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Vacant land insurance: Do I need it?

Fact-checked with HomeInsurance.com

If you’re a homeowner, you probably know that your homeowners insurance generally covers the buildings and personal belongings on your property. Does this mean that land devoid of any homes or structures on it does not require insurance?  

Unfortunately, no. 

Even empty land poses risks from an insurance perspective. The question all land owners must ask themselves is whether or not the risks necessitate having land insurance. 

In most cases, it’s a smart choice — especially if you don’t have any way to prevent strangers from trespassing. From a legal standpoint, it is not unheard of for a trespasser to sue and win for injuries or accidents that occur on your property. For that matter, it’s also not unheard of for friends and acquaintances to sue one another either. The essential point being, vacant land insurance can protect you from the unforeseen possibilities, even with unoccupied land. 

Here’s everything you need to know about this type of insurance. 

What is vacant land insurance?

Vacant land insurance is basically a form of liability insurance. It exists to protect you in case anyone gets hurt on your property— meaning it will cover their medical costs as well as your legal fees. 

Liability insurance does not protect the land or any structures on it. It is purely liability protection. 

How much is vacant land insurance?

Compared to other forms of insurance, Vacant land insurance is not expensive to purchase. A $1-$2 million policy will cost less than $100 a month. For the amount of protection you receive, this type of insurance is a no-brainer for most landowners. 

The cost of vacant land insurance is dictated by a number of things, including the amount of protection you want, how big your land is, what it’s used for and any known dangers that exist on the property (such as a deep pit or uncovered well). 

Do I need vacant land insurance?

You’re not legally required to have vacant land insurance, but anything that protects you and your investment from litigation or medical expenses is a good idea. You’ll definitely want to consider it if people are frequently on your property for such things as hunting or fishing (or any activity where someone could get hurt). You can never be too prepared for the unexpected. 

Reasons you may need vacant land insurance

So what could possibly happen on an empty piece of land? Here are just a few risks and how vacant land insurance would help in each scenario.

Hunting 

If you allow hunters on your property, buying land insurance is a good idea. Not only are hunters carrying firearms on your property, but there’s increased risk because of distance traveled and other types of hunting equipment. For example, a New Hampshire hunter fell from a tree due to a faulty tree stand, then sued the landowner for negligence. The lawsuit was later withdrawn due to discrepancies in the prosecution’s case, but legal fees aren’t cheap. If you’re found liable, you’ll probably find yourself responsible for both parties’ legal costs on top of any lawsuit or claim payout. This is where land insurance could save the day — and every dime in your pocket. It could pay for legal costs to some degree since it’s liability related. As previously mentioned, even if you weren’t aware of the issue, you’re not released from liability. As a property owner, you’re expected to inform visitors of possible risks, should remain up to date when it comes to maintenance and upkeep, and do regular checks for possible risks. If people will be on your land for any reason, let guests know they’re assuming all liability if warnings are ignored.

Fishing 

Let’s assume there’s a pond or stream on your property with good fishing. You allow people to fish on it, but you know there’s a treacherous path leading to your pond. One day, as a fisher heads to the pond, he slips on the path, hooking his friend in the face like a fish. Two injured parties emerge, and you could be held responsible for those damages since the path is technically your property. Additionally, if visitors pay fees, you hold even more liability than if they’re able to enter without paying. Land insurance can help pay medical bills and perhaps any lawsuit judgments (only up to your limit) if you’re found responsible.

ATV 

Many people use all-terrain vehicles, and if you own a large portion of land, it may be tempting to let people ride there for free, but that’s assuming a lot of responsibility. ATVs are notorious for flipping over, and if one flips and rolls over a rider because of a broken well, you can be held responsible under the premise that your property wasn’t properly maintained. If the person is severely injured, you might have to pay for medical bills, pain and suffering, lost wages, and more. A real-life example: In 1994 in Missouri, a couple was sued by an ATV rider that was exploring the Glenns’ 420 acres. Even basic land insurance may not protect for ATV damages.

Hiking

With nice weather upon us, it can be tempting to open land to recreationists. Even unarmed and on two legs, hikers pose a liability. If you know your land’s terrain is dangerous at parts, you lessen your liability by eliminating the hazard or bringing attention to it. An old, collapsed barn may look enticing to hikers wanting to explore, but it could mean a lawsuit for you when it collapses on the hiker. However, remember that land insurance may not cover structures on your property.

Foot traffic

If your land is close to other rural homes or near a town, it’s possible some people will use your land as a public route. Even without your permission and without street signs, you still hold an amount of liability. While you’re not required to make vacant land “safe,” you also can’t do any intentional harm to trespassers. Additionally, you may be responsible for damage trespassers caused if you can’t locate the source. For example, if someone flicks a cigarette, burning down 5 acres of planted pine trees, that’s your loss, but with land insurance, you could be protected against such damages.

The size of your property doesn’t matter. Maybe you allow visitors, maybe not, or maybe you have suspicions that people will use your land. In any case, land insurance is the safe choice. It can help pay for legal fees, medical bills, forms of property destruction, and buying it can be as simple as updating homeowners insurance policies.

If you don’t allow visitors and trespassers aren’t a problem, you may not need extra liability coverage as badly as other policies without identifiable hazards. Landowner laws vary by state though, so you can be liable for many different things. This changes according to how the land is used, so some landowners may need it more than others. If you aren’t sure what perils there are, get a survey done to find hazards.

The bottom line though is that you wanted the land, so you should assume responsibility for it. Not only is it the right thing to do — a good faith gesture you’d hope someone would provide for you — it’s protection for you too. If you fail to buy it when you need it, you could find a lot of things “vacant.” That vacancy could range from money in savings accounts, retirement products, investments, your home and assets being seized, and ironically, your vacant land being seized to pay for lawsuit judgments or expenses if someone is injured. Bambi and Thumper won’t sue, but people definitely might.

What does vacant land insurance cover?

Because it’s a form of liability protection, vacant land insurance covers all of the following costs associated with accident or injury:

  • Pain and Suffering
  • Medical bills
  • Lost wages
  • Legal costs
  • Death benefits

What does vacant land insurance not cover?

Vacant land insurance does not financially protect you against any injuries that were purposefully inflicted, nor will it protect you if a person suffered injuries while working for you. Lastly, because it’s liability, vacant land insurance does not protect you, your spouse, or any of your dependents from personal injury.

Where to get vacant land insurance?

As most major providers offer it, vacant land insurance is not difficult to find.

First, consult your homeowners insurance company, as you may be able to get vacant land insurance as an add-on or supplemental coverage. Just know that whichever company you choose may require an inspection of the property to verify coverage factors.

The takeaway: Vacant land insurance is a smart investment

  • Vacant land insurance is liability protection
  • Can cost as little as $20-$30 a month
  • Vacant land insurance cannot be purchased if there are any structures on the property
  • Smart choice for landowners who use their property for hunting and fishing

Vacant land insurance offers a substantial protection for an affordable monthly premium. If you or your friends regularly use your land for outdoor activities, this type of insurance can offer an extra layer of protection against unforeseen medical or legal costs. In the event of an unfortunate accident or injury, those on your property can receive the financial resources to get the best possible care.

Lauren Ward

Lauren Ward is a writer for Coverage.com. She specializes in all things personal finance, including insurance, loans, and real estate.

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