Risk Management for Vacant or Unoccupied Buildings


The unprecedented measures taken by businesses and organizations to slow the spread of COVID-19 have thrust many into uncharted exposures. One of these exposures is the sudden vacancy of their buildings due to "stay-at-home" orders or a business decision to shutter their office and have employees work from home. A vacant, or otherwise unoccupied building, presents a unique set of hazards that require increased attention and risk management considerations.

It's important to know that the term "vacant" has a very specific definition as it pertains to an insurance policy. If a building is determined to be "vacant," it can mean a drastic change in what is considered a covered loss. Therefore, insureds should review their unique situation with their agent or broker in conjunction with their insurance policy.

Regardless of whether the building is "vacant" or suddenly unoccupied for an extended length of time, the increased hazards are similar and include potential losses caused by:

  • Vandalism
  • Fires due to arson or electrical issues
  • Water damage due to infiltration
  • Freezing or other weather related damage
  • Theft of contents or building materials such as copper or other mechanical components like AC units
  • Bodily injury to trespassers
  • Lack of general maintenance which can compound other issues
Building owners can adopt measures to mitigate these exposures and help protect one of their largest assets. The measures should focus on supervision, upkeep, the building's utilities and systems, communication, and security.

Supervision

  • Complete regular walk-throughs at least weekly
  • Note any evidence of vandalism, trespassing, changes in conditions, or damages
  • Ensure all services that should be active are active and all security measures are still implemented
  • Vary the time of day/day of week the walk-through is completed
  • All areas of the building should be inspected: inside, outside, roof, and basement (if applicable)
  • Use a standardized checklist to document all walk-throughs
Upkeep

  • Maintain good interior and exterior housekeeping, including landscaping
  • Inspect the roof at least monthly and after strong weather events
  • Remove any debris or hazardous materials
  • If applicable, ensure the building has been weatherized
  • Maintain all normal building inspections (i.e. sprinkler, fire alarm, etc.)
Utilities and Building Systems

  • If applicable, shut down any unnecessary services (domestic water, hot water gas lines, etc.)
  • Keep heating and cooling systems running and set no lower than 45 degrees and no higher than 85 degrees
  • Keep all fire alarm and fire suppression systems active (view a fire protection systems checklist from FacilitiesNet here)
Communication

  • Notify first responders, including local police and fire department, that the building is unoccupied
  • Notify utility company and ask them to flag any high usage or emergencies
  • Notify alarm companies, change codes, and update contact lists
  • If applicable, suspend mail and deliveries
Security

  • Hire guard service if possible, or ask local police to increase patrols
  • Notify police of any vandalism or evidence of trespassing
  • If equipped, continue use of cameras
  • Secure all points of entry, including doors, windows, skylights, and roof access points
  • Maintain fencing and gates if present

Philadelphia Insurance Companies (PHLY) has created a sample Unoccupied/Vacant Building checklist organizations can use as a guide to plan and implement a response to a building becoming unoccupied or vacant.

Download Checklistimg

PHLY customers can also find additional resources through the Risk Management Services portal by logging into their MyPHLY account. These resources include additional sample documents including a Property Conservation Program, Smoke Detector Log, Fire Prevention checklist, and more. Customers can register for their own MyPHLY account here.


IMPORTANT NOTICE - The information and suggestions presented by Philadelphia Indemnity Insurance Company in this E-Brochure is for your consideration in your loss prevention efforts. They are not intended to be complete or definitive in identifying all hazards associated with your business, preventing workplace accidents, or complying with any safety related, or other, laws or regulations. You are encouraged to alter them to fit the specific hazards of your business and to have your legal counsel review all of your plans and company policies.

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