Managing an Empty House

June 16, 2016

For one reason or another, you may find yourself responsible for an empty house.  It could be because you divide your time between houses, a move to a care facility, a death, a tenant move, or a move across town.  When no one lives in a house, be sure you adequately protect the property.

Alarm systems:  Vacant homes are easy targets for vandalism and burglary.  A prominently displayed alarm system can help deter crime. 

Locks: Change the locks if there is any chance that a copy of a key is missing.  Over the years, keys are often left with friends, family members, delivery people, and repair people.

The author, Karen Reagler, is an estate planning attorney with Baim Reagler & Naramore, PLLC.

Mail:  Forward the mail.  A full mail box is a clear sign of an empty house and an easy path toward a stolen identity.

Check the house:  Small problems can escalate quickly if not caught.  Have someone periodically check the house for leaks, broken windows, heating and cooling.

Maintain utilities:  Consider keeping electricity to give the appearance of someone’s presence, powering the alarm system, and maintaining the house.  Heating and cooling discourages mold growth and other deterioration of the house.

Insurance:  Your regular home insurance may not cover an empty house.  If a home is unoccupied for 30 or 60 consecutive days, but the owners could return at any time, some insurance companies require an endorsement or special permit.  Vacant homes—homes without personal property inside—may require immediate action to continue insurance coverage. 

Whatever you do, you need to contact your insurance company to make sure that your house is covered by insurance.  Pretending that a house is not empty could lead to a cancellation of the policy or denial of claim.  The time to check is before the claim arises. 

If you are responsible for the empty house, take proactive steps.  If damage occurs while you are responsible, it could be up to you to pay for the damage or reimburse others.

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