If you are going away to leave your home unoccupied for a month or more, or if you are the landlord of let property which remains empty for a similar length of time during a changeover of tenancies, you may already know about the importance of letting your insurer know about it.
When a property is left empty for these or other reasons, your current insurer is likely to regard it as a change of use, entailing a number of possibilities:
- if the vacancy is likely to be for a very short period of time, the insurer may agree to continue the cover as it stands;
- in other cases, your insurer may increase the premiums you need to pay in order to reflect the heightened risk that an unoccupied property represents;
- your current insurer may regard the cover as having lapsed after 30 consecutive days of the property being empty (some insurers may extend this period up to 45 days, or more rarely, 60 days); and
- you may then need to arrange quite separate, standalone unoccupied property insurance.
Whether you manage to come to an arrangement with your existing insurer or have taken the prudent step of securing specialised empty property insurance, however, there are a number of precautions any insurer is likely to expect you to take to minimise and help mitigate the risk of loss or damage whilst the property is unoccupied.
One of the biggest property consultants in the North of England, Ryden , has published a number of the precautions that may need to be taken, including your keeping a careful record of every measure that has been taken, together with a log of any inspection visits that have been made:
- windows and doors need to be secured and you might even consider sealing your letterbox;
- utilities need to be turned off and water systems drained or a frost-free setting maintained on your central heating system to help avoid frozen, followed by burst pipes;
- rubbish and any combustible material needs to be removed, especially in proximity to doors, windows or left lying in the garden;
- external doors need to be fitted with bolts or a 5-lever mortice deadlock; and
- inspections of the property need to be made on a regular basis - preferably weekly - either by a specialist property management company or a trusted friend or relative, on condition that a careful log is maintained of every visit.
If the worst happens and your home suffers some loss or damage whilst you are away, the record of inspections that have been carried out is likely to help and support your insurance claim.
Indeed, without such a record, your insurer may be inclined to reject your claim. An example might be a claim you submit for flooding or storm damage whilst the property is unoccupied. Unless there is a record of someone visiting the property the following day in order to assess the damage and to mitigate any further loss or damage, your insurer may well reject your claim out of hand.
A careful record of the steps you have taken to help protect your property during any period that it remains unoccupied, therefore, may not only help you to keep tabs on just what is going on, but may also prove critical in the event of your needing to make a claim.