Question from an IIABNY member: In a strict reading on the homeowners policy, after a period of the home not being occupied, coverage becomes limited. The question came up on clients who leave their summer homes in New York to go to their winter residence, such as in Florida. We have a disagreement in our office as to whether the summer home would be considered unoccupied under the policy. Is there a clear answer to this?
Answer: I found a 1999 New York appellate court decision that appears to address your question. In McCabe v. Allstate, which pertained to a seasonal home located in Saratoga County, the judge wrote:
We next review Allstate's contention that it was entitled to summary judgment due to the following loss exclusion: "Freezing of plumbing, fire protective sprinkler systems, heating or air conditioning systems or household appliances, or discharge, leakage or overflow from within the systems or appliances caused by freezing, while the building structure is vacant, unoccupied or being constructed unless you have used reasonable care to: (a) maintain heat in the building structure; or (b) shut off the water supply and drain the system and appliances." We find plaintiffs' assertion that their house was not "unoccupied" in light of their continuing, albeit seasonal use of the premises, to be unavailing. Inasmuch as plaintiffs' primary residence was in Virginia and they concede that no one resided at or visited the house in Edinburg from September 1995 until March 1996, their claim falls squarely within the exclusion provision. This Court has previously determined that use of the word "unoccupied" in an insurance policy carries its ordinarily accepted meaning and that "[i]t is the regular presence of inhabitants that makes occupancy" (Coutu v Exchange Ins. Co., 174 AD2d 241, 244; see, Page v Nationwide Mut. Fire Ins. Co., 15 AD2d 306, 306-307). [EMPHASIS ADDED]
This decision has been cited by a federal court as recently as 2009, so it appears to still be a valid precedent. Consequently, it appears that the coverage limitations do apply to a home in New York that is unoccupied during the winter months.