May 23, 2019
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Do I need to get specialist insurance if my home is unoccupied?
Whether your property is empty awaiting a sale, refurbishment, probate or it’s simply vacant for large periods of the year due to it being your family’s summer holiday home, it’s important that you protect your investment.
 
If you have a standard home insurance policy, you might not be aware that most conventional policies will only safeguard your empty property for a maximum of 60 days. Many people get a nasty surprise when they go to make a home insurance claim for their unoccupied home, only to find that the damage occurred outside of their 30-to-60-day window. In this scenario, any costs to repair property damage must be shouldered solely by the property owner.
 
When you leave a property uninhabited for a significant length of time, insurers know that the risk of incidents such as theft, vandalism or even fire damage increases considerably. With no one living in the property to prevent these problems from occurring, your property is considered a sitting duck for potential damage and other issues such as squatters.
 
That’s why standard home insurance policies cannot afford to cover those risks; otherwise, your premiums would be sky-high.
 

Can a house be insured when empty?

 
The good news is that there is a solution to protecting properties that are left vacant for more than the maximum 60-day period. Unoccupied home insurance can be purchased separately to your initial home insurance policy, providing much-needed cover for the building and its contents, if necessary.
 
There are, of course, one or two stipulations with most vacant property insurance policies. Property owners are often required to visit the empty property once every seven days, while some insurers insist that any property damage must be relayed to them within seven days of it happening or risk having the damage uninsured.
 

Why do you need unoccupied home insurance?

 
There are so many risk factors involved with a property when you leave it unattended for an extended period of time, including:
 
  • Fire damage

If your property catches fire and you are not present to attend to it or call the fire brigade, your house will be at risk of severe damage and even damaging other properties – particularly if your property is terraced or semi-detached.

 
  • Flooding

Inclement weather may lead to severe amounts of rainwater entering your property – potentially through the roof, a door or even a window.
 
  • Storm damage

Extreme thunderstorms have the potential to wreak havoc on unattended properties. High winds can cause damage to roofing, windows and fencing, while lightning strikes also have the potential to trigger unexpected fires.
 
  • Water or oil leaks

It isn’t uncommon for a property’s plumbing system to fail when left unoccupied. Water leaks can occur from water units in lofts, resulting in significant damage to ceilings and flooring. Those with oil-powered boilers may also experience costly oil leaks.

 
  • Theft or attempted theft

The most sophisticated burglars are those that acknowledge when a property has been left unattended. Individuals who successfully break in or attempt to break into your property and steal any belongings inside are a real threat.
 
  • Vandalism

Furthermore, some burglars will go one step further than simply stealing your prized possessions, they will also attempt to vandalise and deface your property in your absence.
 
  • Squatting

A property that has been vacant for a considerable period of time is also ripe for squatters to enter without permission with the intent to live there in your absence. This can pose tricky legal issues that may require legal cover as part of any vacant property insurance policy.

 
  • Damage caused to other properties

Your unattended house insurance may also need to include public liability insurance, particularly if your home is in close proximity to several other properties. The last thing you want is for your property to cause damage to other people’s properties or vehicles, for instance, from falling roof tiles.
A stone building at flood risk next to a river

How do you qualify for unoccupied home insurance?
 

There isn’t necessarily a ‘qualification’ criteria for getting unoccupied home insurance. All you need to be able to prove is that your property will be left vacant for more than the maximum number of days a conventional home insurance policy will protect it for.
 
However, some property owners with previous criminal convictions or adverse claims histories may find it difficult to get specialist cover from mainstream insurers. That’s why Insurance Choice offers a comprehensive panel of trusted vacant home insurers that have the risk appetite to guard against all eventualities.
 

How long do empty property insurance policies last?

 
Typically, vacant property insurance policy terms last either:
 
  • Three months
  • Six months
  • Nine months
  • 12 months
 
It’s important to choose a policy term that only covers the property when it is unoccupied. The last thing you want is to pay for insurance cover that you no longer need. It’s important to know how long you want to insure your unattended property for before shopping around.
 
However, if you arrange a six-month policy term and find that you need cover for an additional three months, it may be possible to liaise with your insurer and seek an extension. Providing no claims have already been made, this shouldn’t be an issue, and nor should it affect your current premium.
 

How long can you keep properties unoccupied for?

 
In theory, there is nothing to stop you keeping a property unoccupied for an unlimited period, providing you continue to extend a vacant insurance policy with your insurer. The maximum length of an initial policy term is 12 months, but most insurers will renew these policies without exception on an annual basis.
 
If you are planning on keeping a property unattended for several years, which is known as ‘mothballing’, it’s also important to consider the implications on council tax. Liaise with your local authority to find out about their rules. If the property is your sole residence, you may still be liable to pay full council tax monthly. However, if it’s considered a second home, you could be eligible for a monthly discount or even an exemption.
 
How much you pay may also be determined on whether the property is furnished or unfurnished. If it’s furnished, your local authority may deem that it is still potentially habitable, requiring you to pay for council tax in full.
 

