When your home is vacant or unoccupied, your regular homeowner’s insurance may not cover you for everything that could happen. For example, if you are spending the winter in Florida, and ice builds up on the walkway, someone who slips and falls on it could sue you for pain and suffering, lost wages, and so on. If you didn’t notify your insurance provider that you would be heading south for the winter, they may not cover this claim.
In the paragraphs below, you will learn about the difference between a vacant home and an unoccupied home, some of the additional risks of your home being empty, the steps you can take to mitigate the risks, and the insurance you can get to protect yourself financially from these risks.
Vacant Versus Unoccupied Homes
The distinction between these two terms is important, as it can mean the difference between what your homeowner’s insurance covers and what it doesn’t. Be aware that your homeowner’s insurance policy may define these terms somewhat differently. Review your policy or call your insurance provider for clarification.
An unoccupied home is a home that’s ready for occupancy. For example, if you have a work contract for three months overseas and leave your house empty, your house would be considered unoccupied for insurance purposes. A vacant home is considered a property where the owner has no intent of residing. Your home would be considered vacant if:
- You’ve purchased a home you’re not ready to move into yet.
- You’ve purchased a home for investment purposes but have yet to resell it or rent it out.
Risks Associated with Vacant Homes or Unoccupied Homes:
When your home is vacant, it opens you up to additional risk. The most common sources of risk in this situation are:
- Theft: Even an empty home awaiting renovation can be a target for theft: most of them have copper pipes and wiring, along with other metal items that can be sold as scrap, including old appliances. If the renovations have already begun, the risk of theft is even higher, as there will be building supplies on site along with tools and equipment.
- Trespassing and vandalism: An empty home is a constant temptation for people who will break in just for the excitement of it. They may just want a place to hang out with friends, but they may also damage the property while they’re there. Squatters pose additional risks.
- Fire and water damage: With no working fire alarms or sprinklers and no one there to notice water leaks, sewer backups, or floods, a vacant home faces a much higher risk of damage from fire and floods. Water damage is even more likely in colder climates if the house is unheated, as this can lead to burst pipes. When it comes to fire, homeowners need to be concerned about their neighbours’ homes as well as their own.
- Illegal dumping: Trash dumped on your property can attract insects and vermin, creating a risk for the people who live nearby and potentially causing damage to your home.
- Vermin infestation: Even without the attraction of garbage or food scraps, animals such as mice, rats, and raccoons will be very happy to occupy your home while you’re gone. In addition to the urine and feces they leave behind, they can do a great deal of damage to walls, wiring, and insulation.
- Liability: If the property isn’t being maintained, it increases slip-and-fall hazards and the possibility of someone being struck by falling objects or tree limbs. Even a trespasser can sue you if they’re injured or exposed to risk on your property.
Reducing Your Vacant or Unoccupied Home Risk
Now that you know the risks associated with leaving your home vacant, here are some steps you can take to mitigate those risks and facilitate insurance claims:
- Inform your insurance provider if you will be leaving your home vacant or unoccupied for over 30 days. Check your existing policy for your provider’s regulations around this.
- Don’t store anything of value in the home.
- Install extra locks on the windows and doors. Consider boarding up windows and doors that can be broken or wedged open undetected, such as patio doors that open into a fenced backyard.
- Hire someone to check on your property a few times a week and do basic maintenance such as trash and snow removal.
- Inform your neighbours that you will be absent and ask them to watch for signs of trouble.
- Put your interior lights on a timer to make it appear like someone is at home.
- Install alarm and surveillance systems that you can access remotely, along with motion-sensitive exterior lights
- Turn off the water and drain the lines to prevent them from freezing and bursting.
Insuring Your Unocuppied Home
Insuring your unoccupied home can be as easy as a quick call to your insurance broker. While terms vary by insurance provider, it is a simple process that can be completed in a matter of minutes. Typically, you will be required to have a competent person check the unoccupied premises once every seven days. As well, there may be no extra charge for this additional risk and coverage.
Insuring Your Vacant Home
Check your policy or call your broker to find out if you need additional insurance when your home is vacant. Your current homeowner’s insurance policy may have coverage for this or may cover you for a limited period of time, such as 30 days.
In most cases, you will need additional insurance. You may be able to get vacant-home insurance as an add-on to your homeowner’s policy, but you will likely need to get it separately. The cost of this insurance is not prohibitive, but you can expect it to be about 50% higher than your regular homeowner’s insurance. Try this Quick Quote Tool for an idea of how much it would cost to insure your home while it’s vacant.
Confused about whether you need vacant home insurance? Get in touch with one of the licensed insurance advisors at Keller & Associates Insurance Brokers. We’re happy to answer your questions. As a trusted broker in the St. Catharines area for over 35 years, we’ve built a solid reputation for securing the right insurance for every client and every situation. We are proud of the respected place we hold in the St. Catherines community, and we strive to improve the health of our community and its residents by providing the service and care that one neighbour offers another. We look forward to talking to you soon!