BBQ season is here: Find out what mishaps your insurance will cover

By Virginia K. Smith  | June 20, 2014 - 8:59AM

If you're lucky enough to have an outdoor space to call your own—be it a rooftop, backyard, even a spacious stoop—you're almost morally obligated to take on some summer hosting duties. But aside from the mess and the cost of buying friends an afternoon's worth of hot dogs and beer, playing host can come with its own set of potential liabilities. 

Now that barbecue season is upon us, we talked to apartment insurance broker Jeff Schneider of Gotham Brokerage to find out what coverage you can expect from a standard homeowner's or renter's insurance, and how to protect yourself (and your guests) from unexpected mishaps.

The good news

A standard homeowner's or renter's insurance policy should leave you covered for almost any eventuality, be it injury, grill fires, property damage, even a guest getting a DUI after leaving the party and suing you for damages. "Assuming you have the personal liability coverage that comes with most policies, you'll be fine," says Schneider.

Coverage tends to stretch surprisingly far: "If, say, you spill red wine on a guest's expensive handbag and get sued, you could conceivably even be covered for that," says Schneider. And even if your landlord has forbidden you from going up to the roof, Schneider says, "if the building has open access to the roof and they'd just rather you didn't have parties," you're still covered for anything that goes on up there. 

Another little known fact? Apartment insurance extends far beyond your apartment, and your policy can also cover parties you host somewhere other than your actual domicile. 

Still, there are a few things that'll cancel out your coverage. To make sure you don't end up with a lawsuit (or the bill for major repairs) on your hands, a few do's and don'ts to keep in mind for outdoor summer get-togethers:

Don't charge a cover

Coverage for private parties and events applies "as long as it's a true social event," Schneider notes, meaning that you're not profiting from the party in any way (other than socially, that is). This means no charging a cover, no cash bar, no attempts to make money off your guests in any way. If you'd like contributions, it's wisest to stick to a standard BYOB (or BYO-food) policy here.

Do vet your staff

If you're hosting something major and bringing in paid caterers or bartenders, says Schneider, make sure their company is providing you with proof that they have general liability, as well as worker's compensation insurance.

"You don't want to be liable for an employee's injury or a worker's compensation case," says Schneider, even if it ends up costing you a little more in the short term. "It's much better for the staff and the company to be responsible, especially if they do something wrong that ends up needing coverage."

Don't break the law

Remember what we said before about rooftop coverage? There is a catch. If, say, you broke a lock or kicked in a door to get up there (or if you get caught and fined for illegal activity), you'll be out of luck--coverage hinges on your rooftop being readily accessible, so if you break the law to get up there, anything that happens is on you.

And if you're hanging on your stoop and get a ticket for drinking a beer outside? You won't be covered for the cost of the ticket (though it's worth noting that city law has a notorious loophole on that front). 

Do know your venue

While your policy does cover you for off-site events, certain locations—museums, public parks, etc.—will also want proof of insurance before they let you throw an event.

In some cases, the standard-issue liability from your apartment insurance will be enough, but others will want something more substantial. For this, you can ask your provider for a one-time event policy (just make sure it covers what the venue's asking you to cover), and prices can range from $300 to $1,500, depending on the policy and the size of the party.


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