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Unoccupied premises

When a property becomes unoccupied for an extended period of time, the nature of the property’s insurance risk changes. Under most property insurance policies, insurers include certain restrictions in cover to cater for unoccupied properties. The following are most prevalent of the increased risk.

  1. Theft / Attempted Theft:  When a property is unoccupied for an extended period, it soon becomes a target of criminal elements that, due to the absence of people on the property, will be more inclined to break in, knowing the chance of encountering resistance or being disturbed is greatly reduced.
  2. Malicious Damage:  Properties left vacant for lengthy periods may also be vandalised or maliciously damaged. This is unlikely to happen where the property is occupied on a daily basis. Malicious damage, both inside and outside of the property, may lead to further resultant damage. For example, theft of copper water pipes leads to resultant water damage and loss of water.
  3. Water Damage:  Where water damage occurs in an occupied property, the source of the damage is usually identified and dealt with quite quickly which would minimise the amount of damage caused. Where a property is unoccupied for lengthy periods, a small amount of water can lead to a far greater degree of damage if not timeously discovered and dealt with. Examples of this would be water penetration to carpets and wooden surfaces. When the water damage goes undetected, mould and decay sets in. This ultimately leads to greater degrees of damage that could have been minimised if the property had been occupied and the damage dealt with in a reasonable time frame.
  4. Other Perils:  These may include perils such as fire and storm. In the case of fire, damage can often be minimised by fighting the fire soon after it started. If there is no one present to observe the fire, it is sure to burn unchallenged, resulting in far wider spread of damage. Likewise, unchecked storm damage may result in the property being left exposed to other forms of damage as a result of the initial storm damage not being immediately attended to. For example, a portion of the roofing may blow off or windows may break allowing for further damage from wind or rain that may occur after the initial storm representing a secondary event.

In view of the above, it is understandable that insurers will take additional precautions where a property such as a holiday home is left unoccupied for extended periods. Most policies will apply an additional excess of 20% of the claim amount for losses that occur during the first 30 days of unoccupancy. Theft and malicious damage cover is then terminated for the unoccupied section from day 31. However, if the insurer receives advanced written notice of the intended unoccupancy of a section, most insurers will then continue to provide the cover, albeit subject to an increased excess.

So what can a property owner do to ensure maximum protection for his property while away?

  • All water and non-essential electrical supplies should be switched off at the main stopcock or DB board.
  • All doors and windows should be adequately protected against unsolicited intrusion.
  • Where property is left vacant for extensive periods, a responsible party should be given access to the property to allow for periodic inspection to deal with any damage that may have occurred.


Author:  Bruce Gibson

Contact Addsure – The Leaders in Sectional Title Insurance – for fit and proper advice from advisors who understand sectional title. Contact us in Johannesburg on (011) 704-3858; in Durban on (031) 459-1795 and in Cape Town on (021) 551-5069