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On December 27, 2013, the NJ Superior Court, Appellate Division, issued an unpublished decision denying a homeowner from insurance recovery for vandalism caused to his home, despite homeowner’s insurance, where the owner failed to make necessary changes to the insurance policy and provide notice that he had vacated the property. In Bulusu v. Allstate New Jersey Insurance Company, A-3694-12 (decided Dec. 27, 2013), the Court found that the owner had moved from the property and left it vacant for more than 30 days prior to the vandalism and damage. Although the term “vacant” was undefined within the insurance policy, the Court applied the plain and ordinary meaning of the term “vacant” and found that the insurer was not liable for the vandalism damage under such circumstances where the owner had moved to accept a new job, had shut off the heat and hot water, had terminated the alarm system contract, had shut off the water, and had removed the furniture, clothing, dishes, utensils and other such household items from the property. This was effectively rendering the property “vacant”, and under the policy the insurer was not liable for damage where the property was rendered “vacant” for more than 30 consecutive days prior to the damage.
The lesson from this case is clear to homeowners: if you are temporarily moving from a property or taking an extended absence, it is incumbent upon you to contact your insurance agent to make whatever changes are necessary to keep your insurance in place and coverage current during your absence. Your premiums might be raised, but coverage will be ensured -- unlike an instance where you provide no notice of absence and insurance coverage is permitted to be denied in full based upon a “vacant” property in the instance of a theft, vandalism or other such incident.
Anthony L. Velasquez, Esq.
Hamilton (Mercer County), NJ
January 6, 2014