The main risks to unoccupied homes

 
The level of unattended home insurance cover you get will ultimately depend on the policy you take out, but consider incorporating protection against the following variables that could go wrong for your property:
 

Theft and vandalism

 
Ultimately, the level of crime in the vicinity of your vacant property will affect how much your insurance premium will be. If there has been a rise in the number of recorded burglaries in your postcode area, the cost of insuring an unattended property and its contents will, understandably, be higher than postcodes where crime levels are lower.
 
Involving yourself in local Neighbourhood Watch groups and ramping-up your property’s security measures could help to demonstrate to prospective insurers that you are serious about making the property safe from thieves and vandals.
 

Subsidence

 
Vacant properties can be safeguarded against subsidence, but normally only if the property hasn’t suffered from it before. Subsidence occurs when the ground beneath the property’s foundations begins to move and sink, resulting in potentially damaging movements to your home’s construction.
 
Some unoccupied property insurers will cover the costs of repairs to your building, as well as any damage to the building’s contents in the event of subsidence.
 

Extensive fire, storm or flood damage

 
It’s very important for your unoccupied home insurance policy to include protection against acts of nature, such as severe storms that can cause flooding and fires. However, it’s important to note that some damage caused by storms is considered accidental damage by insurers. It’s, therefore, a good idea to seek a policy that covers accidental damage as well as storm damage.
 

Squatter damage

 
According to the BBC, in 2018, UK had more than 11,000 properties that have been left vacant for more than a decade. In England alone, there are a reported 216,000 properties currently empty.
 
This means that there are tens of thousands of properties out there that are ripe for squatting. A squatter is an individual that seeks entry to a property without the permission of the legal owner, with the intention to live there. Squatters often have disregard for the properties they enter, causing damage that is expensive to repair.
 
Furthermore, the legal costs of evicting squatters are equally high. Having an unoccupied home insurance policy which guards against the frustration of squatters is essential if the property will be unattended for several months or longer.
 

Guarding against squatters and understanding squatters’ rights

 
Squatting, also known as ‘adverse possession’, is illegal in residential properties across the UK and carries a potential prison sentence of six months, as well as a £5,000 fine as the Government’s website explains.
 
Unfortunately, squatters can only be removed from an unattended property by issuing an interim possession order (IPO) by making a possession claim. IPO applications can be filed within 28 days of learning of your property’s adverse possession. Once squatters are served an IPO, they must vacate the property within 24 hours and not return for a minimum of 12 months.
 
Beware – if a squatter has been occupying your property for ten years without your permission or knowledge, they can apply to become the legally registered owner. However, property owners then have 65 days to object and overturn the application.
 

What isn’t covered by unoccupied home insurance policies?

 
  • Considerable building works

If your property is vacant while major building work is being undertaken, such as roof repairs or a multi-storey extension, insurers may be loathed to cover potential incidents that occur while these works are carried out.
 
  • Contractors

Similarly, most unattended property insurers will also refuse to cover contractors’ work carried out in your home. Instead, you should ensure your contractors have their own insurance policy to guard against such issues.
 
  • Unforced entry

If you accidentally leave windows or doors unlocked and unforced entry is made by thieves or squatters, this is almost certain to invalidate vacant home insurance policies.
A building under construction with scaffolding in place

Claiming on a vacant home insurance policy

 
You might be able to make a claim on your policy directly with your insurer, providing a detailed account of what happened. However, some insurers will also insist on being supplied with a police report for an official account.
 
There are one or two things to consider before making a claim. Firstly, make yourself aware of the excess of your policy. This is the amount you’ll have to pay towards the claim before your insurer pays out. Secondly, you’ll need to weigh up whether claiming is worth losing your no-claims bonus, which can earn you discounts on premiums when accumulated over several years.
 

How much does unoccupied home insurance cost?

 
Premiums will vary depending on the insurer and the risks you want to cover for the duration of your policy. However, if you want a short-term vacant property insurance policy that covers only a few months, you should expect to pay no more than a couple of hundred pounds.
 
The final premium will take into account everything from your property’s age and value to its security and location.
 

Find a specialist insurance policy for your empty property

 
If you’re planning on leaving a property that you own empty or unattended for more than a couple of months, you will need unoccupied home insurance to safeguard your investment. Insurers know that damage to unattended properties tends to be more severe than damage caused within lived-in properties. That’s because the damage often takes longer to be discovered, often leading to expensive, long-term repairs.
 
Finding an insurance policy that covers everything you need for your vacant home without costing an arm and a leg can be a real challenge. However, at Insurance Choice, we specialise in finding the protection your property needs.
 
Our unique panel of insurers will also have the risk appetite to cover most non-standard risks to vacant homes, including subsidence, flooding and the appearance of squatters. Some insurers will even cover properties that are of a non-standard construction. This removes any potential headaches, giving you peace of mind that your investment is safeguarded, whatever happens.
 
Put your faith in Insurance Choice today and get competitive quotes and arrange unoccupied home insurance cover in a matter of minutes!