Insurers may not pay if homes unoccupied for 45 consecutive days

Homeowners have been urged to check their policies and advise their insurers if they intend leaving their homes unoccupied for more than 45 days.

The advice comes following the settlement of a case earlier this month where a farmer from Beara in Cork took an action against FBD Insurance after the company refused to pay a claim for a burnt-down farmhouse on the basis that it was unoccupied.

Non-life insurance manager with the Irish Insurance Federation (IIF), Michael Horan, said such a clause was not an unusual one and was standard in policies for many years.

“In general, certain perils like the damage arising from the escape of water or oil and things like theft would not be covered if the house was unoccupied for 45 consecutive days and 90 days whether consecutive or not.

“These limits can vary between different companies and in different policies. The logic of it would be in the cases where people are leaving their houses for long periods of time and pipes freeze and burst. Obviously, a house where people are in it regularly is a lower risk,” he said.

Mr Horan said that in extenuating circumstances, where a person may have to leave their home for a prolonged period of time, they should inform their insurer.

“These type of clauses have been a standard feature in home insurance for many, many years. Obviously, in the case of extenuating circumstances, in those sorts of situations where people have to be out of the home for a long period, they should check their policy and get in touch with their company or broker,” he said.

In the case settled earlier this month, Patrick Leo O’Shea, aged 40, who owns a 65-acre farm at Cahirkeem, Eyeries, Beara, Co Cork, claimed his mother had been living in the house up to the year before the fire in June 2008, but she fell down the stairs and had to move in with his brother.

The insurance policy signed by Mr O’Shea in 1997 included a clause saying it would be “suspended” if the property was unoccupied for 90 non-consecutive days or more. Mr O’Shea said he was unaware of the clause.

He sought special damages of more than €230,000 to rebuild the property and almost €27,000 for its contents. Both parties settled the case but the terms of the settlement were not disclosed.

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