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When driving past a motel sign with the word “vacancy” illuminated in neon, most people understand that there is indeed room available at the inn. How long the room has been vacant generally is not a concern.

This is not the case in insurance contracts. When the word “vacancy” is spotted on an insurance policy, things get a little more complicated.

“Vacant” or “Unoccupied”?

Courts have long defined “vacant” in insurance policies as meaning empty of inanimate objects — as opposed to “unoccupied,” which they have defined as being void of human habitation. For example, in Myers v. Merrimack Mut. Fire Ins. Co., 788 F.2d 468 (7th Cir. 1986), an apartment building was deemed “vacant” and not merely “unoccupied” in regard to a fire loss. The court found that the loss was excluded where apartments in a building, except for some stoves and refrigerators, were entirely empty for approximately 18 months, lacking both tenants and inanimate objects.

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