What is Residential Landlord Insurance?

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Whether being a landlord is a side gig or your primary business, renting out property to tenants can be quite exciting—and a solid source of income. However, the buy-to-let industry is not without risks. To help protect you financially, the right landlord insurance policy can cover both liability claims and repair/rebuild costs if your property is damaged by fire, flood, theft, etc. Here's what you need to know, including the different types of landlord cover, common exclusions and who needs it.

What is Landlord Insurance?

Landlord insurance is customisable, but basic coverage typically starts with two types of protection: liability insurance and building cover:

  • Building insurance: Covers the property structure against damage or destruction due to fire, explosion, flood, theft, vandalism and other risks.
  • Property owners' liability insurance: Protects you financially against liability claims for injury to a tenant or visitor, or damage to their property.

From there, you can add other features as you see fit, such as:

  • Contents cover: Protects furniture or furnishings if your rental property is fully or partially furnished (and even carpets and curtains if it's unfurnished).
  • Accidental damage: Covers damage due to an unexpected accident (e.g., a tap being left on, accidentally breaking a window, a nail puncturing a pipe whilst hanging a picture, etc.). Can be purchased for the building, contents or both.
  • Rent guarantee: Also called tenant default insurance, this primarily covers rent if your tenant defaults (usually for up to six to 12 months).
  • Loss of rental income insurance: Covers lost rental income if your tenants are forced to move out because your property becomes uninhabitable due to a peril such as fire or flood.
  • Legal expenses: Provides access to an expert legal team and covers legal defence costs in case of contract disputes, debt recovery, property protection and other circumstances related to being a landlord.

What does Landlord Insurance Cover?

Depending on the specific coverages you buy, landlord insurance can cover damage to your building, furniture and furnishing, non payment by tenants, and liability. Let's look at some examples to see how the different options can work for you.

Landlord Insurance Examples

  • Building cover example: A fire in a residential rental causes major fire, smoke and water damage to your property.
  • Building cover example: Freezing temperatures cause a pipe to burst, resulting in a flood that damages the floors of a rental property.
  • Building cover example: During an attempted theft, burglars cause severe damage while trying to access the property.
  • Property owner liability cover example: A visitor to one of your properties trips on piece of loose carpet, injuring themselves.
  • Rent guarantee example: Your tenant losses their job and is unable to pay their rent; and they refuse to leave your property.
  • Accidental damage example: A tenant accidentally leaves the bath running when they get an emergency phone call and need to leave home, resulting in flooding.
  • Contents insurance example: A fire causes smoke damage in your buy-to-let flat, requiring you to replace the sofa, mattresses, carpets and drapes.

Below we explain the landlord insurance coverage options in more detail with in-depth definitions.

Building Insurance

Landlord insurance covers, at a minimum, the cost to replace or repair damage to your physical building and things permanently attached to it. Here are items commonly covered by the "building" portion of landlord insurance cover:

  • Building
  • Permanent fixtures and fittings (e.g., baths, fitted kitchens, wooden or tile flooring, etc.)
  • Walls
  • Gates
  • Fences
  • Yards
  • Car parks
  • Pavements
  • Piping
  • Ducting
  • Cables
  • Wires

Building insurance for a landlord might also include "alternative accommodation" coverage—this pays for alternative housing for your tenants if your rental property becomes uninhabitable due to physical damage like fire, flood, explosion or vandalism. If you don't have alternative accommodation cover, you're more likely to want loss of income insurance.

Note: the Financial Ombudsman considers carpets and some laminate flooring to be covered under contents insurance, not building insurance.

You might want contents insurance even if your properties are let out on an unfurnished basis. Why? Curtains and carpets typically aren't covered by building insurance—but they would be covered by contents insurance.

Risks

What risks does landlord building cover typically protect against? Policies may be written on an "all risk" or "certain risks" basis. An "all risks" policy does what it says and covers all risks, except those specifically excluded by the terms. On the other hand, a "certain risks" policy will specify the perils that are covered—it won't cover risks not spelled out in the policy wording.

Most landlord policies in the UK are written on a "certain risks" basis. While terms and conditions vary by insurer, it's common for the following types of scenarios to be covered by a landlord insurance policy in the UK—subject to conditions, of course:

  • Civil commotion
  • Earthquake
  • Escape of water
  • Explosion
  • Fire
  • Flood
  • Lightning
  • Malicious damage
  • Riot
  • Robbery
  • Storm
  • Theft

Property Owners' Liability

If a tenant or someone visiting your property is injured and they claim the building owner is to blame, you could be sued for negligence. A good landlord insurance policy will include property owners' liability coverage. It may be included for free along with your building cover, but some insurers might require you to pay an extra premium for it. Either way it protects against injury and property damage claims made by third parties (similar to how a public liability policy works).

Contents Insurance

If you let your properties out on a furnished or partially furnished basis, contents insurance can help protect household items like furniture and furnishings against loss or damage due to fire, theft, flood or other perils. It won't protect against damage like spills, however, unless accidental damage coverage is included.

