Insuring vacant dwellings

Reviewed by Stefan Tirschler

Updated March 23, 2023

“Vacant dwelling” is a term used to describe a residence when the occupants have left the home with no intention of returning. This is different from an “unoccupied dwelling”, a term that relates to a temporary leave of absence, such as a vacation.


Thumbnail of the Vacant Dwelling YouTube video

When is a property considered vacant?

Imagine a vacant house. You’re probably picturing something old and decrepit, right?

From an insurance standpoint, it’s important to remember that even a brand new home can be considered vacant. If you buy a home but don’t move in right away, or if your rental property is untenanted, the property is considered a vacant dwelling. When all occupants have left the home with no intention to return, the home is considered vacant—regardless of whether or not furniture or personal belongings have been left behind.

Here’s the bad news; insuring a vacant dwelling presents more challenges than insuring a primary residence as there are more risks involved. Insurance providers may not include certain coverages, such as glass breakage, vandalism and water damage. If your home is vacant for more than 30 days, you’ll generally have no coverage at all unless you’ve informed your insurance provider and they accept the risk. In these cases, there is usually an increased premium, and some providers may require you to pay a monthly fee for a vacancy permit.

Protect your vacant home with Square One

The good news? Square One offers excellent coverage for vacant homes. Water damage is excluded, but glass and vandalism coverage remains, with only a slight increase in deductibles. Want to protect your property? Here are some tips to help prevent losses from occurring in the first place.

  • Make sure the home looks occupied;
  • Keep the lawn trimmed and pick up any garbage or debris;
  • Close your blinds so thieves can’t see inside;
  • Don’t let your mail pile up;
  • If you’re unable to take care of this yourself, ask a friend or neighbour to check on your property once a week;
  • Install a timer so your lights turn on and off with the daylight;
  • Make sure the heating is maintained in winter; and,
  • Make sure to lock all windows and doors and consider installing a security system that allows you to monitor your home remotely.
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What if I’m renovating my home?

Homes under construction or renovation usually fall under their own category of insurance and aren’t considered vacant dwellings.

Any changes you make to your home fall into one of two categories; renovations and construction. Smaller additions, like installing a new bathroom or fitting double glazing, are considered renovations. During the work you can often keep living in your home, and your insurance provider may just make a note of the changes and continue coverage as normal. Once work is complete you may actually see a decrease in your premium if the renovations include replacing things likeold wiring, plumbing or roofing.

Larger jobs, where the home is rebuilt from the foundation up, are considered construction. This is the same as (and pertains to) building a completely new home. You can’t usually live on the property as there will be people (contractors, managers, etc.) coming and going frequently.

If you’re planning any changes to your home, be sure to contact your home insurance provider to ensure your property is covered throughout the process. They’ll make sure you have the right coverage and make a note of the value of the changes you’re making so that your home is insured for the correct amount. This may result in a slight increase to your premium, but if you fail to take this action and you suffer a loss, you could end up paying for the renovations twice, as they won’t be covered.

Commonly asked questions

What happens if a contractor is injured while working on my house?

All reputable contractors will ensure that worker’s compensation programs (like WorkSafe in BC, for example) are adhered to. In the event that someone is injured working on your home, these programs will respond to the claim. However, if the limit of insurance isn’t high enough, it’s still possible that you might find yourself facing a lawsuit, so make sure you have a suitable limit for premises liability.

Is my property considered vacant even if I move in my belongings?

Good question. While most people might see the location of your possessions as an indicator to whether a property is vacant or not, the definition of a vacant home has more to do with you than your belongings. If you don’t plan on returning, the home is considered vacant, regardless of whether or not your furnishings are moved in.

What about my second home? Is that considered vacant?

Any type of home can be considered vacant at any time, it just depends how you use the property. Say you purchase a new property as an investment, but for whatever reason, you don’t want to rent it out. If you have no intention of moving into the property, it will be considered vacant.

Vacation homes are a little harder to categorise. Let’s say you own a beach house. Chances are, in the summer you and your family will be in and out of the property. Each time you leave you will have a clear intention to return. But come fall, you may be done for the season. In this instance, we would consider this property a second home or vacation home; where the intent is to return, so it is not considered vacant. However, if you don’t visit the property at all during the off season, your second home may be considered vacant during this period.

Can a vacant home be insured?

Yes it can. Looking to set up insurance for a vacant property or looking for more answers regarding vacant dwelling insurance? Get an online quote in under 5 minutes and find out how affordable personalized home insurance can be.

Watch the full video

Want to learn more? Visit our Homeowner resource centre for more articles created specifically to help you navigate homeownership. Or, get an online quote in under 5 minutes and find out how affordable personalized home insurance can be.

About the expert: Stefan Tirschler

Stefan is responsible for underwriting leadership, market expansion, and product research and development for Square One's operations. Stefan has earned his Fellow Chartered Insurance Professional designation, and maintains a level 2 general insurance license in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario. Stefan is also an Education Committee member and CIP/GIE instructor for the Insurance Institute of Canada.


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