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Bellingham Bulletin

Vacancy Voids Your Homeowner Coverage

Jan 03, 2020 05:42PM ● By Pamela Johnson
It’s rare for our agency to go more than a few weeks between the times when we have to explain one of the more common and potentially dangerous pitfalls written into the fine print of most homeowner (HO) insurance policies.  In short, coverage is voided once the owner has vacated his or her residence for more than 30 consecutive days.  There are exceptions to just about everything in life, and sometimes a proactive agent and an agreeable insurer can accommodate you, but the standing rule remains that coverage is voided 30 days after vacancy by the owner.
 
Insurance carriers and their appointed agents, such as Ostrander, issue HO insurance policies when the owner of the house will live in the house.  If a non-owner will live in the house, we use a different kind of policy, known as a dwelling-fire policy.  If a house will be used as a “secondary” residence by the owner, such as in the case of a vacation home, we still use an HO policy, but we label and rate the policy as having “secondary” usage.  This puts the HO insurer on notice that the owner will likely be away from the property for weeks or possibly months at a time. 

When an HO policy is written using the secondary rating factor, the premium is often more expensive than that for an HO policy written with the primary rating factor.  It’s important for you to know the difference and to communicate it to your agent and HO carrier. 

How a house becomes vacant is not the issue.  Whether a house becomes vacant because of the owners moving away, death or personal circumstance, the “primary” residential HO policy voids 30 days into the vacancy.  People often challenge this ruling by holding up a clear image of a canceled check.  Surely, they state, if the HO carrier took the money, coverage must be in place.

What’s important to realize is that it’s NOT about the money.  The problem is the lack of occupancy by the owner of the home.  A lack of residency by the owner voids the coverage unless other arrangements have been made by the insured, the agent and the HO carrier.  Some carriers are more willing than others to make short-term arrangements.

Our agency started two vacant HO insurance policies just last week for two long-term clients and/or their family representatives.  The vacant policies both ended up costing more than the standard HO policies that were in effect.  Why, in heaven’s name, would anyone choose to pay more for insurance, you ask?  The answer is clearly stated in the title of this article.  They wanted to know for certain that their vacant house would be covered in the event that it burned to the ground. 

Article written by Dick Ostrander, owner of Ostrander Insurance (www.OstranderInsurance.com), located at 94 David Road, Bellingham. For more information, stop by the office or call Dick or Paul Ostrander at 508-966-1111.


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