Winter storm damage: Does renters insurance cover it?

winter storm damage
Winter storms can be pretty rough on homes and apartment buildings, which means they can be pretty rough on homeowners and landlords.

They’re less of a financial issue for renters (who don’t bear responsibility for structural repairs), but that doesn’t mean that snow, ice, and frigid temps can’t damage your belongings, or leave you with frozen pipes in an apartment. So, what happens when winter storm damage wreaks havoc on your home and belongings? It all depends on what causes the damage. In insurance lingo, these causes are called “perils.” If the damage is caused by a covered peril, such as a falling tree or excessive wind, your insurance will likely cover it. Read on to find out what kinds of damage your renters insurance will cover—and what it won’t.

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Does “loss of use” insurance coverage kick in if a roof collapses?

The answer is a bit complicated. Most flat roofs are built to withstand a certain weight of ice and snow, and most angled roofs are designed so that precipitation slides right off. But, there are times when winter storm damage is too much for a roof to bear.

If your roof caves in under the weight of accumulated snow and ice, or if an overloaded tree branch falls onto your home (both of which are covered perils), your renters insurance will typically pay for any resulting damage to your belongings. The roof repairs are your landlord’s responsibility, though your renters insurance may help foot the bill if you need to move out while repairs are being done. This kind of coverage—called “loss of use”—only kicks in if your home is truly uninhabitable due to a covered incident. So if it’s just a small hole and you can stay put while it’s being fixed, loss of use insurance likely won’t apply.

Does renters insurance cover melting snow?

Most likely, yes. If melting snow leaks into your home through the roof or ceiling as a result of winter storm damage, your renters insurance should cover any damage to your things, while your landlord (or landlord’s insurance) will be on the hook for structural repairs. Things may get a bit more complicated if the leak is the result of clogged gutters that were your responsibility to clean—if you live in a freestanding house, that may be a stipulation of your lease—but it’s likely your insurance will still help you replace your damaged belongings.

When are you definitely not covered for damage caused by melting snow? If snow melts on the ground and seeps into your basement (or basement apartment), that’s considered a flood, and floods aren’t covered by basic renters insurance. If you’re concerned about renters insurance and flood damage—from snow melt, rain, or a nearby body of water—you can purchase a separate flood policy for protection.

Does renters insurance cover frozen pipe damage?

Probably, so long as you’ve take the proper precautions to prevent it. Frozen pipes in an apartment or house can burst and cause serious damage, both to the structure of your home or apartment, and to whatever belongings are in the way of their spray. As long as you’ve taken appropriate precautions against frozen pipe damage, your renters insurance will kick in to cover possessions that are damaged by a burst pipe. Any damage that happens to the building itself will be the responsibility of your landlord.

But what are “appropriate precautions”? If you’re in an apartment building where you don’t control the heat, there’s not much for you to do to prevent frozen pipes in your apartment. But, if you’re in a single-family home, you’re expected to keep your place adequately heated in the winter months—even if you go away on vacation. So if you turn off your heat and skip town for the holidays, then return home to a burst pipe and a flooded living room, your insurance may decide that your behavior was negligent, and may not pay to dry out or replace your sopping wet stuff. The connection between frigid temps and burst pipes is so clear that many leases in cold-weather areas actually require renters to keep their homes heated to a minimum of 50 or 55 degrees in the winter.

Of course, some things just can’t be predicted. If your furnace fails while you’re at your parents’ house for the holidays, or there’s an unexpected cold snap when you head out on spring break, you should be covered for frozen pipe damage, such as a pipe that bursts as a result.

Does renters insurance cover power outages?

In general, a power outage caused by winter storm damage isn’t covered by renters insurance because it doesn’t typically cause direct damage to your belongings. Covered perils are incidents like those described above, fire or theft.

Additionally, loss of use insurance coverage doesn’t usually apply if your power goes out; loss of use tends to only kick in if there’s no way you can live in your place because of a covered incident, like a fire. That said, we know it can be incredibly frustrating that loss of use doesn’t apply here; after all, if your home doesn’t have power and it gets cold, what are you supposed to do? If you find yourself in that situation, make sure to follow tips to keep yourself safe—that’s the most important thing.

Also, consider calling your utility company to report the power outage and get an estimate for when the power will come back on. There’s one instance where your insurance company may make an exception, which is if the power outage is a result of a falling object (like a tree) landing directly on the power line connected to your building or house. Check with your provider to see what might be covered in this specific type of situation.

Does renters insurance cover slips and falls and other personal injuries?

It depends. In many places, the building manager or landlord is responsible for keeping an apartment building’s sidewalk and stoop free of ice and snow. If you live in a single-family home, your lease probably places that responsibility on you.

Does renters insurance cover personal injury, though? The liability portion of your renters insurance will likely cover any personal injuries that result from someone slipping and falling due to your poor de-icing skills (or the fact that you didn’t make it outside to clean the walk before your mailman arrived), but remember—your liability only covers people who are not members of your household.

The key here is that you didn’t intentionally cause anyone harm. Which means, in this case, the answer to the question, “Does renters insurance cover personal injury?” would likely be yes. It actually may not be covered if you know there’s an icy patch on your stoop, your landlord asked you to take care of it, and you ignored it anyway. Still wondering, “Is renters insurance worth it?” The truth is, renters insurance covers much more than you might think—including cracked phone screens, broken laptops, lost engagement rings, and even bedbugs. Learn more about what renters insurance covers >