Empty house? Then check you have the correct cover

Posted: 5th Sep 2016

Estate Agent Looking Around Vacant Property For ValuationHave you just got back from the Rio Olympics, having extended your holiday to do some travelling and take in all that colour and carnival of Brazil?

It is not only an extended holiday to such an exotic part of the world that might leave your home empty and unoccupied for all those weeks, of course. The house might be standing vacant whilst:

  • you have the builders in to extend, refurbish or simply decorate your home and you decided to move out for the duration;
  • you might be in the course of moving house and, having already made your move to the new home, need to leave the previous one empty and unoccupied until it is sold;
  • if you own let property, there may be a longer than normal time between the end of one tenancy and you being able to find new tenants to fill the void;
  • your job might need you to work away from home – in another part of the country, or even abroad – for several months at a time; or
  • a property in which you are likely to have an interest is currently subject to probate, pending a decision on its future use and ownership.

What were the risks of loss or damage whilst the property was standing empty? If your home was as safe and sound as you left it, or when you take up residence there again, you might put that down to a measure of sheer good luck.

Unoccupied property insurance

Given the likely value of your house and the considerable sums at stake, of course, you probably do want to leave things entirely up to chance and good luck.

Thanks to unoccupied property insurance, you do not have to do that – but instead rely on the specialist cover which is designed to safeguard your unoccupied property.

But why is specialist insurance necessary, since you probably already have home building and contents insurance if you are the owner occupier of your home or landlord insurance if it is normally let to tenants? A guide we published here at Cover4LetProperty helps to provide the answer.

When your property becomes unoccupied

Although you might well have arranged adequate and appropriate insurance during the time you are living in your home or it is occupied by tenants, most insurers severely restrict that cover – or consider it to be lapsed altogether – once the property has been unoccupied for a period of, say, 30 to 45 consecutive days.

The precise period may differ from one insurer to another, but if your property is going to be empty for more than a month or so, you may expect the level of cover to be seriously affected at some point or another.

Why the change in cover?

The reason for insurers changing the level of cover provided – or removing it altogether – when the property becomes empty is simply a reflection of the calculation of the risks involved. The assessment of risk, of course, is the basis on which all insurance is agreed.

In the case of a property which is left empty and unoccupied for any period of time (more than a month or so), the risks of loss or damage become significantly greater:

  • a relatively minor repair – such as a dripping tap, for example – might develop into a major incident if there is no one living on the premises to spot the problem and arrange for the appropriate remedial action;

Specialist unoccupied property insurance is designed to ensure that your home continues to enjoy the appropriate level of protection even when it is empty or vacant.

The cover may provide protection against loss or damage to the building and its contents and also continue to protect you against claims of your liability as the property owner is someone is injured or has their own property damaged in the course of contact with your home. You have this duty of care even to those – such as squatters, vandals or burglars – who may have entered your property illegally. If they are injured or have their property damaged, they may still sue you for damages.

In any event, public liability claims may assume substantial proportions – especially if personal injury is involved – so indemnity of at least £1 million is offered by the typical unoccupied property insurance policy.