Voids send a shiver down the spine of all property investors, the last thing you want is for your investment to be sitting empty. It’s not just the cost of the mortgage. You need to bear in mind that your property faces a number of other risks while vacant – which could also be potentially costly.
1. Property fraud
Be aware that mortgage-free empty properties are potentially at risk of property fraud. It may allow opportunists to sell your property without owning it. The Land Registry will allow you to set up a property fraud alert online.
2. Theft and vandalism
Of course, one of the main risks is theft from the property. For instance, if there’s a pile of mail on the door mat, an opportunist thief may break in to take any remaining contents, or vandals may damage the property. If you live nearby, make sure you visit regularly, removing signs that the property is unoccupied. If that’s not an option, ask a neighbour to check.
3. Great British weather
One of the joys of living in the UK is the often-unpredictable nature of the weather. Storms, snow, hail and wind can cause damage to the property, from dislodged roof tiles to smashed windows and flooding. If you know bad weather is on the way, make plans to check on the property afterwards. You want to be sure that it is secure and the damage won’t escalate.
4. Hidden damage
It goes without saying, if your property is vacant, there’s no one around to report problems, such as burst pipes and leaks. Thankfully you can take precautions against events like this, for instance, by keeping the boiler on low if the property is only going to be vacant for a short time. If it’s going to be empty for longer, you should consider turning off the stopcock and draining your heating system – just be sure to check how long your insurer will cover unoccupied properties.
If there is rubbish and overgrown vegetation at the property, there’s a chance you could end up with some unwanted tenants, such as rodents. Not only can this cause damage to your property, but it may also become a public health hazard, affecting neighbouring properties. If this happens, the local council may issue an improvement notice. If you fail to take action, the council may arrange for the problem to be resolved and issue you with both a fine and a bill for the clean-up.
7. Council Tax
On the subject of the council, don’t forget that Council Tax is normally levied on empty properties. You will need to continue paying these bills until you have a new tenant to take on the costs.
The other time you may have an empty property is while you’re redecorating or refurbishing. Again, all of the points above must be taken into consideration. If you don’t have unoccupancy cover as part of your landlord insurance, you may want to consider taking out renovated property insurance, which will cover a wide range of scenarios.
9. Landlord insurance
Unsurprisingly, we suggest that you notify your insurer or broker that the property is empty as soon as possible. They’ll explain what to do next. It may be that your policy doesn’t cover vacant periods, so you might need to pay an additional premium for unoccupied property insurance. They may also put a time limit on how long the property can be left unoccupied – for instance, up to 30 days.
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