Winter precautions for owners of unoccupied property

Winter advice for owners of empty houses or unoccupied commercial property

Well, it looks distinctly like we’ve had our Summer and many of us are now left wondering if we’re set for another harsh Winter like we had last year. For owners of empty property whether it be empty houses or unoccupied commercial property, now is the time to start checking the buildings to ensure they are in good condition for the months ahead. Empty properties are most likely to lack routine maintenance as they may not be close to the owner’s home or business and the regular maintenance checks may not flag up any particular problems. This simple checklist will provide some advice for you.

Many insurance policies have conditions that apply from 1st October and last throughout the winter which require more frequent visits to check the property, the central heating to be left on at a certain temperature, the loft hatch to be left open a certain amount and various other requirements. So, you need to understand your unoccupied buildings insurance policy and if you are in any doubt as to the cover it provides or the requirements on you to maintain full cover then speak to your insurance broker.


The first item on your agenda will most likely be checking the guttering and downpipes. They need to be completely cleared of leaves, weed growth, detritus and any waste material that may have found its way into the pipes. If the access to the rainwater goods is difficult then you can call firms who use long flexible hoses attached to a powerful electric motor and they can ‘vacuum clean’ your gutters and downpipes.

Keeping your rainwater goods in good condition is an important exercise. Mould and ingress of water can occur if they are not kept clear and it is very likely this won’t be covered by your insurance policy so a bit of thought now will pay dividends.

Service your boiler

When the temperature starts to plummet you will realise it is time to service your boiler. Unfortunately everybody in your area is wanting their boilers serviced at the same time so the gas fitters (make sure they are ‘Gas Safe’ registered) plumbers will be inundated with requests for servicing work.

If your boiler is oil fired then it will also need to be serviced. You will also need to ensure that there is adequate oil to heat the property to your desired temperature and that the oil doesn’t run out prior to another delivery being available. Remember of course that even if you order a delivery of oil, the tanker may not be able to get through the snow, your oil may run out and therefore your boiler stops, your pipes freeze and the house is flooded. Furthermore, you cannot make a claim from the insurer as the heating was not on…bitter personal experience!

Check your roof

Check your roof for any missing tiles or slates or any that may have become dislodged in any high winds and gone unnoticed during the summer. Make sure you check your flat roofs, particularly if you have a warranty on your insurance policy which requires you to do so. Felt roofs have a limited life span and if they are in poor condition and they leak then your insurers may decline a claim on the basis that you didn’t maintain the property in good condition. If you check the roof and know the roof is in poor condition, it is best to bite the bullet and have it repaired or replaced prior to the weather turning cold and wet.

Check your woodwork

Check all woodwork for signs of rot or deterioration. A little maintenance work on timber sills and windows can save a lot of money in the long run – cracked paint will let the water in and once this happens the rotting process will start.


If your property is for sale you may want to keep the heating on to make the property more attractive to potential purchasers when they view the property. Unoccupied property insurance policies are very specific about the requirements of whether the water is left on or whether it must be turned off and the water system drained. Remember that whatever you choose to do you will need to satisfy the requirements of insurers but as a general rule of thumb, if the heating is off then the water must be off and drained and if the heating is on (24 hours per day) then the water may be left on. Refer to your policy, or call us for specific advice.

Paths and Steps

This last advice point applies equally to owners of unoccupied properties as well as occupied buildings. During the autumn the leaves fall from the trees and are blown around by the wind. They can collect on pathways and steps and if they are not cleared away they can cause a tripping hazard. This was the case for a real personal injury claim which went roughly as follows;-

The owners of a small block of converted flats on the South Coast were away for most of the year and employed a management company to look after the letting and management of the flats.

A visitor to the lower ground floor flat was descending the steps to the front door and slipped on slippery ‘gunge’ that was rotting leaves that had been allowed to collect on the steps. The visitor to the property sustained injuries and made a personal injury claim against the owner’s insurance policy. Eventually the insurers of the managing agent paid the claim as they had failed in their duty of care to maintain the property in the owner’s absence as they were required to do so under the terms of their contract.

This emphasises the need to keep pathways and steps clear of rotting leaves, detritus and anything else for that matter that may be a trip hazard. It is also worth mentioning that if you try to clear the snow and ice from a drive or pathway and somebody slips on badly cleared ground then you can be held liable as well. A degree of common sense should prevail, but if you are aware of the facts then you can make up your mind about your own property.

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