Checking Out: Unoccupied Home Insurance

Planning on spending a few months away from your home while visiting family or at a holiday location? Leaving your property vacant while you look to sell or while getting major renovations? Or have you been caught in lockdown restrictions overseas or in another state during the COVID-19 pandemic?

If you leave your home unoccupied for weeks at a time, the insurance for your home or contents could be impacted.

However, there are options you can consider to cover your property while you’re away.

What is considered an unoccupied home?

Insurers consider an unoccupied home to be one that has not had anyone living in it for an extended period of time, usually for 60 consecutive days or more. However, the maximum time you can leave your home unoccupied and still receive full coverage will depend on your home insurance policy. Check the Product Disclosure Statement (PDS) or contact your insurer directly to confirm their definition of ‘unoccupied’ and to see what time limits apply under your policy.

Of the 100 home and contents insurance policies Canstar rates at the time of writing, the majority have a maximum time limit of 60 days in which your unoccupied home will be fully covered. Currently, none of the policies on our database offer unlimited cover for an unoccupied house.

Policies rated by Canstar – Maximum period a home can be unoccupied before cover is affected
Max period unoccupied home cover Number of policies
60 days 85
90 days 10
100 days 2
120 days 3
Unlimited 0
Source: – 15/07/2020. Based on home & contents policies in Canstar’s database.

If you are away for longer than the specified unoccupancy period on your policy then you could potentially void your home insurance coverage, or have restrictions when making a claim on events that occurred while your home was empty.

Why is leaving your home unoccupied a concern for insurers?

The reason insurers will often impose restrictions on your coverage if you leave your home empty for a particular period of time is that while it is left unoccupied, the level of risk generally increases for a range of events including vandalism, theft and weather-related perils.

unoccupied home insurance
If your home is unoccupied it can become more of a target for thieves. Source: Brian A Jackson (Shutterstock)

When you are at home you can look after your property if a problem occurs, such as by moving outdoor furniture in the event of a storm or getting a burst pipe fixed before it causes extensive damage. Being present in your home can also make it less of a target for thieves or vandals.

So, in order to minimise this risk, most insurers will apply terms and conditions to leaving your home unoccupied for a certain period of time.

Can you get cover for an unoccupied home?

If you are planning to be away from your home for longer than the maximum period of time specified in your insurance policy, and you want to keep your cover active while you are gone, then you may want to consider contacting your insurer to request an endorsement or special permit. If provided by your insurer, this permit could give you cover for your home for an extra period of time.

The type of additional cover given and whether you will be charged for it through your premium will depend on the agreement you make with your provider. Your insurer may also require you to take additional steps to protect your property while you are away before they grant you the permit. These steps could include installing smoke or security alarms, or getting someone to check on the home regularly while you are gone.

If you do not currently have a home insurance policy and want cover while your home is unoccupied for an extended period, you will need to notify your chosen provider so they can factor this into your quote.

If you’re comparing home and contents insurance policies, the comparison table below displays some of the policies currently available on Canstar’s database for an Australian aged under 50, seeking cover in NSW or ACT for a cost to replace building and contents of below $550,000. Please note the table is sorted by Star Rating (highest to lowest), followed by provider name (alphabetical) and features links direct to the providers’ websites. Use Canstar’s home insurance comparison selector to view a wider range of policies.

Common scenarios for your home being unoccupied

There are some common scenarios where leaving your home unoccupied could lead to issues with your insurance. These may include:

  • Travelling abroad

If you leave your home for an extended trip away, you may need to request an endorsement for additional coverage from your insurer.

  • Medical treatment

If you fall ill and need to leave your home to receive treatment, it could be a good idea for you, or someone with power of attorney who can act on your behalf, to notify your insurer to see what cover options are available and if other arrangements need to be made.

  • Holiday home

If you own a holiday home and you spend significant time at both this and your primary residence, you may want to discuss this arrangement with your insurer to ensure adequate cover for both properties.

  • Renovating

If you are renovating your home and need to leave while work is being done, then consider checking with your insurer whether they will cover you while you are gone. It could also be a good idea to check whether damage arising from renovations is included in your policy.

  • Renting or selling

There may be periods of time when your rental home is empty while you look for tenants, or while you are repairing or cleaning the property. Your property could also be empty while you are trying to sell it. You may need to request an endorsement on your home insurance or landlord insurance to get coverage during this time.

  • Caught in COVID-19 lockdown

The recent COVID-19 pandemic has led to restrictions on travel in Australia and overseas. If you have been caught up in another country or in another state in Australia and are unable to get back to your property for a long period of time, it may be worth giving your insurer a call to discuss your home insurance options during the pandemic.

Cover image source: Alexander Geiger (Shutterstock)

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