The proper rental property insurance coverage can protect you from losses caused by many dangers, including fire, storms, burglary, and vandalism. A comprehensive policy also includes liability insurance, covering injuries or losses suffered by others as the result of defective or dangerous conditions on the property. Liability insurance also covers the legal costs of defending personal injury lawsuits – a valuable feature because the legal defense costs of these cases are commonly much greater than the ultimate award of damages, if any.
The following list describes the three levels of coverage available for primary policies, all of which include liability coverage. Many insurance companies offer competitive insurance packages especially designed to meet the needs of rental property owners, so remember to shop around.
Basic coverage: Most companies offer a basic coverage package that insures your investment rental property against loss from fire, lightning, explosion, windstorm or hail, smoke, aircraft or vehicles, riot or civil commotion, vandalism, sprinkler leakage, and even volcanic eruptions.
This coverage often doesn’t include certain contents, such as boilers, equipment, and machinery unless specifically added as an endorsement. Based on the type of property you have, you may need to consult with your insurance agent about additional coverage that may be beneficial.
But just because you own a small retail strip center with a couple of plate glass windows doesn’t mean you need to have the special coverage that’s offered. Insurance companies often have minimum policy premiums, so certain insurable items and acts aren’t worth insuring because the potential for a claim is minimal and the costs are high.
Broad-form coverage: You get the basic package, plus protection against losses of glass breakage, falling objects, weight of snow or ice, water damage associated with plumbing problems, and collapse from certain specific causes.
Special form: This coverage is the broadest available and covers your property against all losses, except those specifically excluded from the policy. It offers the highest level of protection but is typically more expensive.
An insurance company can pay owners for losses in two ways:
Actual cash value: The coverage pays the cost of replacing property less physical depreciation. The standard policies most insurance companies offer provide for actual cash value coverage only.
Replacement cost: This coverage pays the cost of replacing the property without subtracting for physical depreciation. You must specifically have an endorsement and pay extra for replacement cost coverage. However, we do encourage you to purchase it.
As with homeowners’ insurance policies, the location, age, type, and quality of construction of your property are significant factors in determining your insurance premiums. Be sure to get an insurance estimate before you buy your property to avoid unpleasant surprises (older properties with wood shake shingles located away from fire protection may not even be insurable, for example) and realize the benefits of lower risk properties. For example, newer commercial buildings, and even some residential proper- ties, were constructed with fire sprinklers and alarms that reduce your insurance premiums – so do as monitored intrusion alarms).
Some insurance companies have a coinsurance clause that requires rental property owners to carry a minimum amount of coverage. If you carry less than the minimum amount of coverage, the insurance company imposes a coinsurance penalty that reduces the payment on the loss by the same percentage of the insurance shortfall. For example, if you carry only $1 million in coverage when you should have $2 million, you’re only carrying 50 percent of the minimum required insured value. If the building suffers a loss, the insurance company pays only 50 percent of the loss.
Many rental property owners first become investors by renting out their former personal residences when they buy new homes. They may not realize they should immediately contact their insurance agent and have their home- owners policy converted to a landlord’s policy, which contains special cover- age riders that aren’t in the typical homeowner’s policy. Because of the increased liability risk for rental properties, some insurance companies may not even offer this coverage, whereas others specialize in this business. Either way, obtain proper landlord’s coverage for your rental property, or you may face the possibility of having your claim denied.
If you own multiple investment or rental properties, consider
A single insurance policy that covers all locations: Rather than have separate policies for each rental property, you can get better coverage with a single policy. For example, if you currently have three properties each with a $1 million policy, you could get a single policy with a $3 mil- lion limit at a more competitive cost.
An aggregate deductible: An aggregate deductible is the portion of your loss that you essentially self-insure, because the losses at any of your three properties can go toward meeting the aggregate deductible.
Excess liability (umbrella) coverage
Excess liability (umbrella) coverage can be a cost-effective way to dramatically increase your liability protection and is designed to supplement your main or basic policies. An umbrella policy provides both additional and broader coverage beyond the limits of the basic commercial general liability insurance and other liability coverage and this coverage is only available after the primary policy limits have been exhausted.
Your primary policy may have liability limits of $500,000 or $1 million, but an umbrella policy can provide an additional $1 million in vital coverage at a cost of $2,000 to $4,000 per year. Depending on the value of your property and the value of the assets you’re seeking to protect, buying an umbrella liability policy with higher limits may make sense. Umbrella policies are avail- able in increments of $1 million with even lower rates per dollar of coverage as the limits go higher. The most common umbrella coverage amount for the owners of large investment properties now is $5 million at an annual cost of approximately $7,500 to $12,000.
Purchase your umbrella policy from the same company that handles your underlying primary liability insurance package. The reason: If you have two different insurers rather than just one, the companies may have different agendas if legal problems arise.