A Guide to Leaving Your House Empty

Sophie Kamkar

Written by

Sophie Kamkar

Content Marketing Manager

Josie Shepherd

Reviewed by

Josie Shepherd

Brand Marketing Manager

Less than 1 minute

Updated: 23 Jan 2024

Whether you’re waiting on a property sale or probate, dealing with flood damage, or simply taking an extended holiday, there are plenty of reasons you may need to leave your home empty for a while.

However, without anyone there to keep an eye on it, your unoccupied property could also be more susceptible to certain risks.

What are the risks of leaving a home unoccupied?

Without a homeowner or tenant in situ, houses are more susceptible to break-ins, vandalism, degradation, fire, and many more potential hazards. This is because nobody is there to spot the early signs and take steps to prevent them from causing further damage.

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For example, if you were to spot an unwanted intruder on your property, you’d call the police immediately. Or if you noticed a burst pipe, you’d call out an emergency plumber to fix the problem before it floods your home.

When homes are empty – especially for longer periods, such as 30 days or more – these risks are more likely to go undetected potentially cause irreparable damage.

How long can a house be left unoccupied?

Exactly how long you can leave your home empty before you’ll need to tell your insurance provider will depend on who handles your policy. At Homeprotect, we need to know if your property is unoccupied for more than 30 consecutive days or more so that we can factor these increased risks into your policy terms.

How to prepare an empty home to reduce the risk of fire, water hazards and theft

The most effective way to reduce the risks associated with an empty home, such as fire, flooding, and theft, is to check on the property as often as possible. This could be you if you’re still staying locally, a friend, family member or neighbour.

This not only deters any potential intruders who may be scouting the property but also reduces the risk of leaking pipes or fire hazards from going unnoticed.

However, there are plenty of other practical tips for reducing these risks, including:

  • Unplug and switch off – all electrical appliances, as well as water and electrical supply to the property.
  • Shut and lock – all doors, windows, and other potential entry points to the property. If someone can gain access without signs of forced entry,  a claim for theft may be invalid.
  • Inspect the property – for signs of damage to pipes, gutters, roofing and more. Any potential fire or flooding hazards must be addressed before vacating the property.
  • Extra layers of security – secure all valuables in a safe or locked container as an extra precaution if the worst happens.

How to secure an empty property

With unoccupied properties posing a greater break-in risk, home security is critical. This doesn’t just mean locking doors and windows but taking extra steps to deter thieves and prevent those who try to gain access.

Here, Homeprotect shares its top tips for securing your empty home:

  • Upgrade old locks or doors – consider replacing worn or rusted doors, locks or frames with sturdier products like solid core doors, deadbolt or smart locks and reinforced metal frames.
  • Reinforce entry points – with security bars or window grills to prevent entry from brute force.
  • Keep it light – deter intruders looking to break in under the cover of darkness by installing motion-activated lights around the property.
  • Install a security system – the sight of a security camera alone can often deter potential intruders from trying their luck.
  • Seek out weak spots – such as garages, sheds, sliding doors and cat flaps. These should also be reinforced or covered to prevent unwanted access.
  • Hide heavy objects – opportunist intruders may look for nearby objects to assist their break-in – don’t give them a helping hand!

Tax considerations

In most situations where homes are left empty – like an extended holiday or even landlords looking for new tenants – the tax status of the home and implications on the homeowner won’t change.

For example, you’ll still have to pay council tax on the property, even while it’s empty – apart from in a few specific circumstances, where a local council may agree to discount the sum.

In fact, in some instances, you may even be required to pay greater property taxes on an empty home.

For example, if your property has been empty for over two years, it may be subject to a council tax ‘premium’. This is typically applied to second homes that are unoccupied for years at a time, rather than homes left empty for a month or two.

Homeprotect provides empty home insurance to keep you covered while you take a holiday, find a new tenant and more.

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Your Questions Answered

Whether or not you drain the water supply to your home before vacating it may depend on the duration of absence and the time of year. While stopping the water supply can prevent risks like burst pipes and flooding, it can also leave your home susceptible to cold temperatures and the negative effects, such as dampness and mould. If you are leaving the property for a short period during the summer, it may be sensible to drain the water supply, while this may not be the best idea when leaving a property for a whole winter.

Whether or not you leave the heating on in an empty home will depend on how long the property is empty and the time of year. During the summer, it may not be necessary to leave home heating on. However, during the winter, heating the home permanently at a low (but above freezing) temperature or on a timer can help prevent pipes from freezing and the property from suffering dampness or mould.

When a home is left empty for years, it means that no one is around to regulate the temperature and act on the early signs of damage. As a result, long-term unoccupied properties are more susceptible to damp, paint peeling, pests and even wear and tear to the building itself. Plus, these visual signs of neglect also make the property an attractive target to potential intruders.

Leaving a home empty for years also has implications for mortgages and home insurance – which may be invalidated or retracted if the property is unoccupied for a certain period.

Yes, most empty properties will still require the homeowner to pay council tax. However, you may be able to apply for an exemption in a few specific instances. This includes properties that have been unoccupied for two or more years, those undergoing a probate process, instances in which the owner is in the hospital or a care home and if the property cannot be lived in by law.   

See the full list of empty property council tax regulations and exemptions on the government website.   

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