News: 2010 Press Release
For Release: August 18, 2010
Media Calls Only: 916-492-3566
Insurance Commissioner Poizner: Vacant Homes Pose Insurance Risks
As More Houses are Left Unsold, Owners of Unoccupied Property Should Review Homeowners Policy and Consider Vacancy Protection Options
Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner today encouraged California homeowners to review their homeowners' policy and to consider their options regarding vacancy protection. As the U.S. housing market struggles to rebound, many homeowners are stuck with hard-to-sell properties longer than expected. Some frustrated home sellers who must relocate for a new job opportunity, want to downsize or simply want to buy a new place have left homes empty. Vacant or unoccupied homes can leave the homeowner exposed to loss and liability that may not be covered by their insurance.
The Pending Home Sales Index, released on August 3 by the National Association of Realtors, dropped 2.6 percent to 75.7 based on contracts signed in June from 77.7 in May, and is 18.6 percent below June 2009 - another sign of the stagnant housing market.
"In many cases, people who have been trying to sell their homes for awhile have moved forward with their plans regardless, leaving a vacant home on the market," said Commissioner Poizner. "Having an unoccupied home can create several insurance implications that typically are not covered under a standard homeowners' policy."
The Added Risks of Vacant Homes
Homeowners' policies are meant to insure homes that are occupied, so they generally include exclusions for neglect or property abandonment on a home left vacant or unoccupied for a specified number of consecutive days.
Because vacant and unoccupied homes pose a higher risk for damage than occupied homes, insurance companies insure these properties differently and usually at a higher price. These risks include:
· Break-ins: When a home has been unoccupied for awhile, it can show signs that nobody is around - unkempt lawn, full mailbox, and no lights on - that can tip off burglars to an easy target.
· No emergency response: Without anyone home to call 911 or respond to emergencies, a manageable problem - such as a small electrical fire - can turn into a much larger, more costly disaster.
Keeping Your Vacant Home Properly Insured
As there are variations in language addressing vacant or unoccupied dwellings in the policies issued by insurers, it is of the utmost importance that homeowners read their individual policies very carefully. The definition of vacancy and unoccupancy can vary from policy to policy. Some insurers may not pay claims if a home is vacant for 60 days or more. Some policies might automatically shift to a different amount of coverage (e.g. liability insurance only) after a specific number of days left unoccupied. It is also not unusual for policies to exclude coverage for losses due to vandalism, malicious mischief and/or breakage of glass if the dwelling had been unoccupied for more than 30 consecutive days prior to the loss.
Some homeowners' policies have a "vacancy clause" that can be triggered if the homeowner is gone for an extended period of time. If this happens, the homeowner could violate the terms of their contract and some or all of their coverage may not apply in the event of a loss.
"Before you decide to leave a home vacant or unoccupied for a long period of time, talk to your insurance agent or insurance company to learn how they define vacancy and unoccupancy, and whether the company will pay claims if a house is unoccupied," added Commissioner Poizner. "Be honest about your situation, because while an extra policy or endorsement to provide coverage during the vacant or unoccupied period of time might cost more, it could save you money down the road should there be an accident or damage to the home."
Many insurance companies offer an endorsement that will provide coverage for a dwelling that is unoccupied for an extended period of time. Vacancy policies can also be purchased for different term lengths to cover a few months to a year, depending on the need.
For more information contact please visit the Department of Insurance website at www.insurance.ca.gov or call us at 800-927-HELP to obtain consumer information guides about additional insurance products, or for any insurance-related questions.
Please visit the Department of Insurance Web site at www.insurance.ca.gov. Non media inquiries should be directed to the Consumer Hotline at 800.927.HELP. Callers from out of state, please dial 213.897.8921. Telecommunications Devices for the Deaf (TDD), please dial 800.482.4833.
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