Leave Your Home Vacant? You Could Lose Insurance Coverage

Heading south for the winterBefore heading south for the winter like a Canada goose, make sure to check up on your vacant house insurance policy. Image: Bryant Olsen/Flickr

Do the geese flying south have you thinking of closing up your house and spending the winter in a warmer climate? Before you pack your swimsuit and sandals, take note: If you leave your house empty for too long, you could lose your home owners insurance — and your home equity if a fire or other disaster destroys or damages your house.

Do the geese flying south have you thinking of closing up your house and spending the winter in a warmer climate? Are you moving out of town and trying to rent your old home? Before you pack your swimsuit and sandals, take note: If you leave your house empty for too long, you could lose your home owners insurance — and your home equity if a fire or other disaster destroys or damages your house.

Insurance companies hate vacant houses, whether you’re taking a extended vacation or you’re moving out of town and leaving your house empty. If you’re not home and a water pipe busts, a fire starts, or someone breaks in, chances are the subsequent mess is going to be pretty big — along with the insurance claim for the damage.

If you’re lucky, your insurance company will let you leave the house vacant, but just won’t pay for certain things like broken glass, vandalism, or malicious mischief. At worst, your home owners insurance company will yank your policy if you go away and leave the house unattended for a month or more.

Some companies, like State Farm, decide on a case-by-case basis whether you can keep your policy when you’re temporarily not living in your home, especially if you’ve got a plan to take care of the place while you’re out of town.

Say you’re going on a two-month, around-the-world cruise (lucky you!). You’re more likely to keep your coverage if you hire a company to shovel the snow so your home looks occupied while you’re gone. 

Some insurers will cancel your policy if your house is vacant for 30 days. If that happens to you, call a commercial insurance broker. Commercial agents sell insurance to landlords who have vacant houses all the time — during renovations, or when they’re between tenants.

Expect to pay about 15% to 20% more than you were paying for your regular home owners insurance.

The bottom line is that if you’re heading south for the winter, read the fine print in your home owners policy to see what it says about vacancies. Then, email your agent or insurance company to double-check the rules. Don’t call, because an email is a written record of your communication. You might need that record later if the company refuses to pay a claim because your house was vacant.

Have you left your house vacant for more than a month? Did you check your home owners insurance policy before you left?