Renters' rights and flood insurance: From landlord disclosures to costs

Brittaney Wilmore Image
Wednesday, June 14, 2023
Renters' rights and flood insurance: 8 things to know
More than half of Houstonians are renters, and if you're one of them, here are some tips to know when it comes to buying flood insurance.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- More than half of Houstonians are renters, and if you're one of them, it's important you know what options are available to you to protect your valuables and property this hurricane season.

To get some questions answered, we talked to Andrea Kawaja with Afloat Insurance Agency.

1. Can renters buy flood insurance?

Renters can buy flood insurance. It doesn't matter if you live in a home, condo or apartment. And if you rent a business, you can get flood insurance to cover your inventory and business equipment.

2. If I have renters' insurance, do I need flood insurance, too?

You're encouraged to get both of these forms of insurance because the same storm can generate damage by tearing off a roof as it can by flooding a house three blocks away. So, you never know which side you're going to get.

But these are also two different types of insurance.

Kawaja explained it like this: Flood insurance only covers the single peril of flood, water coming into your home from the outside, while renters' insurance covers damage by other aspects of the storm, such as fire, lightning, wind, and hail.

For example, in January, we had the tornadoes that hit southeast Houston that affected several apartment buildings. Tenants with renters' insurance would have been covered for that loss.

3. How much do renters' insurance and flood insurance cost?

On the low end of the scale, renters' insurance could be as little as $20 a month, depending on how much you're looking to cover. Flood insurance is a different story. As of this past April, FEMA has fully implemented its new risk rating system that's property specific because 50% of claims were coming from areas outside of special flood hazard areas.

"It's based on latitude and longitude of that property. There is no one size fits all rate, and depending on where the residence is located, (it) could cost a few $100 a year, or it could cost over a $1,000 a year," Kawaja said.

It's not what anyone wants to hear, but flood insurance premiums have gone up as well. According to Insurance Council of Texas spokesperson Rich Johnson, when FEMA introduced the changes, it projected Texans would pay upwards of $10 more monthly. Johnson said that's now closer to $15 a month and increases are expected to continue over the next couple of years.

You can read more in this full report from ABC13's Nick Natario.

"The biggest misconception is that, in regards to flood insurance, your zone still matters, and it doesn't," Kawaja began. "Some properties in the 500-year floodplain can cost as much as a property in a 100-year floodplain, which basically means they share the same risk level. Flood maps are outdated, and they don't accurately reflect our properties' true risk of flooding."

4. Is there anything renters should know from their landlords before agreeing to rent a property?

As of January 1, 2022, Texas law requires landlords to tell potential renters two things:

-If they know the property is in a 100-year flood plain

-If the owner is aware of any flooding in the past five years

But remember, there's no guarantee that it won't flood where you live because that's just a disclosure.

5. What if I don't feel like I have anything worth covering with insurance?

There's a misconception among renters sometimes that what you own, your personal contents, isn't worth covering or that what you own needs to be expensive in order for you to insure them. But Kawaja says that's not true.

"Insurance is there to help you recover from a catastrophic loss. If you lost everything you owned in a flood or a fire, your insurance will help you pay for those items, whether it's a $10,000 couch or your couch from Ikea, and it'll also help you replace your toothbrush and the food in your pantry," Kawaja said.

"If you can imagine, you turn your home upside down and you shake it. Everything that falls out is your personal contents, and we usually think that it's just your furniture, your clothing, and electronics. But it is so much more than that," Kawaja added, explaining that it would also include household items like your bed sheets and bath towels, dishes and kitchen gadgets, and makeup. Again, it is everything you own."

6. Is it too late to buy flood insurance now that we're in hurricane season? Is there an ideal time to buy?

It's not too late. But remember, there's a 30-day waiting period before it goes into effect. Kawaja recommends buying flood insurance in January, February and March. Those are typically low storm seasons, but it also covers you for April. Yes, that's outside of hurricane season, but heavy rainfall like the 2016 Tax Day flood can be just as devastating.

7. What should you do if you have to file a claim?

"The first instinct is to clean up and throw everything away. But you shouldn't do that. The first thing you need to do is have a team of friends and family help. You gather all of your items and document everything that's damaged by photographs and by making a spreadsheet," Kawaja said.

When it comes to your electronics, put things like the model and serial number. You'll also want to include the age of the item and when you purchased it.

"While it may seem tedious, your insurance company can't pay you for your loss If they don't have an accurate report of everything they owe you for," Kawaja said.

Admittedly, you might not have those old receipts anymore. But for anything new that you buy, if there's an option to email yourself a receipt, do it so you can keep that paper trail.

8. What's one of the main takeaways when it comes to having flood insurance as a renter?

No two storms are alike. They're like snowflakes. So, just because you didn't flood during (Hurricane) Ike doesn't mean you didn't flood during Memorial Day. (It) doesn't mean you didn't flood during Harvey, and if you didn't flood, it doesn't mean you're not going to flood at the next one.

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