Vacant dwellings

Are you going to be leaving your home vacant for a while? Not in the sense that you’re going on vacation for a few weeks, or even months. Home insurance providers consider that to be “unoccupied.” They expect that to happen now and then.

Usually, if your home is “unoccupied,” the only coverage restriction occurs when you’re away from your home for four days or more during the usual heating season. You’ll need to have your home checked daily by a competent person to make sure the heating is being maintained. Or you can shut off the water, and drain any pipes and appliances. Without either of these precautions, your insurance company will not pay for any losses resulting from frozen pipes.

What’s considered “vacant”?

“Vacant” to insurance providers, usually means that you’ve left your home and have no intention of returning, or it may be a new home you haven’t yet moved into. It could also be a home you’re renting out, and it is currently untenanted.

Whatever the case, if your home is “vacant,” you’d better make sure you contact your insurance provider right away. Even if you’ve placed insurance on your home, there are some coverages that no longer apply with most providers when a home is vacant, such as glass breakage, vandalism, and water damage. And if your home is vacant more than 30 days, you’ll generally have no coverage at all, unless you’ve advised your insurer, and they’ve agreed to continue coverage on your vacant home. There will usually be a higher premium involved, and some companies may require you to pay a monthly fee for a vacancy “permit”.

How can I protect my vacant home?

At Square One, if your house becomes vacant for one reason or another, we can continue to provide you with excellent coverage. Damage from water will be excluded, but glass and vandalism coverage will remain, possibly with increased deductibles.

There are also a number of things you can do to help prevent losses from occurring while your property is vacant:

  • Make sure the lawn is kept trimmed, and any garbage or debris is picked up.
  • Keep curtains on all the windows.
  • Don’t let mail or flyers pile up at the front door.
  • Put a timer in the house, to turn lights on and off.
  • Have someone go to the house regularly, at least once a week, to check on it inside and out.
  • During the winter, make sure heat is being properly maintained.
  • Make sure all the doors and windows are locked, and consider installing a monitored intrusion alarm.

Do whatever you can to make a vacant home looked lived in. If it’s obvious that a house is vacant, it won’t be long before vandals strike. Most importantly, keep in close contact with your insurance provider. They will need to know how the home is being cared for, and when it’s expected to be occupied once more. Get the best coverage you can, so you don’t have any nasty surprises if the worst happens.

What if I am renovating my home?

If you decide to make a few renovations to your home, you may be picking out new cabinets, designing a kitchen island with a granite top, or hiring someone to install beautiful new hardwood floors. Whatever type of renovations you’re planning, don’t forget to contact your insurance agent. Anytime you’re planning to renovate your home, you should be discussing the scope of the project with your insurance provider, to make sure coverage is in place throughout the renovation. There are some things to consider:

  • How extensive are the renovations? If your renovations are relatively minor and you can still live in your home while the work is being done, your insurance company may just make a note of it, and continue to insure your home as before. However if you’re doing fairly major renovations, with contractors coming in and out of your house, walls torn down, or part of the roof removed, your insurer may need to change some of the coverage on your home temporarily. In some cases, it may change from a regular home insurance policy to one for a building in the course of construction. As a result, you may no longer be protected for losses caused by water, vandalism, or glass breakage.
  • What if someone’s injured on your property? One of the workers you hired has just fallen through a weak spot in the roof and has been hospitalized. Who’s responsible? Make sure the company you hire is a reputable one, and that they carry insurance for their workers. Perhaps higher liability limits on your own policy are in order, just in case. Talk to your agent.

    Don’t forget about asbestos and make sure the company you hire properly inspects your property before any renovations. WorkSafeBC is increasing the number of inspections they conduct on home renovation contractors, making sure they don’t cut corners when inspecting your house. Read this article to learn more about the role asbestos plays in home renovations.
  • Where are your contents? Maybe you’ve put your things in storage, and are staying in a hotel, or with relatives until the work is finished. Make sure your insurance is protecting you and your belongings, wherever they may be. And if you’re not living in your home, your insurer might just consider it “vacant,” meaning some coverages will be removed.
  • What’s the value of your new home? Maybe your home was a one story rancher, and after renovations, it will be a two story with luxury fittings, like solid oak cabinets, granite countertops, and a hot tub on the deck. To maintain the proper coverage on your home, you’ll need to talk to your insurance agent to recalculate the replacement value of the house.
  • Has the use changed? Your renovations might involve constructing a basement suite to help you pay off your mortgage. If so, you’ve now gone from a single family dwelling to a two family dwelling. If you don’t amend your insurance policy, you may find yourself with no coverage at all.

Keep in touch with your insurance agent throughout the renovations, and be sure to call when everything’s complete. Any coverages that were changed or removed during the renovations can now be added back on. As mentioned above, the value of your home has very likely increased, and together with your insurer, you can decide how much coverage you need. And, if you’ve updated the wiring, plumbing, or roofing, you may even get a better rate on your home insurance than you had before. Please feel free to contact Square One at 1.855.331.6933 if you have any additional questions


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