Leaving your home unoccupied for an extended period could void your home and contents insurance.
Planning a three-month round-the-world holiday? Be careful, as you may be leaving behind an uninsured home.
If you vacate your home for an extended period, such as going on holiday or moving out while your kitchen is being renovated, your insurer may consider your home unoccupied and your home insurance may not cover you.
So, how do insurers treat unoccupied homes and how can you make sure yours is always covered? Let’s take a closer look.
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What does unoccupied mean for home insurance?
If you leave your home for an extended period of time, it will be considered unoccupied and you may void your home insurance.
How long is an extended period of time? That depends on the insurer, as each provider imposes its own time limit on the maximum period you can leave your home unoccupied and still expect full coverage under your policy. Some insurers have a maximum unoccupied limit of 60 days, others extend this limit out to 90 days, but some companies require notification if you’ll be away for more than 30 days.
Check the product disclosure statement (PDS) for the limit imposed by your insurer. If you exceed this limit, one of two things will happen:
- The insurer may impose an additional excess on any claims that arise while your home is unoccupied.
- Your policy may be cancelled.
However, it may be possible to contact your insurer and arrange for home insurance cover to remain in place for the entire time your home is unoccupied.
Why does it matter if my home is unoccupied?
Insurance is all about risk. By agreeing to cover your home against a wide range of events, the insurer takes on a certain level of risk. But if you leave your home unoccupied for a long period, that level of risk will increase.
Think about it. When your home is unoccupied it’s a prime target for burglars, thieves and vandals, and you also can’t protect it against fire, storm or other weather-related perils. Events that may only cause minimal damage if you’re there to look after your property can cause much more serious damage if there’s no-one at home. Even something as simple as a burst pipe can cause a whole lot of expensive damage to an unoccupied home if you’re not there to call an emergency plumber or turn off the mains water supply.
So, to minimise their exposure to this increased level of risk, insurers impose terms and conditions on leaving your home unoccupied.
Can I get insurance for an unoccupied house?
Yes. In many cases it’s possible to get an endorsement from your insurer to provide cover while you’re away from home.
If you’re planning on leaving your home unoccupied for longer than the limit specified in the PDS, you’ll need to contact the insurer and notify them of your plans. Depending on the circumstances, your insurer may be happy to continue cover, but you’ll commonly be asked to pay an additional premium.
The insurer may also impose additional exclusions and restrictions on your policy. For example, you may be required to make sure your home is kept in a lived-in state by:
- Keeping the lawns mowed
- Stopping the mail, newspaper and other regular deliveries
- Getting someone such as a friend, relative or neighbour to check on your house (inside and outside once a week)
These conditions vary between insurers and in accordance with your personal circumstances, but failing to abide by them could cause any claims during this period to be refused.
Can I get insurance for a vacant block of land?
Okay, so you can get cover for an unoccupied home, but what about if you own a vacant block of land? While there may not be any buildings on the property that need to be insured, there’s always the risk that a member of the public could suffer an injury or loss on your land.
This is why you should consider vacant land insurance. This provides public liability cover to protect you if your ownership of the land results in someone else suffering an injury or property damage. It’s also possible to get cover for any structures that may be on the land, such as sheds, outbuildings and the like.
Common empty-home scenarios
What are some common scenarios where you might leave your home unoccupied for long enough that it could affect your insurance?
- Leaving your home empty while travelling. If you’re planning an extended holiday, there’s probably a high likelihood that you’ll exceed your insurer’s maximum unoccupied limit. For cover to continue, make sure you contact your insurer and notify them of your plans before you depart.
- Leaving your home empty while you stay in your summer home. You may be lucky enough to own an extra property that acts as a second home for a few months of the year, for example if you own a holiday house somewhere tropical that you can escape to when winter hits. This means leaving your primary home unoccupied for an extended period, so you’ll need to get the OK from your insurer if you want cover to continue.
- Leaving your home empty while you renovate. Living in your house while it’s renovated can be stressful and far from practical, so moving out for a few months while work is completed may be the best solution. Not only will your home insurance cover be cancelled if you’re away for an extended period, but keep in mind that home insurance commonly won’t cover claims that arise because of the renovations.
- Leaving your home empty while you receive medical treatment. If you suffer a serious illness or injury, you could be away from home for several weeks or even months while you undergo treatment and recover. If this happens, you (or someone with power of attorney) will need to contact your insurer to find out what cover is available.
- Getting a house sitter. If you’re going to be away from home for an extended period, you may be contemplating getting a house sitter to mind your home. The good news is that this shouldn’t have any impact on your home insurance, but it’s still recommended that you contact the insurer to let them know of your plans.
- Leaving a house vacant while trying to sell it or rent it out. If you plan to leave the property vacant while you either look to sell it or try to find new tenants to rent it out, check with your insurer to find out how this will affect your policy. While many insurers will cover unoccupied homes for up to 60 or 90 days, there are some landlord insurance policies that require you to notify the insurer each time your home is left vacant due to a change of tenant.
Protecting your home while you’re away
Remember these few simple tips to help keep your home safe and secure when you’re not around:
- Consider a house sitter. Whether you go through a specialist house sitting service or simply ask a friend or family member to do you a favour, getting someone to mind your house will guarantee peace of mind while you’re away.
- Arrange for someone to check in regularly. If you can’t get a sitter, get someone you trust to stop in and check on the house at least once a week. Ask them to take a look inside and out to make sure everything is okay, as well as take care of any telltale signs of a vacant home, such as uncollected junk mail.
- Stop the mail and other deliveries. Speaking of mail, contact Australia Post to have your postal service put on hold. If you get a newspaper or any other regular deliveries, make sure to cancel them as well.
- Keep lawns mown. An unkempt lawn and overgrown garden will alert thieves and burglars that there’s no-one home, and that there’s unlikely to be anyone home any time soon. Arrange for a friend or a professional garden service to stay on top of lawn and garden maintenance while you’re away.
- Consider security options. Before you depart, thoroughly review just how secure your home is. Check all locks on windows and doors, and consider installing a back-to-base burglar alarm for added security.
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