Does renters insurance cover mold? Not quite.

Does renters insurance cover mold?
Let’s talk about mold.

Not the fuzzy green kind growing on the take-out your roommate left in the back of the fridge, but the kind that grows on your stuff after a flood. Or spreads throughout the walls when you’re unfortunate enough to have a leaky pipe that’s hidden from view. It’s damaging, it’s hard to get rid of, it’s potentially toxic, and chances are it’s not covered by your renters insurance.

Does renters insurance cover mold?

Most people think mold coverage is part of their basic insurance plan, but it’s actually not. While some insurance companies will let you purchase an endorsement (i.e., extra coverage) for mold, for the most part, you’re on your own. Which is why, when it comes to mold, prevention is key. The best way to protect yourself from the costs of mold caused by water damage or other issues in the home is to make sure the mold never forms in the first place.

Why isn’t mold covered by basic renters insurance?

For the most part, mold isn’t really a renter’s problem. Instead, landlord liability for mold applies to many cases. If you notice a water stain on your ceiling and your landlord opens it up to find a leaky pipe—and an abundance of mold—it’s the landlord’s responsibility to repair the pipe, remove the mold caused by the water damage, and close up the ceiling. They still own the structure of your apartment or house, and thus landlord liability for mold means they’re financially responsible for maintaining it.

What happens when the mold is your problem?

Okay, so mold in the structure of your dwelling isn’t your problem. But what happens when the mold is your problem (i.e., when it’s growing on your stuff)? Is mold covered by insurance in these cases? It depends on what caused the mold, and whether the mold was preventable. Even if you’ve purchased mold coverage, for your renters insurance to kick in when there’s mold around, the mold needs to have been caused by a covered peril, and it can’t have been easily preventable.

Let’s break that down.

First, covered perils. Perils are things that cause damage, like fires and lightning strikes. Covered perils are damage-causing events for which your insurance will write you a check to cover the resulting damage. Certain things, like flooding and sewer backups, are generally not covered by renters insurance. If your mold is the result of a flood—a peril that isn’t covered by your insurance—the answer to, “Does renters insurance cover mold?” will likely be no, and you’ll be on your own when it comes to remediation. That’s where the second qualifier comes in—was the mold preventable?

Let’s say a pipe starts leaking into your apartment while you’re on vacation, and you return home to a living room full of damp, moldy stuff. That kind of leak and resulting mold caused by water damage is generally a covered peril, and because you weren’t home to take action, your insurance will generally help foot the bill for the resulting mold damage and remediation, provided you purchased extra coverage for mold.

But what if you were home when the damage occurred? You’re mid-Netflix-binge, minding your own business, when a pipe bursts in your apartment. The landlord handles repairs of the pipe and the wall, and you leave your waterlogged stuff to air dry, hoping for the best. A few days later, you notice mold growing on your sofa cushions, and you wonder, “Is mold covered by insurance and will that mean they’ll pay for a replacement couch?” Probably not.

In this case, the mold wasn’t really caused by water damage from the pipe, but by your negligence. You didn’t take the appropriate mold prevention measures to dry out your couch and stop the mold from growing in the first place. What could you have done differently? You could have alerted your insurance company to the water damage when it occurred—and stopped the mold before it formed.

The key is mold prevention.

Your insurance may not pay to get rid of mold, but it might have paid to prevent it. If you had told your insurance company about the burst pipe—a covered peril—they probably would’ve helped you clean up the mess.

Specifically, your insurance might have paid for professionals to come in with some heavy duty fans and dry out your sofa. Or, if the professionals deemed the sofa to be soaked beyond hope, your insurance probably would’ve paid for a replacement.

In the event of a smaller leak, you may not need professional-grade equipment, but you still need to take steps to dry out your stuff and carry out the appropriate strategies for mold prevention. Enlist your own oscillating fan, or a hair-dryer—whatever’s appropriate for the amount of water. If a rug is wet, pick it up to allow air circulation and speed up drying. In other situations, mold prevention is up to you. If you live in a particularly humid area, invest in a dehumidifier to keep your stuff from getting too damp. If you use your basement for storage, make sure your things are up off the ground and in water-tight containers. You can even throw some moisture absorbers in your storage boxes to help soak up any extra humidity.

And do your research. If your basement, or your building’s basement, has a history of flooding or sewer backup, find another place to stash your stuff. So, is mold covered by insurance? Well, mold may not be covered by your basic renters insurance, but with a little bit of foresight and mold prevention steps, you can try to make sure mold never becomes an issue.

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