Whether it is the home where you live, a buy to let investment or commercial property, there may be times when the premises need to be left empty and unoccupied for a while:
- the premises might be undergoing extensive alteration, refurbishment or remodelling, for example;
- you might be leaving your home empty while you take an extended holiday;
- there may be a longer than usual void while you wait for new tenants to occupy your let property; or
- you might have an interest in a property which is subject to probate and remains unoccupied until its ownership is determined.
Do you need unoccupied property insurance in these circumstances – and, if so, why?
The risks to unoccupied property
When any property becomes empty and unoccupied, the risks escalate to such an extent that the Fire Protection Association’s RISC Authority has published extensive guidance and a suggested code of practice to ensure fire safety and security to such buildings.
Those risks include:
- unwanted intrusions by arsonists, squatters, vandals and thieves; and
- the heightened risk of otherwise relatively minor maintenance problems developing into major emergencies simply because there is no one on the premises to raise the alarm.
The insurers response
Weighing up those seriously heightened risks, insurers typically reduce the level of cover on your home, buy to let or commercial property insurance once the premises have been unoccupied for longer than around 30 to 45 consecutive days – the exact period varying from one insurance provider to another.
But your property is still vulnerable to those risks and, in order to restore the degree of protection you continue to need, a specialist form of standalone unoccupied property insurance is called for.
Unoccupied property insurance
Unoccupied property insurance restores the cover your property continues to need and may be arranged at a level appropriate for both the building and its contents.
As a standalone form of property insurance, it is also flexible enough for you to purchase cover for the period during which your home, let or commercial property is likely to be empty – if this is only going to be for six months, say, you may buy cover for that period only and not the full 12 months which most other types of general insurance require.
If it turns out that your property remains unoccupied for a longer period – planned refurbishment or remodelling over-runs its original deadline, for example – it is typically possible to extend the cover for the remaining time.
Management advisers Croner-I, also make the point that, as the owner of the premises, you remain liable for injuries or property damage suffered by members of the public, neighbours or visitors to the property. The Occupiers Liability Acts of 1957 and 1984 make clear that you may be liable for injuries and property damage sustained not only by authorised visitors to your property but also to those to whom you have not given any permission – intruders such as squatters, burglars or even arsonists.
If your home, buy to let accommodation or commercial property is to be left empty and unoccupied for longer than a month or so, therefore, you are likely to need specialist unoccupied property insurance to maintain adequate protection for the premises.