Reviewed by Stefan Tirschler
Updated October 11, 2022
va·cant | ˈvā-kənt
Definition: Of a home, having no occupants at present with no plans for occupants to return.
She wasn’t sure if her home was considered vacant while she was away on holidays.
A vacant home is one that nobody lives in. It’s more than just a home that’s empty—your home doesn’t become vacant while you’re at work for the day.
When it comes to home insurance, vacant is a specific term that refers to a form of occupancy. If you look at your home insurance policy, you’ll find a clear definition of vacant as it applies to that policy.
Each home insurance provider may define vacant a little differently. But, you can expect that everyone considers a home vacant after the inhabitants have moved out with no intention to return.
“Intention to return” is important; when you go on vacation, you intend to come home (presumably), and so your home won’t be vacant. When you leave your cottage at the end of the summer, you may not be there for six-plus months, but you do intend to return in the spring.
Again, your own insurance provider will be able to tell you exactly when they consider a home vacant. For example, many require notice if you’re going to be away for more than 30 days—even if you intend to come back. Usually there’s no issue if you let them know, but there could be coverage implications if you don’t.
As an example, here’s the definition of vacant that a Square One policyholder would see:
Vacant means all occupants have left the home with no intention of returning and no new occupants have moved into it, regardless of the presence of furnishings or other belongings. In the case of a newly constructed home, Vacant means occupants have not yet moved into the home. In the case of a newly acquired home, Vacant means occupants have not moved into the home within seven (7) days of when you take legal ownership of the home.
Contrary to popular belief, the presence of furniture in a home has no bearing on whether it’s vacant. Vacant homes can be fully furnished, and occupied homes can be entirely unfurnished (though they wouldn’t be nice to live in).
Most providers don’t consider homes under construction or renovation to be vacant; they have their own categories. Similarly, a vacation home may not be “vacant” during the offseason, but it would require special coverage that factors in the long stretches of time during which it’s unoccupied.
One other thing to note:
The definition of vacant in home insurance is different from the definition in other places—most importantly, vacancy taxes.
Many jurisdictions in Canada have a vacancy tax, which applies only to vacant homes. These taxes usually have a rather different definition of vacant. For example, Vancouver’s Empty Homes Tax applies to any property that’s unoccupied for more than six months during the tax year, regardless of the occupants’ plans to return.
So, a home in Vancouver could presumably be both vacant and occupied, depending on whether it was the government or an insurance company looking at it.
Home insurance providers always need to know if a home is vacant.
Vacant homes face greater risks than occupied homes, which makes them more expensive to insure. If a home is vacant, there’s no one there to respond to potential issues, and those issues could quickly spiral out of control.
Frozen pipes are a common example in Canada. If a home is vacant during the winter, it’s susceptible to this particular risk. If the power goes out, or the furnace fails, the water pipes can quickly freeze and burst—causing thousands of dollars in damage.
Many providers require someone to check up on a home if it’s empty for more than a few days—whether vacant or temporarily unoccupied.
Some home insurance providers are willing to insure vacant homes, others are not. That’s why it’s important to inform your insurance provider as soon as your home becomes vacant (their definition of vacant). If you don’t, your coverage could be void.
Even if a provider does insure vacant homes, there may be additional restrictions attached. For example, a provider may exclude vandalism coverage for vacant homes. And, water damage is almost always excluded when a home is vacant, whether you have told your insurance provider about it or not.
As every provider treats vacancy differently, it’s crucial to understand how your own policy defines and covers vacant homes. And, it’s equally crucial to fulfill your responsibilities. That includes informing your provider if your home is empty, and ensuring someone’s visiting to check up on it during that time.
Looking for another insurance definition? Look it up in The Insurance Glossary, home to dozens of easy-to-follow definitions for the most common insurance terms. 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.
Check out these related articles:
Get a personalized online home insurance quote in just 5 minutes and see how much money you can save by switching to Square One.
Even when you take precautions, accidents can happen. Home insurance is one way to protect your family against financial losses from accidents. And, home insurance can start from as little as $12/month.