Subsidence is often somewhat over looked as a property issue, but its impact should not be underestimated. Increases in temperature during the summer months pose a significant problem for some properties, resulting in costly damage as a result of subsidence. Claims related to subsidence are increasing, so now more than ever it is important that, as a landlord, you understand and are adequately prepared for problems related to subsidence in your property.
What is subsidence?
Subsidence is a form of ground movement that impacts and undermines the structural integrity of your property. It is caused when earth beneath a building moves downwards, which in turn reduces the strength of the property’s foundations. As a result the property becomes unstable and can begin to crack and sink.
What are the causes of subsidence?
A number of different factors can all contribute to subsidence. The main causes of subsidence include:
- Hot and dry weather causing soil shrinkage
- Vegetation growing too close to the property – roots can disrupt the foundations and also draw water out from the soil
- Defective drainage can soften the ground under your property and cause soil to be washed away
- Natural decomposition of the soil reducing its volume
How to identify subsidence in your property
Most people worry about cracks being a sign of subsidence, and whilst they are, cracks on their own can also be as a result of settlement, whereby a building moves under its own weight in its first few years and are often no real cause for concern. However, there a few key tell-tale signs you should look for that point towards subsidence and should be addressed quickly.
Warning signs include:
- Diagonal cracks that increase in width the further away they are from the ground
- Cracking that is visible on the outside as well as inside of the property, that are at least 3mm wide and can be as thick as a 10p coin
- Cracks in brick and plasterwork surrounding windows, doorframes and adjoining parts of the property, such as extensions
- Wrinkled wall paper at wall and ceiling joins
- Windows and doors that no longer open and close properly due to misshapen frames
It is really important that landlords contact their landlord insurance provider in the event that subsidence is discovered, or suspected, at the property. A comprehensive insurance policy will help to provide adequate support and guidance on how to manage this issue. Subsidence is a costly issue to fix and so early identification and treatment is important to mitigate issues for the landlord. In the first instance insurers will dispatch a surveyor to your property to identify the extent of the issue and to identify the cause of subsidence.
Subsidence requires careful monitoring over long periods of time and often relies on specialist support to resolve. Landlords should note that, as a result of this, insurance claims related to subsidence can take longer to resolve depending on the severity of damage and so early identification and prevention are key for getting the issue resolved as quickly as possible with minimal disruption for the landlord and their tenants.
Is subsidence really becoming more common?
Recent research conducted by Hamilton Fraser Total Landlord Insurance, has analysed around 5,000 claims over a 10-year period to assess recurring patterns and statistics surrounding property claims, including subsidence. This useful information can help to advise landlords on how to best protect their property.
For example, Hamilton Fraser found that subsidence claims have been increasing since 2014, resulting in a 24 per cent increase year on year. In addition, unsurprisingly seasonality plays a significant role in the number of subsidence claims, with steady claims throughout the year that begin to dovetail in December. Heading into this year subsidence is on an upward trajectory, after dipping around 2015-17.
Can you prevent subsidence?
Depending on the property’s circumstances, it may not always be possible to completely prevent subsidence occurring. However, there are a number of factors you can control which can help to reduce the risks of subsidence.
- Avoid planting vegetation close to your property or any surrounding buildings
- Seek the advice of a surveyor or tree specialist about the impact any mature trees close to your property have, or potentially will have, on your property. Having these large trees lopped can help to minimise the risk of subsidence, however you will need to seek permission from your neighbours, or the council, to undertake this work if the tree is not on your personal property
- Make sure that you prune trees and shrubs to stop large scale water absorption Always check and maintain drains and pipework; this includes checking for blocked or leaking pipework and guttering which may have become clogged with dirt and leaves over time
- Make sure you always carry out property inspections to quickly identify any issues in the property, including subsidence. Prevention is always better than cure so spotting any issues associated with subsidence early can really make all the difference.
- Hamilton Fraser understands that issues with your property can leave you financially out of pocket as well as causing turmoil for you and your tenants. With this in mind Hamilton Fraser’s Total Landlord Insurance Premier Policy includes subsidence cover as standard, meaning should the worst happen your property is protected.