The lights are on but nobody’s home. Literally. If you have a vacant home in Canada, keeping it safe and secure while it is unoccupied is extremely important.
There are many reasons why you may find yourself responsible for managing a vacant property.
Perhaps your parents are downsizing and preparing to move into a retirement residence. Maybe you’re about to fulfil a lifelong dream and take a leisurely six-month road trip from Vancouver, BC to Charlottetown, PEI. Or you just accepted a temporary contract in Halifax, NS and need maintain insurance for your Toronto home.
Regardless of why your home is vacant, when it’s unoccupied, your property faces additional and different risks. Thankfully, there are insurance and risk management solutions that you can put in place to safeguard your personal property while it is not being used.
Frozen water pipes. Theft. Storm damage. Mitigating vacant property risks.
The good news is that when your property is empty, there are a number of steps that you can take to protect it during a brief or extended absence. Before your home is vacant, think about the day-to-day, weekly as well as seasonal maintenance work that you do while you are living in it.
Whether it’s pest infestations in the summertime or ice clearing during the winter months, being proactive can help you to prevent potential damage to your home.
Some actions that can help manage vacant home risks include:
- Hiring a housesitter to visit your property every four days and check for potential problems
- Managing minimum and maximum temperatures remotely using an internet-based thermostat system
- Shutting off water supplies, draining supply pipes and toilet tanks
- Adding non-toxic antifreeze to help prevent frozen pipes and drains
- Testing your security, fire and carbon monoxide monitoring systems
- Confirming that your sump pump is working as well as installing water sensors to monitor potential sewer backup and/or flooding
- Providing trusted neighbours with your contact information in case of emergency
- Hiring a landscaper to keep lawns trimmed, gardens maintained, remove fall leaves and clean gutters
- Contracting for regular driveway and walkway snow removal
- Redirecting mail and deliveries to an alternative, monitored address
- Unplugging electronics and appliances (as appropriate)
- Cancelling newspaper and/or other regular deliveries
- Installing internet-based cameras and lighting systems that can be remotely managed and help to deter theft
Why vacant home insurance is the best way to manage your vacant property risks…
Peace of mind. Vacant homes are more vulnerable because when a problem happens, more likely than not, it may not be quickly detected. Theft, vandalism, broken water pipes and weather damage are just some of the risks that your empty home may face.
According to EstateSitting.com, “A home left unattended will start to deteriorate over time. An un-repaired crack in the wall, for example, is likely to get bigger. A tree may grow out of control or drop a limb, causing damage to your property or necessitating more money to maintain in the long run. Pests can move in (and live in your walls until their dying day). A pipe may start leaking without anyone around to notice it.
When a home is left unoccupied and unattended, potential risks can easily be realized. If someone is around to notice these issues, they can be dealt with. If the home is truly unoccupied, however, these problems are likely to metastasize and spiral.”1
For example, recently 30 firefighters were unable to save a vacant house that was engulfed in flames in the suburb of Langley, British Columbia. Local regulations require empty buildings to meet certain standards. In fact, Langley Township’s bylaw advisor notes that:
- “Property owners of vacant structures are required to ensure they are secure and remain secure against unauthorized entry.”2
- “Whether the property is waiting to be redeveloped, or the owners are living elsewhere, property must be made secure against unauthorized entry or occupation, vandalism or other intentional damage, or fire hazard.”3
- “Those who do not follow the requirements can find themselves on the hook financially: if a fire occurs, cost recovery can be sought by the Fire Department from property owners.”4
Depending on where your vacant home is located, specific regulations may apply to protecting your property from the many risks it faces while it sits empty.
Thankfully, unoccupied property insurance is designed to manage the specific risks that a vacant home may face. If your home will soon be vacant, an ALIGNED broker can help you find unoccupied property coverage that fills gaps and delivers the security you need while away.
Be risk aware | Your homeowners’ property policy likely has vacancy limit…
When people are not living in your home, your property faces different risks than when it is occupied. Unlike a summer vacation, an absence from your home of 30 to 60 days or more will likely require an endorsement to extend coverage.
The Insurance Bureau of Canada notes, “If you plan to be away from your residence for an extended period, speak to your insurance representative about any actions you need to take during your absence, particularly during the winter months when pipes may freeze. Insurance coverage on your home and its contents may cease automatically if your home becomes vacant without prior notification to your insurance representative.”5Insurance Bureau of Canada “All About Home Insurance”
This is why it is so important to contact your ALIGNED insurance broker before you are absent from home for an extended period. We need to know how long the vacancy will be and confirm this with your current insurance company. Because each insurance company has different requirements for occupancy, your property policy needs to include coverage for periods of vacancy.
We can help you find the best insurance options for your vacant home. Contact us to discuss not only coverage but risk management best practices for your empty or unoccupied property.
Need vacant home insurance? Work with an ALIGNED advocate.
Here at ALIGNED, we are always advocating for our clients. We understand that when you need insurance, you need to know that the broker you choose work with is your advocate in the marketplace.
You also need to know that when things go wrong, your insurance advocate will be there for you. Across Canada, we are there for our clients in good times and bad – and this is why we are proud to call ourselves your insurance advocates.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Is It Possible to Insure a Vacant Home?
It is certainly possible to insure a vacant home and if a home you own is going to be vacant for a period of time you should consider vacant house insurance. Typically, you cannot ensure your vacant home under your homeowner’s insurance policy, however. Separate or additional vacant home insurance is normally necessary. It is possible to get excellent vacant home coverage, but it usually comes at a higher premium.
2. What is a Vacant Home Insurance Policy?
A vacant home insurance policy comes into play when a home is unoccupied for 30 to 60 days. If your home is in fact vacant, or no one is intending to live in it, you need to notify your insurance company to see if they will cover your vacant home. A vacant home insurance policy may not contain the same coverage as your homeowner’s policy, and it is important to understand what is covered. This type of policy will specifically cover the risks involved in a vacant home.
3. Why is Vacant Home Insurance so Expensive?
Part of the reason vacant home insurance is so expensive is that most companies do not insure a vacant home on a homeowners’ policy, so it is necessary to seek separate coverage. Limitations on homeowners’ policy mean that if a property becomes vacant for a specific period (30-60 days normally) and something happens, it may not be covered. Another part of the cost associated with vacant house insurance is that there is added risk involved in a home being vacant. It’s more expensive to insure a vacant home because of the increased risks associated with the number of things that could go wrong with anyone being aware. Often this coverage is one and a half to three times higher than a policy for an occupied home, due to the higher risk involved for insurers.
4. What is the Difference Between Vacant and Unoccupied?
The difference between vacant and unoccupied in part lies in the reason for the vacancy. If a home has been vacated for a renovation or an extended trip, it is considered unoccupied because the intention is for it to be lived in again within a fairly short period. If a home is vacant because it is being sold or has been purchased as an investment and there is no intention for you to live in it, it is considered vacant. Insurance companies may have different timelines, but typically between 30-60 days of vacancy, they should be notified of the change in status of your home.
- Vacant Property Insurance Canada Explained
- Best Insurance For A Vacant Property In Canada
- Landlord Insurance Ontario and Why You Need It
Sources: 1 Estatesitting.com “The Ultimate Guide to Maintaining an Unoccupied Home”; 2,3,4 Langley Advance Times “Vacant home’s owner to be charged with firefighting effort” ; 5 IBC.ca “All About Home Insurance”