It’s important to be familiar with the basic principles of unoccupied property insurance and its associated issues.
Defining unoccupied property
Whether you are a landlord or owner-occupier, your property insurance will typically only cover your property for limited periods when it is unoccupied.
The exact period over which such cover will apply is normally defined in terms of a maximum number of consecutive days when nobody is living in the property. Although this may vary between policies, the maximum number of days is usually somewhere between 30 and 45.
Policies provide this sort of cover in order to cope with the vast majority of situations involving holidays, business trips, weekends away and so on.
However, once your property stands unoccupied for a period of time longer than the specified maximum number of days, your insurance cover may be at risk.
Empty or unoccupied?
In everyday terms, there may be a distinction in ordinary conversation between a property being empty and unoccupied. Normally the term “unoccupied” suggests nobody is living in a property but “empty” implies that not only is the property unoccupied but also without furnishings.
It is important to keep in mind that within the context of property insurance, the policy providers typically make no such distinction. Even if your property is still fully furnished, once it exceeds the maximum number of permitted unoccupied days then it will become defined as being formally unoccupied.
The significance of this status
Once your property becomes defined as being formally unoccupied, if you wish to maintain full insurance, you will typically need to look for empty property insurance.
The reason that insurance providers require this change is that the risk profile associated with unoccupied properties is typically regarded as being significantly higher than that associated with occupied properties. Empty property insurance will provide appropriate cover for the new unoccupied status of your property.
If you fail to arrange unoccupied property insurance, then in the best case, your existing policy may cover only the most basic of risks, such as Fire, Lightning, Explosion, Earthquake and Aircraft.
In the worst case, your existing cover will become completely invalid.
An empty property insurance policy will typically require you or a responsible party you appoint, to do some of the following with your property once it is standing unoccupied:
- regularly visit the property to attend to any problems that may have arisen while nobody is in residence;
- keep a log of those visits and note any maintenance work undertaken during them;
- you may be obliged to make arrangements to keep all external areas of the property in good and apparently lived-in condition. That usually involves requirements for keeping the grass cut and the garden tidy;
- it may be necessary to take appropriate steps in order to try and hide, as far as is realistically possible, the fact that nobody is resident in your property. Examples there might include the need to put some lights on timer switches and to ensure that post does not build up in post or letterboxes;
- although there may be some variations here by individual policy, it might be necessary for you to disconnect certain of the utility services – although in some cases, such as during the winter, it may also be necessary for you to leave your heating on a very low level in order to avoid potential frost damage.
These conditions may or may not be obligatory with empty property insurance and there may be others that are not being covered here. It is particularly important that you read all such conditions carefully and make sure that you comply with them in order for your cover to remain fully in force.