From time to time, there are occasions when any property owner may need to leave their premises empty and unoccupied:
- if you are a home owner, for instance, you might be working in another part of country or abroad for several months at a time;
- the property might be one you have inherited and which remains empty until you have decided whether to sell or let it to tenants;
- you might have the builders in to work on an extension or to refurbish the whole property, making it temporarily uninhabitable; or
- if you are a landlord, there may be the additional reason for the premises being left unoccupied during the interval between current tenants leaving and new ones moving in.
For these – and other reasons – your property may stand empty. Whilst it is unoccupied it is likely to be vulnerable to additional risks:
- some may come from thieves, squatters, vandals or arsonists who are especially drawn to the opportunities presented by unoccupied properties; and
- the risks associated with otherwise relatively minor incidents and maintenance problems which develop into a full-blown emergency because there was no one at home or on the premises to report the initial problem.
In response to these risks, standard home and landlord insurers typically reduce the level of cover, or treat it as completely lapsed, once the building has been unoccupied for between 30 to 60 consecutive days – the interval may vary from one insurer to another – at the end of the specified period, you may find your property severely exposed to risks of loss or damage.
The picture is compounded sometimes because of the uncertainty or ambiguity in the way in which insurers define “occupied” and “unoccupied”. Problems arising from such problems of definition have been dealt with by the Financial Ombudsman Service.
Unoccupied property insurance
In order to maintain an adequate level of protection for your property – and for the avoidance of any doubt when it comes to definitions of occupied and unoccupied – a specialist form of cover, appropriately known as unoccupied property insurance, is required.
What it covers
Unoccupied property insurance is characterised by its adaptability and flexibility. The range of different levels of cover is designed to reflect the different types of property concerned, the period during which it is likely to remain empty and any particular vulnerabilities during that interval.
Therefore, the cover might be relatively basic and modest (in the event of commercial property, for example) or it might restore the fully comprehensive cover which is normally in place for, say, an owner occupied home and its contents.
Unoccupied property insurance is typically capable of providing whatever level of cover is appropriate for the circumstances.
It is also typically flexible enough to cover the actual period of time your property remains unoccupied. If it is going to be for only several months, for example, cover may be arranged for those months only, rather than your having the expense of a full year’s worth of cover.
If the property needs to be left empty for longer than originally expected, unoccupied property insurance is also usually flexible enough for the period of cover to be extended for as long as necessary.