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Unoccupied Property Guide

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Unoccupied property can present more of a headache than at first it appears. You own the property that is probably the subject of a mortgage or other secured lending. The bank or building society will share your concern about the unoccupied property continuing to be adequately insured, but are just as likely to refuse the continuation of the cover they happily arranged when the property was occupied. Although this brief unoccupied property guide might throw up a few ideas about where to turn next, your first real port of call should be a specialist insurance adviser, since each case will be unique.

Properties fall vacant and unoccupied for a whole host of reasons, of course, and each set of circumstances will determine whether it is likely to remain empty for a relatively shorter or longer period of time. Shorter vacancies, for example, are likely to arise if the house is part of a chain of sales and purchases as buyers move from one property to another; it might remain unoccupied if it is the subject of an eventual inheritance; major refurbishment projects will also take as long as a year or more to complete; and properties bought as a buy to let investment will often need lengthy modernisation and upgrading before they can be rented out to tenants.

The reason for searching out a reliable, expert insurance adviser is because there exists a particular kind of insurance policy specifically written for unoccupied properties. Unoccupied property insurance is unlike a standard, off-the-peg home insurance policy (which is why your mortgage lender or bank is unlikely to suggest it), because it takes into account the particular circumstances and condition of the property. Such policies will take into particular account the structural state of repair of the building and pay close attention to such major vulnerabilities as the potential for or actual subsidence, integrity of the drainage facilities, roofs and chimneys, the condition of building timbers, and any internal fixtures. Taking all of these aspects into account, together with the ultimate use to which you intend putting the building, the unoccupied property insurance might include conditions restricting the areas of risk covered, or might even decline cover of certain risks.

The insurance policy will also expect the owner of the property to continue to assume responsibility for minimising the risk of loss or damage. This will include your making arrangements for the regular inspection of the property (typically, every one or two weeks) and repairing any running minor repairs to prevent their contributing to further loss or damage. The risk of fire should be minimised by removing any combustible debris and electrical power should be switched off. To prevent flooding, the water system should be drained and the mains supply also turned off.

When preparing the property to be lived in once again, the owner will clearly need to be aware of the standards of refurbishment and maintenance required for buildings and contents of an owner-occupied residence, but in the case of a buy to let property, this will also need to include maintenance to a standard that meets the landlord's health and safety responsibilities towards future tenants and will qualify the owner for such landlord liability insurance.

For as long as the property remains unoccupied, however, the owner will want the security and peace of mind that it is adequately covered by an unoccupied property insurance that takes into account all of the particular circumstances and conditions of the property in question. This type of insurance continues to fall into the non-standard category of insurances in Britain at the moment and the services of a specialist insurance adviser can prove a considerable assistance in tracking down and arranging the most appropriate cover at a competitive rate.