Properties become unoccupied for a number of reasons. For example: awaiting a sale or new occupants.

Insurers unoccupancy terms and conditions vary and these are shown in their policy wordings or schedules.

Take note of measures that can reduce vacant property risk.

Insurers accept that there can be periods of unoccupancy and typically will give around 30 days of “full” cover when a property becomes vacant,  However,  insurers will have different terms for unoccupancy and their policy conditions will normally include a requirement for customers to inform them if the property is to be empty for longer. Failure to notify the insurer could result in a claim not being paid or not being paid in full.

Many policies exclude cover for particular risks (escape of water, or theft for example) if a property has been unoccupied for a specified length of time. This is typically 30, 45 or 60 days unless your insurer has specifically agreed to extend the cover.

It is important to ensure management and controls are in place for unoccupied premises, including regular internal and external inspections.

  • Unoccupied properties are more vulnerable to damage than similar occupied premises.
  • Every year there are fires in empty buildings, many of which are started by malicious persons.
  • Unoccupied buildings may also attract homeless persons as a place of shelter.
  • The risk of theft also increases, particularly metal strip-outs which can cost hundreds of thousands of pounds to reinstate.

You should consider:

  • How easy it is for intruders to gain entry and remain undetected
  • Whether there is anything in the property likely to attract thieves, and how secure items are
  • Whether there are any hazards or defects that could create a risk of injury to others
  • Security should be a top priority. This means installing good quality locks and burglar alarms, and also considering additional measures such as security cameras / CCTV.

Owners should also ensure a basic level of maintenance to their properties, including removing anything that gives a building the appearance of being unoccupied, such as fly posters and graffiti.

Other basic measures that can reduce vacant property risk include:

  • Ensuring that wherever possible, utilities and electric systems are switched off to reduce the risk of fire or water damage
  • Draining all fuel and water tanks and systems.
  • Arranging for periodic inspections to check for signs of intrusion or evidence of damage or disrepair, e.g. water leaks, or potential hazards such as rubble, protruding nails or live wiring
  • Securely closing letterboxes in residential properties. Letterboxes are often used by arsonists to set a building on fire