It's difficult enough to find a place to rent these day

s. Including a pet in your roommate mix adds an additional layer of stress. But landlords know it's a numbers game: about 34 percent of Americans are renters and 72 percent of them have pets.

While more properties allow pets (reportedly up to 78 percent of apartment buildings accept pets) and have pet-friendly amenities, there are often restrictions. With stiff competition, one way pet owners can snag a place might be to assure the landlord that they've got everything under control by having pet liability insurance for renters.

What is pet liability insurance?

In the insurance world, “liability is being responsible for damage to a third party, not damage to your own belongings or your own property," says Janet Ruiz, Director of Strategic Communication for the Insurance Information Institute.

When it comes to pet liability insurance, you're looking at being responsible for whatever your pet might wreck or harm. If your 20-gallon fish tank topples over and all the water soaks into and ruins the hardwoods in your apartment, that's on you. If your dog bites a neighbor, that's on you, too. And that is where pet liability insurance for renters comes in handy.

The difference between pet insurance and pet liability insurance

If you're thinking “pet insurance," you've gone off track. It's not the same as pet liability insurance. Pet insurance covers your pet's health care and veterinary visits — not whether your goat ate the landlord's prize-winning roses.

Where do I get pet liability insurance?

You can purchase animal liability insurance from any major insurance company, Ruiz says, or from an insurer dedicated to pets such as Xinsurance or Trupanion.

But your renters insurance should include liability coverage. That will cover your pet's, ahem, mistakes, as in injury to others or for property damage.

However, “some insurance companies have restrictions on which dog breeds they will cover," Ruiz says. “Be forthcoming and honest with your insurer so they know right up front if they won't cover your dog."

The list of what insurers consider aggressive or dangerous breeds may include Akitas, Alaskan Malamutes, Chows, Doberman Pinschers, German Shepherds, Great Danes, Pit Bulls, Presa Canarios, Rottweilers, Siberian Huskies, Staffordshire Bull Terriers and wolf hybrids.

Check state laws, too, since some have their own restrictions such as not allowing coverage through renters insurance for dogs with a history of biting. And if you've got an exotic animal, pay close attention to regulations — 13 states have partial bans depending on the animal, and only 14 allow exotic pets with either a license or permit.

Do I really need pet liability insurance?

“Yes, you really do," Ruiz says, “especially if you have a dog. On average, medical costs for dog bites and related injuries are about $50,000 per claim."

Unfortunately, dog bites cause between 30 and 50 deaths a year in the United States. But it's not just bites — your dog could knock someone over or scare someone who then trips and falls.

Ruiz's organization says that in 29 states, dog owners are liable for injuries their pets cause, with some exceptions such as if the dog was provoked.

Other scenarios covered by pet liability insurance

Here are other situations where liability insurance might come in handy:

Your cat urinates in the same spot on a carpeted floor to the extent that it soaks into and ruins the subfloor
Your pet scratches a guest who then needs medical attention. If they file a claim through your insurance and you're found liable, insurance should cover any fees.
Your dog breaks through a neighbor's screen door. If the neighbor files a claim through insurance and you're found liable, then your insurance should cover the damage.
Even if your animal isn't a hell-raiser, something could happen. For instance, an elderly neighbor could break a hip tripping over your sleeping cat.

What are the costs of pet liability insurance for renters?

Renters insurance is relatively inexpensive, between $200 and $400 a year, Ruiz says. Liability is part of that policy. “If you don't have a lot of assets, you might get a policy that covers $100,000 in liability, but if you've got more assets and are renting you might want $500,000 to $1 million in coverage."

It is within your landlord's rights to require you to have renters insurance, which will include pet liability insurance. Again, your coverage may change depending on where you live, the type and breed of your pet and your pet's history.

Your renters insurance company will only cover liability claims for qualifying events up to a certain limit. And, if your dog has a history of biting — your insurer might put a limit on your coverage. For example, if your insurer says they'll only cover $5,000, and your dog causes someone to have $8,000 in medical bills, you'll be on the hook for the $3,000 difference.

You might think it's crazy to need $100,000 in coverage, but keep in mind that in the case of a severe dog bite, medical and legal fees can land way beyond that figure.

What if renters insurance won't cover my pet?

Lending Tree's Value Penguin suggests buying a personal umbrella policy for additional coverage if your insurer won't give you enough liability insurance. This could happen if your insurer won't offer coverage because you have a dog on the “aggressive" dog list.

An umbrella policy is personal liability insurance that fills in the gap for claims that might be over and above what your regular renters (or homeowner's) policy covers. You'd want to have this type of policy so that you'd have enough liability insurance to cover all your assets and you won't lose everything in a lawsuit. The more likely it is that you might get sued, consider getting this additional coverage.

Safety net

Getting pet liability insurance for renters means more peace of mind and less stress. And that's good for everyone — you, your landlord, your neighbors, even your pet. Less worry means more time for fun. Go fetch!

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