There are said to be over 200,000 homes sitting empty in England with an estimated value of £43.5 billion. While your block may not be accommodating any permanently empty “buy-to-leave” homes, some residents may enjoy extended breaks overseas. Or maybe an older resident has gone into care? Or a younger one has a temporary job away and needs to leave the flat empty for a while?
There are many reasons why a flat may be left unoccupied for extended periods. The most important thing to remember is that it will be a condition of the block’s buildings insurance policy that the insurer is told.
Typically, they need to know when the property will be unoccupied for a period in excess of 30 to 60 consecutive days, but do check your policy. There might not be a premium increase, but household insurance policies may say that if you leave your home “unoccupied for a period of time”, normally 30 or 60 days, then you will not be covered for certain insured perils – usually theft, attempted theft, malicious damage and escape of water, but again, check the policy.
Insurers usually ask that empty flats are regularly checked and that the owner makes sure that common sense precautions are taken.
If there is a claim arising from an incident in an unoccupied flat, insurers are likely to ask for proof of departure and return dates. If the unoccupancy is extended and undeclared, the claim may not be paid. In a block of flats a water leak may affect several properties and repair costs can soon mount up.
Keep an eye on sub-let flats in the property as well. The owners may have void periods between tenancies – when it is not let – and neglect to tell you. Remember, too, that your insurer should also be made aware of sub-letting, and that owners of sub-let flats should in turn be aware that they may not benefit from the same cover as owner-occupiers. A typical exclusion might be that sub-tenants may not qualify for alternative accommodation if the flat they rent becomes uninhabitable.
If a leaseholder is leaving a flat empty, they will want to keep it from getting musty or damp, and avoid minor problems escalating into potentially big issues. Switching off the electricity at the mains and unplugging everything before they go is easy, but they will need someone else to ensure that the flat remains ventilated and fresh and to make regular visual checks on plumbing.
They may have local family and friends or a trusted neighbour in the building who can keep an eye on the place. As a director of the residents’ management company, do check with them that they have made arrangements before they go away, and make sure you have the keyholders’ contact details in case of emergencies.
If they do not have a keyholder, perhaps you might suggest that they leave a key with the managing agents or a director of the residents’ management company – always remembering that it’s probably wise to make sure the person carrying out inspections has the owner’s written formal consent to enter their flat.
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