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Home away from home: Protecting your seasonal property

Do you spend the summer at the cottage? Are you selling or renting a home that’s still sitting on the market? Or do you have an out-of-province property that you won’t be able to visit for a while? If you’re leaving any property unoccupied for longer than usual, you can take steps now to avoid unnecessary risk and costs.


Many Canadians have seasonal, unoccupied and vacant properties. However, the average person may not even realize their property fits this description — or how easy it is to update their insurance status.

“It’s especially important to consider buildings or homes that you might be leaving unoccupied for an extended period of time. People are thinking about their properties differently, maybe taking off for the summer and leaving a property behind,” says Dom Mandaliti, Manager, Risk Services with Wawanesa Insurance.

A lot of people assume their home insurance covers them — and it does, but only up to a point. That’s why it’s helpful to understand what the risks are when leaving a seasonal residence unoccupied, what your existing insurance covers, and how you can supplement your insurance to protect your home away from home.

Are seasonal properties considered “vacant”?

Seasonal properties, which often remain unoccupied for months at a time, aren’t considered “vacant,” because there’s an intent to return at some point. While many of the risks of vacant and unoccupied properties are similar, seasonal properties generally require specific coverage due to their unique characteristics.

Vacancy has a specific meaning in insurance. A vacant property is any place where all the occupants have moved out and they have no intention of returning to live there — and no new occupant has taken up residence. This applies regardless of whether it’s furnished.

“Different insurers will use different definitions, but it’s really about your intent to return to the house or property,” says Mandaliti. “If you intend to go back at some point in the near future, the property is considered unoccupied. But if you never intend to go back, it would be considered vacant.” 

Most insurance policies have a time limit on how long a property can be unoccupied or vacant before that policy is null and void — often around 30 days.

Checking for leaks in your policy

The longer a property is unoccupied, the higher the risk of property damage and loss, which could range from water damage to theft and wreak havoc on a property. A vacant structure can become a target for burglary, vandalism and even people squatting. It can also attract other unwanted guests, such as mice or other critters that make themselves at home.

The problems can escalate from there, especially when nobody is checking in on the place.

“There have been many cases where fires have been caused by squirrels and other animals chewing through wires in the attic,” says Mandaliti. “If you’re gone for too long, Mother Nature tends to take over.”

And, when it comes to insurance, malicious or accidental damage outside your policy terms can have unwanted consequences. If you don’t notify your broker of a change in your property status — such as leaving it unoccupied for more than 30 consecutive days — you could end up with a reduction in coverage. If vacant, your policy could potentially be voided.

So what should a property owner do?

What to do in the off-season

If you own a seasonal property that will remain unoccupied or vacant, the simplest and easiest thing is to call your broker to discuss your coverage needs. Your broker can advise you on the best course of action, based on your circumstances and geographical region.

For vacant and unoccupied properties like short-term rentals, you might just require a permit to extend your existing insurance past the 30-day mark. The extension may have an additional cost, but will ensure you won’t void your coverage or be unable to claim damages.

For those with cottages or other seasonal properties, your broker may recommend a separate seasonal residence insurance policy. Seasonal coverage is specifically designed to protect your home away from home, while recognizing your seasonal property’s unique challenges and needs.

What else should you do?

Whether for a seasonal, vacant or unoccupied property, your insurance policy will outline any obligations to maintain your insurance, such as ensuring the water supply is shut off, locking all doors and windows, keeping debris clear from the building and general property maintenance while you’re away.

Arrange for regular check-ins by a trusted friend, neighbour or family member when you won't be in residence. In the case of a short-term rental or vacant home, you might even be able to check in yourself with an occasional pop-over on the weekend or when you're out running errands.

How do you stay on top of everything? Following a checklist of best practices can help to reduce risks and losses on your unoccupied or vacant property — and ensure you’re still covered if and when you need it.


Checklist: Vacant Property 101

Download checklist

  1. Call your broker: Provide advance notice that your home will be left vacant or unoccupied for a certain period of time.

  2. Vacancy permit: If you’ll be away for more than 30 consecutive days, this may be required on your policy. Sign and send the paperwork back to your broker.

  3. Regular maintenance: Have a trusted friend, neighbour or family member conduct regular and ongoing walk-throughs during the period of unoccupancy or vacancy. Consider creating a detailed checklist to help them out.

  4. Water supply: Shut off your main water supply valve to help reduce the chances of a rupture or leak.

  5. Security: Take steps to ensure your home is secure and protect it against vandalism and burglary. Consider a monitored security alarm system, video surveillance system and exterior motion sensor lighting. Put interior lights on a timer so it looks like someone is home.

  6. Mail: Part of maintaining the property and avoiding that ‘abandoned look’ is picking up the mail, especially if it’s in a front yard or door-side post box, or if packages are delivered outside the door.

  7. Lawn care: Ensure the yard is properly maintained so the property looks like people are always around. Have a friend or family member mow the lawn in summer or shovel the walkways in winter.

  8. Alarm maintenance: Test all fire protection and detection systems to make sure they’re in good working order.

  9. Winterization: For those colder months, make sure the home is winterized with adequate heating to prevent pipes from freezing. If the heat is turned off, ensure all systems containing water are drained.

  10. Mice and more: Take steps to minimize exposure to vermin infestations. Have your trusted friend or family member check the property for foul odours, pest droppings, nesting materials or strange noises. Set traps if needed, and call an exterminator if there’s evidence of animal activity.

  11. Share your list: Provide this checklist to anyone looking after your property while you’re away. Keep a digital copy on your phone for easy sharing, and you’ll have one less thing to remember.

 Above all else, the most important takeaway is to talk to your broker. By reviewing your policy and requirements, your broker can walk you through any required steps and give you the reassurance that you — and your investment — are protected with proper insurance. 

Learn more about Wawanesa’s Seasonal Residence insurance. Our unique and simplified seasonal suite was designed with Canadians in mind, offering clearly defined coverage options — including straightforward policies offering enhanced service while maintaining affordability.

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