Premises Liability – Seasonal Issues
There are a number of reasons that you might leave a home unoccupied in Florida. Some residents have to take extended work assignments, and many are retired snowbirds who return to their northern homes in the summer months. And sometimes, rental properties can go unoccupied or homes up for sale may stay empty while on the market.
But before you leave a house vacant or unoccupied, it’s important to prepare properly. That includes reviewing your home insurance requirements. It is important to recognize that if a home has been “vacant” for more than 60 days, many home insurance policies typically don’t cover losses for things like vandalism, and, without the right policy, homeowners could be more susceptible to liability.
When it comes to homeowner insurance, occupancy matters. In the state of Florida, a standard home insurance policy usually does not cover a home during long periods of vacancy. Yet it is important to recognize the difference between the words “vacant” and “unoccupied.” Generally, a home is considered a “vacancy” when it is only partially furnished and too empty for someone to actually live there, without things such as a bed, sofa, silverware, lamps and the like. An “unoccupied” home is still furnished and would define most snowbird scenarios.
However, even if you leave your furniture exactly as it is while you head up north for a few months, it’s a good idea to ensure that your home insurance policy will protect your property while you are away and to take precautions to keep your liabilities limited. Many homeowners take out additional Florida Vacant Dwelling Coverage just in case something happens while they are away.
Vacant homes, even those that are merely unoccupied, are at much greater risk than occupied homes. An undetected broken pipe or faulty hot water heater could cause major damage, and vacant homes are much more vulnerable to break-ins and vandalism. For this reason, insurance rates for vacant homes tend to be significantly higher than standard home insurance policies, but they are worth consideration.
Vacant home insurance policies often include coverage for property damage for acts of God like fire, storms, and lightning damage, but they also often include coverage for acts of men, like vandalism and break-ins. These policies also provide additional coverage for medical in case anyone is injured on your property while you’re away, and liability coverage in case someone initiates a claim against you. You may also want to consider amending the contents coverage to take “all risk” into account rather than just the normal named perils, to ensure that any other bizarre claims are covered as well. This is Florida, after all.
Yet beyond just the proper insurance, there are a few other steps you can take to limit your liability and take better care of your home while you are away.
- Install a home security system. Security systems do help you qualify for discounts on home insurance policies, but they are also extremely practical when they collect video surveillance and monitor other aspects of the home.
- Upgrade the lighting. A combination of timed lights, both indoor and outdoor, as well as motion-sensitive lighting, will keep your home looking lived in, and keep it safer should anyone happen to come on the property.
- Have your neighbors keep an eye out. If not a neighbor, have someone check the house on a regular basis to make sure that nothing is damaged or out of place.
- Continue your maintenance services. Be sure that your lawn maintenance crews and pool services are continuing to keep the property looking good and free of unnecessary debris.
While leaving a home unoccupied does have the potential to increase your liability, it doesn’t have to if you take these preparatory steps.