Commercial Property Insurance Coverage’s
Commercial property insurance helps businesses, including farms and ranches, pay to repair or replace buildings, associated structures, and contents damaged by fire, storms, theft, and other events outlined in the policy.
This publication provides general information about the kinds of commercial property coverage that are available in general. It can help you evaluate different commercial property policies, understand how rates are determined, and ask the right questions when shopping for insurance. You should review your policy carefully to understand your specific coverage.
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Business owners who either own or lease their buildings may purchase commercial property insurance. It’s important for a tenant business to understand that the building owner’s insurance policy will generally only cover the building or structure, not the contents of the building belonging to the tenant. Tenants should purchase their own policies to insure their on-premises property, such as machinery, furniture, and merchandise. An insurance company will evaluate factors such as a structure’s location and construction materials to determine the likelihood of a property loss. The cost of tenant coverage will generally be significantly less than for owned property coverage because the policy will only apply to the leaseholder’s on-premises property and not the building.
Typically, businesses operating on multiple premises are covered by a single policy. In certain instances, such as when two business locations serve different functions and have different risk profiles, separate policies may be needed. This may be the case when a business insures both an office location and a factory, for example.
A commercial property policy may pay based on either the “actual cash value” or “replacement value” of a loss. An actual cash value policy will pay only the amount of the property’s worth at the time of the loss Worth is determined by the value of the property minus depreciation due to age and normal wear and tear. A replacement value policy will pay to purchase new property of like kind and quality after a loss. In general, a replacement value policy better ensures that a business can fully recover after a significant loss. Replacement value policies are typically more expensive than actual cash value coverage because the policy limits should reflect the cost to replace damaged property with new property.
Almost all policies have a “deductible,” which is an amount the business must pay out of pocket toward the cost of a claim before the insurance company will pay. Generally, the higher a policy’s deductible, the lower its premium will be because the policyholder is accepting a greater share of the cost of any eventual claims. Most policies will also include a “policy limit,” which is a maximum amount the insurer will pay toward any covered loss.
Insurers use a process called “underwriting” to evaluate the likelihood that a given policyholder will file a claim for a loss. The greater the likelihood, the higher the premium will be. If an insurer determines that a business poses too great a risk of a loss, it may decline to issue a policy entirely. If your business is declined for coverage, keep shopping; companies have their own criteria for determining whether to issue coverage and the rate to charge. If one company turns you down or is too expensive, another may be willing to issue coverage or offer a lower premium. There may also be certain steps your business can take to lower its risk and either qualify for coverage or get a lower rate.
Different types of commercial property policies protect against different risks, or “perils.” It’s important to understand which types of losses a policy does and does not cover. A commercial property policy will almost never cover any loss that is either not specifically included in the policy language or is specifically excluded. Therefore, be sure you read a policy carefully before you purchase it. You may need to buy certain specialized policies, such as flood, windstorm, or crime coverage to be protected from those particular losses.
Commercial property insurance is not standardized in many states. Insurance companies must comply with minimum requirements but have a great deal of flexibility to develop their own policies. As a result, the coverage provided by one insurer’s policy may differ substantially from that of another. When shopping for commercial property insurance, be sure to evaluate the costs and coverages of the policies you’re considering.
Common commercial property coverages
Commercial property policies generally fall into one of three categories:
Basic form policies typically cover common risks or perils, such as damage caused by fire, lightning, vehicles, aircraft, or civil commotion. Most basic form policies also cover damage from windstorms, except in counties on the coast, where businesses will likely need to purchase a separate policy for windstorm protection.
Broad form policies typically provide basic form coverage plus coverage for additional perils, such as water damage, structural collapse, sprinkler leakage, and losses resulting from ice, sleet, or weight of snow.
Special form policies cover against all types of losses except those specifically excluded by the policy. Common special form exclusions include losses resulting from flood, earth movement, war, terrorism, nuclear disaster, wear and tear, and insects and vermin.
