if you suffer personal property damage due to a tornado. 

Remember to take the time to read and understand your homeowner’s insurance so that you know exactly what is covered and what isn’t, and to talk to your insurance representative if you have any questions about what is included in your insurance policy.

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