If you own any kind of property, it is rarely with the intention of it remaining empty.
Whether it is a house or flat you live in or a buy to let property of which you are the landlord, if it is left empty for a period typically longer than between 30 and 45 days (the exact period varying from one insurer to another) it becomes formally unoccupied for the purposes of insurance.
That is the time you are likely to need specialist unoccupied property insurance to ensure that adequate protection remains in place for your empty property.
Should you look for the cheapest unoccupied insurance?
As with all financial products, one man’s cheap insurance may be another man’s “basic” insurance, and different property owners may undoubtedly be looking for different things for their money. The key thing about any kind of house insurance policy may be to find one that suits your own individual requirements at a price that meets your expectations.
How do properties become unoccupied?
One thing is certain: no matter what your property is like, you may easily cross the line from having a property that has been vacant for a couple of weeks, to having one that has become unoccupied in the eyes of an insurer.
So, one day your current policy may be adequate, but the next you may have to search for a suitable unoccupied home insurance for your property. This may be the case whether you are an owner-occupier or a landlord.
There are many reasons why a property may be empty:
- you might be a landlord facing a longer than usual void – the period when your let property is unoccupied because one set of tenants has moved out and you are still waiting for a new tenancy to begin;
- you have to work away from home for longer than a month or are taking an extended holiday;
- unfortunately, building, decorating, plumbing and electrical works are prone to overrun, so refurbishment projects and other building works may take longer than expected – and all the while the building remains unoccupied because works are still in progress; or
- the unoccupied home may be a probate property. Sometimes, after you lose a loved one, it can take a while for probate to be sorted out. And when probate has finally been granted, it may take even longer for the property in question to be sold. In these circumstances, it is easy to see how 30 days or more may elapse, and therefore how the property can become “unoccupied” for the purposes of insurance.
Why do you need specialist unoccupied home insurance?
When you are living in your owner-occupied home or your property has tenants in place your regular property insurance policy may offer appropriate protection for the set of circumstances that may arise.
When your property is empty or untenanted on the other hand, the property may face risks that just may not be covered by your policy.
In case you were wondering why you cannot just plod on with your current regular property insurance, you may wish to check the terms and conditions of your policy. If you do not have suitable vacant property insurance cover, you may find that the insurer may not pay out if something were to happen on the grounds that the policy would be void if the property were unoccupied.
In other words, insurance providers typically recognise that the risk profile associated with an empty property is significantly different from that seen with a property that is occupied.
Of course, insurance providers accept that your property may be temporarily empty from time to time as part of normal events. Examples of such occurrences may include things such as holidays, changeovers between tenants or possibly short periods where you have decided your property needs a quick refresh before it is let again or during renovations.
That is where the 30-day period comes from – your property becomes unoccupied in the eyes of your insurer once there has been no one living there for longer than 30 to 45 consecutive days.
Why do empty properties present more risks?
With a bit of luck, your empty property may be no more likely to befall a disaster than it would be when let or lived in by yourself. In that case, you may wonder whether you have to bother with getting any empty property insurance at all.
But insurers perceive vacant properties as being at a greater risk of damage simply because there is no one there to notice and act upon the kinds of perils that are insurable.
So, if there is a fire or a flood at the property, the mere fact that there is not a tenant or owner on hand to get out the fire extinguisher or sandbags may mean that the risk of damage may be higher. A small problem – like a leaking drip of water or a broken window – may, over time, become worse or allow the ingress of the weather with the end result being that the damage caused maybe a lot worse than it may have been if you or tenants were at home and the problem was spotted and dealt with earlier.
Furthermore, empty properties may attract the unwanted attentions of thieves, vandals, squatters, and arsonists.
Seeking an empty home insurance quote
As we have seen, when you arrange your house insurance or landlord’s insurance, the policy incorporates terms and conditions relating to the occupancy status of your property. Regular policies such as these are based on the assumption that your property is occupied – by you and your family or by tenants.
Naturally, this does not mean that someone has to be on the premises every minute of every day and night. Provision is made for periods of absence which are of relatively short duration – including a week or two on holiday or some such.
If the property remains unoccupied for longer than a month or so, however, you are likely to need unoccupied property insurance to maintain the cover and protection your home continues to require.
You may also find that having suitable insurance at all times is typically a condition of your mortgage contract if you have a home loan on the property.
Playing your part
Even though you might have arranged suitable unoccupied property insurance to cover an extended period when you or tenants are going to be away, as the owner of the property you still have an obligation to take all reasonable steps to mitigate any loss or damage while the premises are empty.
Unlit windows and a garden becoming more and more untidy, for example, may prove all too encouraging signs for thieves and vandals. So, install some timer switches for the lights to come on of an evening and arrange for the garden to be kept neatly in trim.
It may be necessary to keep a diary of the dates and times that you visited and a note of any work you undertook by way of preventative repairs and maintenance. Formal or informal inspections such as these may be a condition written into your unoccupied property insurance policy.
Remember that cheap unoccupied property insurance may be required irrespective of the reason your property is standing unoccupied. Even in situations where you have been unable to influence events (e.g. expected tenants failed to arrive) your insurance may be at risk if you go over the 30 or 45-day period.
As with other forms of house insurance cover, it is generally correct to say that what may be cheap unoccupied property insurance for one homeowner or landlord may not prove to be so for you, so shopping around to make sure you get the most appropriate deal is important.
If you are unsure what type of cover you need for your empty property, or what is the most suitable insurance for you please feel free to contact us – we’d be delighted to explain your options.