Many business owners buy additional coverages. Some are available as separate policies, and others are available as endorsements, or “riders,” that enhance or amend a policy’s base coverage. Generally, adding endorsements to a policy will increase your premium. Ask your agent about these additional coverages:
Liability insurance. Protects against the cost of lawsuits and possible court judgments.
Business interruption coverage. Pays for actual or projected income lost when a covered peril prevents normal business operations. Coverage forms can be added to a commercial property policy that provide only business income coverage, only extra expense coverage, or a combination of both in the same form.
Extra expense coverage. Pays any added costs a business may incur resulting from the need to expedite the return to operations after a covered loss.
Building occupied by the insured. Covers a building that the insured regularly uses but does not own. This endorsement can be important if a business leases or borrows a building that’s critical for operations.
Newly acquired or constructed buildings. Most commercial property policies allow the insured to add newly acquired property to their policies within a certain time period. If the insurance company is not notified within the time period, typically 30 days, the coverage will not apply. Commercial property policies generally only cover buildings named in the policy.
Property off premises. Property located within a covered structure is generally covered by a base policy. Damage to property located off premises may not be covered, or may only be covered to a limited extent. Coverage for off-premises property can often be purchased as an endorsement to the base policy or as a stand-alone policy.
Personal property of employees while at insured premises. Generally only property owned by the insured entity is covered, unless this endorsement is added. A coverage extension in the base policy might provide a limited amount of coverage for personal effects and property of others.
Valuable papers coverage. Assigns a value to records or other essential information that could be lost. Papers are typically covered only to a limited extent by the base policy.
Ordinance or law coverage. Provides an additional amount to cover the increased cost of construction necessary to comply with building codes that might be triggered after a covered loss damages the insured property. This coverage can be added by endorsement, but the base policy might contain a limited benefit.
Boiler and machinery coverage. Boilers, air conditioning units, compressors, steam cookers, and electric water heaters are examples of machinery typically covered by this endorsement. Coverage generally extends to specifically listed machinery and any subsequent losses that result, such as when a boiler explosion or water heater leak causes damage to other property. This coverage may also often be purchased as a separate stand-alone policy.
Coverage against crime
There are several types of policies that can protect a business from losses resulting from crime. Policies may be issued on a “loss sustained” or “discovery” basis. Loss sustained coverage pays for losses that occur during the policy period, while discovery coverage pays for losses that occur at any time. Both types require that losses be discovered during the policy period or extended reporting period.
Common crime coverages include:
Loss of glass and money due to theft pays for damage to glass and any loss of money resulting from a break-in.
Robbery and safe burglary, property other than money is a more limited form of coverage that does not include money or securities.
Forgery or alteration protects a business against forgery or alteration of checks, drafts, promissory notes, or other directions to pay.
Theft, disappearance, and destruction coverage insures money, securities, and other property against loss, both on premises or in the custody of an employee or messenger while off premises.
Commercial multi-peril policies
Commercial multi-peril (CMP) policies combine one or more coverage forms, such as commercial property, general liability, inland marine, crime, or commercial auto, in a single policy. A business owner could add other types of coverage to ensure full protection within the convenience of a single policy.
Business owner programs (BOPS) are a common form of commercial multi-peril policy. BOP policies are tailored to the needs of small-business owners and combine property and liability coverage in one policy.
Some companies may include flood coverage in their commercial property policies for areas with a low flood risk. However, most flood insurance in the United States is administered by the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).
To qualify for NFIP coverage, a business must be located within an NFIP-participating community. These communities have adopted federal building and floodplain management programs aimed at reducing the likelihood of future flood damage. “Special Flood Hazard Areas” are high-risk areas within NFIP communities that are a more likely flood risk. The NFIP requires all structures within these areas to have flood insurance. Because 25 percent of all floods occur in areas designated as low-to-moderate risk, even businesses outside hazard areas could benefit from flood policies.
Flood insurance is purchased through designated private insurance agents. For a list of agents selling flood insurance in your area, call the NFIP