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Advice for unoccupied properties during lockdown restrictions

Many business premises across Sheffield remain unoccupied because of the impact of lockdown.

If premises are unoccupied, we are advising landlords to check their insurance policy’s unoccupancy terms, conditions and exclusions. If you are a property owner and your tenant has temporarily vacated your property, you should do the same. All insurers use slightly different wordings in their policies, so it’s important to check what is included in yours.

In general you’ll need to be aware of the following:

  • The period that your property can remain unoccupied before you need to inform your insurer is typically 30, 45 or 60 days. However, this will vary policy to policy.
  • Vacant properties are at an increased risk of crime. Theft is a significant risk, not just of your contents but also of fixtures and fittings, such as pipework or boilers, which can be expensive to replace. Speak with your insurance broker about steps you can take to prevent theft.
  • The warranties and conditions that apply to your property’s insurance while it remains unoccupied may include a requirement, for instance, to turn off and drain the water supply. You may also need to get someone to inspect the property at regular intervals, such as every 7 or 14 days and ensure that the letterbox is sealed up. It is useful to record details of those visits.
  • Typical restrictions to the extent of cover that may apply to your property’s insurance while it is unoccupied include escape of water, malicious damage and theft.
  • Squatting in commercial properties is not a crime and the process of evicting squatters using the civil courts can take several weeks and incur substantial legal costs. Evicting unlawful occupants can therefore be an expensive annoyance for commercial property owners.
  • If you are planning to convert unoccupied commercial properties into residential accommodations you should speak to your insurance broker from the outset as there are specialist insurance policies available.

Jamie Harvey, Director at IFM Insurance said “vacant properties can create additional risks for property owners, particularly when left empty for long periods of time. Speaking to your broker or insurer should help clarify the position. Insurers will make a decision depending on the circumstances and may extend the cover for a longer period of time, impose conditions such as regular inspections and turning off services, restrict the cover and/or increase premiums.”

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