Solved! Does Homeowners Insurance Give You Both Property and Liability Protection?
The specifics of your policy will determine what is covered, so it’s important to understand the different aspects.
Q: We had a small kitchen fire and sustained a fair amount of damage and lost property. In addition, a neighbor suffered a minor injury while helping us get our pets out of the home. A friend suggested that our homeowners insurance might cover the cost of his medical treatment. Does homeowners insurance cover both property and liability?
A: Thank goodness you and your pets are safe and that your neighbor was only slightly injured! Figuring out what your insurance will cover after an incident can be difficult, if only because such an experience can leave you rattled and upset. This is a good reminder to familiarize yourself with your insurance policy and coverage before you need to use them. In this case, whether or not your neighbor’s injury is covered by your home insurance will depend on your particular policy: If your policy includes liability coverage, your plan will most likely cover the cost of your neighbor’s medical treatment. But there are other things to consider as well. Homeowners insurance will likely cover the repairs to your home, the remediation of smoke and water damage, and the property damaged or destroyed in the fire, but it may also cover the cost for you to stay in a hotel or short-term rental unit if you need to be out of the house while it’s repaired. As with any policy, the answers are in the details of the policy, but most homeowners insurance gives you both property and liability protection.
Homeowners insurance covers the structure of your home against natural disasters and other perils.
Standard homeowners insurance covers the structure of the home—it is literally house insurance. In the event of fire, hurricanes or winter storms, hail, lightning, tornadoes, or any other natural disaster listed in your policy, the insurance company will pay for repair or rebuilding of the structure to bring it back to the condition it was in before the incident (or better!). It will not cover flood or earthquake damage, nor will it cover landslides or sinkholes—if you live in an area prone to these types of natural events, you’ll need to purchase coverage separately for the damage caused by them.
Homeowners insurance will cover damage, but it will not pay for repairs that result from regular use, age, or wear and tear. It may fix the damage caused by age or wear and tear—for example, homeowners insurance will pay for the damage caused by a burst pipe—but it will not pay for the repair of the burst pipe itself, if the incident was caused by a maintenance issue. If maintenance and repair costs are a primary concern for you, consider a home warranty to complement your homeowners insurance policy. In the case of the burst pipe, the warranty will pay to repair the pipe, and the homeowners insurance will cover the cost of repairing the damage, so you’re fully covered, less the cost of any deductibles.
Personal property insurance is often part of homeowners insurance, but there are coverage limits to keep in mind. This protects personal belongings like bikes, clothing, or furniture.
Most people expect that their homeowners insurance will cover personal property that is damaged by the same kinds of events that can damage the structure of their house: storms, fires, theft, and vandalism. What you may not realize is that your policy will also cover your personal property if it is stolen or damaged “off-premises,” or when it is not present in your insured home when the damage or theft occurs. Your policy documents will tell you what percentage of the replacement cost will be covered. All of the items in your home fall into this category, although more expensive items such as jewelry, furs, antiques, or musical instruments will be quite limited in their replacement coverage unless you add a special rider or endorsement to your policy to cover them at full replacement value. Excluded from this coverage is equipment and supplies kept in your home for use in your small business or home office—you’ll need a separate business policy for those items.
Homeowners insurance often comes with liability protection.
Your dog bites your neighbor: Are the medical expenses covered? Yes—if you’ve opted for a plan that includes personal liability insurance. There are limits, of course. Fido’s first outburst will likely be covered, but after that you’re probably on your own. Liability coverage protects you from medical expenses and lawsuits brought by people who have been injured while on your property or by your (or your dog’s) actions. There are limits to this coverage, however; many insurance companies limit their liability coverage based on what’s in your yard. A large trampoline, an expansive swimming pool with a slide or diving board, or certain breeds of dogs can reduce or negate your personal liability coverage, so read the exclusions on your policy carefully, and if you have high-risk items like these, openly address and discuss them with your insurer. There’s no benefit to avoiding the subject and hoping you’ll be able to claim ignorance later.
Another element of liability insurance that may surprise you is coverage of legal fees and compensation following an event of identity theft. Repairing your credit, recouping lost money from your accounts, and staving off creditors can take considerable time and money, and more and more insurance companies are accepting identity theft as a coverable incident.
Additional living expense coverage covers you in case you cannot live in your house.
One expense most homeowners don’t anticipate when they think about damage to their home is that the home might be uninhabitable while repairs are completed following damage. While it’s sometimes possible to bunk with friends or family for a few days, longer-term repairs can take weeks or months, and you’ll eventually wear out your welcome. In most cases, if the event that precipitated your move out of the home is covered, your homeowners insurance will cover the cost or a portion of the cost of a hotel stay or short-term rental dwelling. Some policies will also cover meal costs while you’re staying at a hotel and other incidentals that are required as a result of moving out of your home. Policies vary on the level of coverage, length of coverage, and coverage maximums, so check your policy carefully to determine what your options are.
The best homeowners insurance policy for you protects you and your home from the greatest risks.
Choosing your options when you purchase homeowners insurance can feel like navigating a maze. There are varying levels of coverage: Do you want to pay lower premiums but only get actual cash value back on covered items? Or would you rather pay a higher annual premium in exchange for complete guaranteed replacement cost? Then there are choices about how to balance the premium and deductible against each other, items you’ll want to add special endorsements to cover, such as precious antiques or important jewelry, and increased liability coverage when your teens begin driving. Depending on where you live, you’ll need to consider separate flood or earthquake insurance and decide what degree of policy you want overall.
While homeowners insurance is almost always required by mortgage lenders (and is always a good idea whether required or not), it is important to understand that these are choices that you can match up with your needs, your home’s location, and your tolerance of risk. The best policy for you will include enough coverage that you feel secure—after a careful assessment of your policy, can your homeowners coverage keep you afloat after serious damage to or on your property? If the answer is yes, then you probably have the right policy. If the answer is “Maybe,” “I’m not sure,” or “Uh-oh, I think not,” then a call to a homeowners insurance agent to ask some questions may be in order.