We all know the necessity of home insurance, but did you know that your insurance can be voided if you vacate your property for more than 30 to 60 days? While you may not plan for this, there are many scenarios which could result in leaving your property for an extended period of time, and without the right precautions, this could void your insurance completely.
An unoccupied home basically means that your property has been left with the intention of returning at any time. Perhaps you have gone North to your cottage for the weekend, or for a short hospital stay. The homeowner's furniture and other personal property is left on the property. However, the 30-day rule does apply to this, and any extended periods of no occupancy could lead to your insurance becoming void.
A vacant property, however, is when a property is entirely empty, without any furniture or personal possessions left inside. This tends to be the state of a home that is on the market or due to be rented. Insurance providers tend to classify vacant homes as high risk, as they become vulnerable to break-ins, vandalism and unexpected damage from weather. If you live in a flood zone this risk can be increased.
Different insurers have a slightly different approach to how long your property is empty before they consider it vacant, with some saying after 30 days, and others saying after 60. It is best to check with your insurance provider to find out their approach.
In the eyes of the insurer, the longer your home is left vacant, the more at risk it becomes to vandalism, theft, water damage, fire or damage as the result of extreme weather. These risks are seriously lowered, if not eliminated, when there is someone in the property. Since your insurance policy is written with the thought that you will be living in the property, by leaving for several weeks, you remove a key variable and your policy becomes void.
Insurers tend to offer a few different options depending on the reasoning for leaving your home:
Leaving to go on an extended vacation
Whether you need to change your policy is determined by how long you plan to be travelling for. The best thing to do is give your insurance provider a call and talk to them about your options. If you have a family member, friend or neighbour who you trust to house sit, or at least collect your mail and check up on your house every few days, this can keep your standard home insurance policy intact.
Leaving for an extended hospital stay
Whether your spending time in the hospital recovering from an accident, illness or surgical procedure, you may find that you are away from home for an extended period of time. In many cases this isn’t the kind of thing you plan in advance, so changing your policy may not be an option. If you do find yourself in this situation consider asking a family member with power of attorney to check with your provider about any necessary arrangements. Alternatively, ask them to check up on your house frequently to make sure everything is in working order, and notify a trusted neighbour of your absence.
Leaving because of renovation work
If the renovations require you to leave your home for the duration of the construction period, this could render your policy invalid since most plans require the home to be occupied. Furthermore, renovations can make properties easy targets to thieves, with increased opportunities to break in and temptation from new fixtures such as light fittings or appliances.
This doesn’t mean that you have to pitch a tent in a construction zone though. Most insurers will grant you a vacancy permit upon request, which may cost you a little more money, but also ensures your home remains covered throughout the duration of the renovations.
Dividing time between a primary and vacation property
When it comes to vacation properties, many insurers offer special seasonal packages to cover your home away from home. Since you aren’t there as often as your primary residence, it is highly susceptible to unexpected damage that could go undetected for some time. Some providers might offer a package deal which covers your part-time residency in two or more homes if you find that your time is split almost evenly between both. If your insurer does not offer coverage for a vacation property try searching the market and comparing providers to find the best deal to keep your second home safe.
Plans to rent or sell
In most cases, rental homes can remain empty for some time while owners clean, repair and decorate the property and for the duration of the tenant screening process. Most insurance companies will require a whole new policy, and once tenants move in you will be expected to take out landlord’s policy.
You can also reduce your chances of a break-in by installing a burglar alarm, and lower the risk of a fire or smoke damage by installing a fire alarm. In most cases, the installation of an alarm system will lower your insurance by 10-20%. If you plan on leaving your property in the winter, you can install a temperature sensor to avoid damage from frozen pipes bursting.
In any situation, it is recommended that you consult your insurer and are honest from the get-go. Should you leave your property vacant without telling your insurer, you could find yourself in a sticky situation if anything goes unexpectedly wrong.