Renters Insurance with a Dog? Yes and Yes.

February 13, 2020
Written by Lucy Murphy, CISR

apartment tenant with her dog needs renters insuranceCan you buy renters insurance with a dog in your apartment? Yes you can, and yes you should. Here’s why:

  • Dog bites cause over 800,000 serious injuries in the U.S. every year. Even if the bite victim was teasing or provoking your dog, you, as the owner, may be held liable (see below).
  • Securing renters insurance with a dog specifically added on the policy can help you fight and/or settle an injury claim. (Yes, you have to tell your agent you own the dog before something goes wrong.)
  • According to the Insurance Information Institute, the cost of a dog bite claim has risen 90% from 2003 to 2017, due to the heightened cost of medical care AND the size of the settlements judges and juries now award to plaintiffs.
  • In 2017, the average cost of a dog bite claim was $37,000. Some recent settlements go as high as $1.1 million. If you don’t have that kind of cash lying around (and heck, even if you do), renters insurance is a good idea.

Does Massachusetts hold dog owners liable for dog bites?

Yes. According to MA General Laws Ann 140, Section 155, a dog owner will be held strictly liable for damages caused by their dog, unless the victim was trespassing, teasing, or tormenting the animal. If the victim is under the age of seven years old, the presumption is that there was no trespass or provocation.

Does renters insurance cover dog bite claims and lawsuits?

It depends. If you disclose to your insurance company that you own a dog, and your dog is not on the company’s “blacklist” of breeds, you should be covered. But it’s always a good idea to discuss different scenarios with your agent before getting a dog. For example, your coverage limits might be insufficient (especially renters insurance coverage limits) for an injury that requires multiple surgeries, causes long-term nerve damage or emotional trauma.

To address gaps, your agent might recommend an umbrella policy. Umbrella policies exist to supplement the limits on your homeowners or renters insurance. An umbrella policy may also respond to broader types of loss events.

Can I get renters insurance with a dog of any breed?

Yes and no. Some insurance carriers will deny coverage for certain breeds of dogs. Some will offer you the coverage, but only after raising your premium or lowering your coverage limits. (This means they’ll pay out less if something ever goes wrong with your “high-risk” dog.)

Blacklisted breeds often include Pit Bulls, Rottweilers, Dobermans, Boxers, German Shepherds, and–believe it or not–Labrador Retrievers. If you think these carrier blacklists are unfair, you’re not alone. Experts say the lists are usually based on expensive claims these companies had to pay in the past, not necessarily on unbiased, scientific data.

Fortunately, not every carrier discriminates based on breed. And not every carrier will raise your rate just because you own a dog. So your best bet is to shop around–ideally, with an agent who has access to a variety of insurance carriers. Call our team of MA renters insurance experts: 508.339.2951 for any questions regarding your dog and your renters or home insurance options.

Does renters insurance cover property damage from dogs?

Not for your property, but maybe someone else’s.

Let’s face it: bites aren’t the only type of damage dogs can cause. Even the best-behaved dogs sometimes chew, dig, and… well… “go” where they’re not supposed to. Unfortunately, your renters insurance will not cover this type of damage in your own apartment. (Stained carpets and chewed couches are preventable, carriers will argue, not sudden and unforeseen events.)

On the other hand, if your pet damages a rug, sofa, etc. on someone else’s property… you might have coverage under your renter’s policy to repair/replace the item.

Does renters insurance cover roadway accidents caused by dogs?

Possibly. Car accidents caused by dogs are not on many people’s radar. But they should be. Why?

Thousands of free-roaming dogs are killed on U.S. roadways each year. Thousands more may escape injury, while still causing motorists to swerve to avoid them. If your dog breaks loose from his leash, squeezes through the backyard fence, or jumps from your car window into traffic, he becomes a risk to nearby drivers. If another driver crashes his vehicle and/or sustains an injury because your dog is in the street, guess who’s responsible?

In fact, renters and homeowners can be sued for violation of leash ordinances, by allowing their dog to “run at large.” Ask your agent if and how your policy might respond to a claim of this kind.

Is it too risky to own a dog?

Most of our team members at C&S Insurance own dogs, so we happen to think the benefits of adopting a dog outweigh the risks. Obviously, different people will think differently. If you’re worried about the risks that come with dogs, purchasing renters insurance is a great start. But please don’t neglect all the other risk-reducing steps you can take when buying or adopting a dog. Here’s a brief list:

  • First, be sure to socialize your dog from an early age. Help him or her learn appropriate behaviors when meeting new people and animals.  Puppy classes offer great opportunities for socialization. Frequent walks and early “play dates” are also a good idea.
  • Second, get your dog spayed or neutered. According to the MSPCA, dogs that are unspayed/unneutered are 2.6 times more likely to bite than fixed animals.
  • Practice obedience training.
  • Don’t play aggressive games (or chase games) with your dog.
  • Teach kids how to interact with dogs.
  • Never leave your dog unsupervised with children, especially if the dog is not already familiar with the child.