If you are wondering will insurance companies insure an empty house, then the answer is “yes”. So, if your property is standing empty for a period of typically around 30-45 consecutive days or more, then finding out more about your vacant property insurance options may be your next step.
Who needs unoccupied home insurance?
Many people may think that vacant property insurance is purely the domain of a landlord, but it is not just buy to let properties that may need this form of protection. Owner-occupied property may also be at risk if left standing empty for extended periods and any existing home buildings and contents insurance may become invalid after 30 days. (The period varies among insurance policies and insurance providers, so you should check your existing insurance to find out what the cut-off point is for your particular policy).
A house standing empty maybe as the result of:
- the property being in probate;
- perhaps there is a divorce settlement pending;
- you may be on an extended business trip;
- you may have treated yourself to an extended holiday;
- building or refurbishing work may have overrun;
- you may be finding it difficult to find new tenants for your buy to let property.
These are all circumstances where unoccupied home insurance may typically be required.
What is the difference between vacant and unoccupied?
The terms vacant and unoccupied might mean different things even though they’re often used interchangeably in everyday situations. Those differences can be very significant in terms of your insurance protection.
It is also worth considering the term empty in the same context.
To explain, in everyday English you might use:
- vacant – indicating nobody is currently renting the property from you and that you are seeking to let it;
- unoccupied – to mean that no one is in occupation at a given time. That may apply to properties that are vacant or let (for example, your tenants are on holiday);
- empty – meaning usually that a property is unoccupied and perhaps also is vacant but unfurnished. It might also be used to indicate that a property is off the market and under refurbishment.
In common use, none of these terms necessarily say anything about how long the status has been in effect – i.e. its duration. However, within property insurance, one of those terms has a very specific connotation relating to the duration of the status and therefore the specific cover required.
Whatever the reason, if your property has no one living in it for a period of around 30 consecutive days or more then it may fall into the insurance categorisation of ‘unoccupied’ – in which case you may need to compare unoccupied home insurance to supplement your landlord cover or your home insurance.
The reason for this is that an empty house (even if furnished) may be more at risk than when there are people living in it:
- if there is no one around, small problems may become more serious very quickly, resulting in more damage and potentially greater cost;
- thieves and vandals may target properties which are empty, with unkempt gardens and dark windows being the most obvious tell-tale signs.
So what sort of things should you be looking for if you’re about to compare home insurance for vacant properties?
The policy features and benefits of unoccupied house insurance policies will vary from insurance provider to insurance provider, so when getting insurance quotes make sure you understand:
- are there special terms and conditions in the cover? Some policies, for example, may require that the property is inspected regularly and have ongoing maintenance work carried out as required;
- if it may be necessary to keep a log of inspection visits and any work carried out;
- whether draining down water and heating systems, particularly over the winter months, is included in the policy terms and conditions.
Empty properties under refurbishment
In some instances, you may find your property is likely to stand empty for extended periods arising as a result of significant building and refurbishment work.
Some insurance providers may differentiate between unoccupied and empty property status, offering specific cover for those properties undergoing major works over lengthy periods. That may be required because in some such instances, it might be impossible to fully secure it if external walls and windows have been removed etc.
There might be special unoccupied home insurance or renovation cover that will be applicable.
Unexpected periods of unoccupancy
The empty property definition will typically apply even in situations where it has arisen for reasons entirely beyond your control.
However unlikely it might seem, things such as flight delays/cancellations or sickness while overseas might also mean you will need empty property insurance if you pass the specified number of consecutive days without occupants.
If you are unexpectedly delayed and worry your property may drift into formal unoccupied status, you should contact your insurance provider immediately. They may be able to put unoccupied home insurance cover in place quickly.
Similarly, tenants who failed to notify you that they were away for extended periods might not be considered a justifiable reason for allowing your property to drift into unoccupied status. It might be advisable to ensure a notification clause is contained within your tenancy agreements.
Do note that an occupied house status relates to materiality.
If your property is unoccupied it is unoccupied. You may be able to ask someone to property-sit but typically a friend staying an odd night here or there over the duration might not be construed as bona fide occupation.
Check the policy’s definitions to be sure you understand what the cover entails.
Disguising your property’s status
You may find that your empty property insurance will require you to take some largely common-sense steps to try to disguise, as far as possible, the fact that your property isn’t occupied.
These are rarely onerous conditions and might include:
- putting lights on timers;
- making sure post is not left to accumulate where it is visible;
- keeping garden areas tidy by cutting grass and pulling weeds;
- asking builders to refrain from erecting work underway advertisement signs;
- avoiding putting notices up telling callers when you will be back;
- not giving specific addresses in situations when the property is vacant and being advertised.
Whether you are a landlord or owner-occupier, your unoccupied property insurance might require you to remove and separately securely store any items that are particularly valuable.
Finally, don’t overlook potential mortgage provider requirements.
As a general rule, as part of the governing loan agreement, your mortgage provider will require you to make sure that you keep full appropriate insurance cover in place at all times. If you allow your property to drift into unoccupied status without taking out the appropriate unoccupied home insurance cover, you might be in breach of your loan agreement contract.
As such, your use of empty property insurance might not be optional but rather mandatory.
The consequences of being in breach of your mortgage agreement can be severe – including being asked to repay any outstanding sums immediately. It is not a risk worth taking.
Your landlord or owner-occupier house insurance may provide you with the cover you need on a day-to-day basis. If your property is without tenants though, or your home is standing empty, you may wish to speak to your house insurance provider and/or compare unoccupied home insurance policies.
Further reading: Our guide to unoccupied property.