Many businesses are having to close their doors temporarily as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. As time progresses, the likelihood of premises being unoccupied or occupied intermittently is high. We’ve been connecting with our brokers and customers to see how they’re doing and learn what’s most pressing for them at this time. The two questions we’re hearing the most from real estate and business owners are: what happens to their property insurance policy while their building is unoccupied, and how can they continue to protect their property during these unique and challenging times?

As a Blackboard Insurance policyholder, you may cease business operations or have your building remain vacant or unoccupied provided that heat, fire protection, security and alarm services are maintained and written notice is given to us prior to the one-hundred twentieth (120th) consecutive day of cessation of business operations, vacancy or lack of occupancy.

No one can predict the future, so we want to make sure we’re helping businesses remain strong and resilient during known – and unknown – times.

As we continue to navigate COVID-19, here are some risk management best practices you can undertake today:

1. Secure the Building

  • Some of the key risks to unoccupied buildings include theft, vandalism and other damage caused by people, whether professional thieves looking for copper pipes, costly equipment or sensitive data, or trespassers who occupy and vandalize unattended property. You want your building to be as difficult a target as possible.
  • Secure all external doors and windows with deadbolts.
  • Check locks to ensure they are in good working order and replace any which are damaged. Do the same with perimeter fencing, cameras and security lights.
  • Reroute mail to ensure deliveries do not pile up and call attention to the vacancy of the building.
  • Inform local police that the building will be vacant and provide contact information in an emergency. Let us know as well by emailing resilience@blackboardinsurance.com.
  • Consider a central burglar alarm if you don’t have one. Many systems can be easily installed and connect via Wi-Fi or cell signal to a phone or computer, in addition to options which connect to a central dispatch.

2. Manage Utilities and Protection

  • Power down any unused equipment.
  • If your water and plumbing systems can be turned off without impacting key systems, turn them off at the mains and drain or winterize the lines completely to prevent freezing. If you must keep the water on, ensure that water lines that run along the outside walls are insulated to prevent freezing, and drain and shut off any outside spigots.
  • Maintain consistent heat in buildings where the water is still on, though you can turn thermostats down to preserve energy and lower costs. If you can turn off heating, turn off the fuel at the main shut-off valve. If not, make sure any oil or fuel tanks are full enough to last the duration of the shutdown.
  • Before turning off electricity, consider whether it is needed to maintain heat, sprinkler or other fire suppression systems, burglar alarms and/or smoke detectors – all critical systems for a vacant building. Wet sprinkler systems require heat in the building to prevent the pipes, which hold water, from freezing and bursting. For “dry” systems, the riser room must still be heated.
  • If you can turn off the electricity, do so at the main breaker. If some electricity must be maintained, you can turn off electricity to select areas of the building at the breaker box.
  • Test smoke detectors. If hardwired, you will need to maintain electricity to power them. If battery, replace any batteries within 6 months of expiration. Better yet, replace all batteries and test before leaving.
  • In residential buildings, drain and cover the pool and secure any facilities which are not being used, such as a clubhouse, playground or gym. Check your local government website or communications to understand which facilities you may need to limit access to respect social distancing mandates.
  • Close internal fire doors to increase resistance to fire.

3. Maintain the Property

  • Before closing the building, do a thorough maintenance check and establish a regular routine (at least weekly) to check the building while it is vacant.
  • Check doors, windows and weather stripping for gaps, which may let in water, insects or vermin.
  • Check and clean gutters, downspouts and drains to prevent backup and flooding during storms.
  • Remove overhanging branches, dry brush and dead trees to reduce the risk of damage during a storm or fire. Trim the grass and any other landscaping (trees, shrubs, etc.) to control the risk of fire and to make the building appear maintained to warn off trespassers.
  • Check attics and basements before closing the building for dampness or mold, and periodically thereafter. Make any repairs before closing the building if possible. If you can’t, a dehumidifier can be a stopgap until you can engage a contractor, but ensure it is in good condition and change the pan regularly.
  • Check the roof for damage or ice dams, especially after snow or storms.
  • Shovel or plow after snow. This both protects against slips and falls near your property and gives the impression that the building is occupied and maintained.
  • Clear out any items which might feed a fire. This might include trash, unused pallets, boxes, scrap wood or brush. Remove stray flyers or mail left at the door or elsewhere.
  • Lock flammables and fuel in fireproof cabinets or locked cages outdoors, or remove them entirely. If cages are visible from the street, they might be theft targets.
  • Consider installing water sensors with remote alarm capabilities to notify you if there is water intrusion.

It goes without saying that these are unprecedented and difficult times. At Blackboard, we’re here for you and want to provide certainty, transparency and partnership at a time when it’s more important than ever before. We’re here to work with you to ensure we all stay safe and be as resilient as possible.

You can reach out to us at any time at resilience@blackboardinsurance.com.

Blackboard strives to ensure the information in this publication is accurate and useful. However, Blackboard does not make any warranty, express or implied, or assume any legal liability for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of any information herein, or represents that its use would not infringe privately owned rights; or assume any liability with respect to the use of, or for injury or damages, resulting from the use of any information, method or process disclosed in this publication. Insureds, agencies, organizations, companies, and potential Blackboard entities are cautioned not to use this information without significant review and scrutiny, and should seek the advice of their own safety consultants and legal counsel. Laws, regulations and standards pertaining to the topics discussed in this publication may differ for other states or cities; each company (and individual) is subject to its own state and local laws.