That said, even landlords renting out property on an unfurnished basis might want to buy contents insurance, because it also covers carpets and curtains.

Accidental Damage

Accidental damage cover can be added onto contents insurance, building insurance, or both. Depending on the insurer and the tier of contents or building cover you buy, accidental damage protection might be included or else it could be sold as an add-on feature to your contents or building cover. It protects against accidental events like:

  • Contents accidental damage example: A glass of red wine spilled on a carpet or sofa
  • Building accidental damage example: Damage to a door frame when a tenant moves out
  • Building accidental damage example: A tenant's child accidentally kicks a ball through a window

Rent Guarantee Insurance

Also called tenant default insurance, rent guarantee insurance covers rental income not received if your tenant stops paying. This could happen if your tenant loses their job or faces other financial difficulties, for example. Rent guarantee insurance should also cover the costs of eviction if you need to go down that path. Not sure if this will affect you? Read about UK eviction statistics here.

Note: During unprecedented coronavirus times, some insurers have stopped selling rent guarantee insurance. And some landlords with existing rent guarantee policies are finding difficulty claiming.

Loss of Rental Income Cover

If an insured building is damaged and as a result you cannot rent out the property, rental income insurance protects you against the loss of income you experience as a result. It can also cover the cost of re letting the property and legal fees you incur in trying to avoid or limit the loss of income (e.g., if your property was awaiting sale and you need to cancel the sale due to the damage). Read about the differences between rent guarantee and loss of rental income insurance here.

Legal Expenses Cover

Legal costs insurance provides both access to a legal team and money to pay these experts if you have a contract dispute or need help with debt recovery, among other issues. Property owner legal expenses cover can protect landlords dealing with eviction of a tenant who has defaulted, for instance.

As always, be sure to read the fine print of any insurance contracts before you sign up to be sure you understand what is covered—and what isn't. While we've discussed what is typically covered for landlords in the UK, features, coverages and exclusions can vary from insurer to insurer.

Do I Need Landlord Insurance?

Landlord insurance is not a legal requirement for buy-to-let property owners in the UK, but going without cover can be extremely risky. Building repair or rebuild costs can reach into the tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds, depending on the damage and underlaying value of your building.

And if you have a mortgage and need the rental income to cover your monthly mortgage payments, then add-ons like tenant default/rent guarantee (e.g., if your tenant doesn't pay) and rental income cover (e.g., if your building is damaged and you cannot rent it out) can be critical for some landlords.

If you have a mortgage on your property, it's likely that the terms of the mortgage will require you to have a landlord insurance policy in place anyway before you rent to any tenants.

FAQs

The average cost of basic landlord insurance, including just building and liability cover, starts from £170 for a typical UK rental property. Add-on features like accidental damage, contents insurance and rent guarantees will increase the cost of cover.

Landlord insurance is largely customisable, depending on what specific coverages you need. That said, some insurers offer a landlord insurance package that includes certain elements of cover. At a minimum, landlord insurance would typically cover the building against named damages like fire, flood and vandalism, as well as your liability as a property owner. It can also cover contents, accidental damage, rent guarantees (if your tenant stops paying), loss of rental income (if your property is damaged and can't be rented out) and legal expenses cover.

Landlord insurance can include an element of building insurance coverage; but landlord insurance is different from homeowners' building insurance. If you have regular home building insurance and you decide to rent out your property, your existing building insurance policy will probably not cover you going forward. You'll need to contact your insurer to ask about switching to a landlord policy, or you can find landlord insurance quotes here.

No, landlord insurance does not usually cover tenants' belongings. Your tenant will need to take out their own contents insurance.

When deciding if they need contents insurance, landlords should first consider the value of the furniture and furnishings they own and use in their rental property. Be sure to include the value of carpets and curtains, as these are considered part of contents cover (not buildings). Next, see how much contents insurance will cost you. Contents cover typically costs in the range of £300 a year, but will depend on factors like the amount of cover you need.

Landlord insurance might cover non payment of rent IF your package includes rent guarantee insurance. You'll typically need to pay extra for this coverage, the cost of which will depend on the amount you charge for rent each month.

No, landlord insurance does not typically cover vacancy (e.g., if you're unable to find renters). That said, if you have loss of rental income insurance and your property is vacant because it's temporarily uninhabitable due to physical damage like fire then you might be covered for a period of lost rent.

No, you wouldn't need both a landlord policy and a separate homeowners' building policy. If you decide to rent out your property you'll need to switch to a landlord building insurance policy. You might be able to amend an existing building policy to cover your rental activities; but if your existing building insurance policy won't cover renting out the property then you'd cancel that and buy a separate landlord building policy. If renters aren't allowed on your existing policy, it won't do any good to keep paying for it.

No, landlord insurance is not compulsory or required by law. However, if you have a mortgage then you are probably required to have a suitable policy in place, or else you'd break the terms of your agreement.

Erin Yurday

Erin Yurday is the CEO, Co-founder and Editor of NimbleFins. Prior to NimbleFins, she worked as an investment professional and as the finance expert in Stanford University's Graduate School of Business case writing team. Read more on LinkedIn.

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