Copper & Robbers: Vacant Buildings
Desirable For Thieves—And Insurers
BY SUSANNE SCLAFANE
COPPER THIEVES have fueled an ex- plosion of claims for insurers of vacant and idle properties, but increased loss potential has not deterred
competition in either the residential or
commercial vacant-property insurance
markets, two special-risk experts say.
During a webinar titled “The New
Edifice of Vacant Property: Protecting
Asset Value as Commercial Real Estate
Slowly Recovers” presented by Property-
Casualty360.com, Jeff Shearman, senior
risk-engineering consultant for Zurich Ser-
vices Corp., reports that Zurich saw “a big
spike in copper claims when the price of
scrap copper went over $3 per pound.”
Referring to thieves as “people who
mine resources” in unoccupied buildings,
Shearman describes a case in his town—“a
low-crime area”—involving someone who
climbed up to the roof of a strip mall to
remove air-conditioning units of vacant
tenant spaces in order to get the copper
out of them.
Both Shearman and co-presenter Christopher Zoidis, vice president of the Special
Risk Division of wholesaler/MGA Burns
& Wilcox, say other scrap metals, such as
aluminum, are also fueling a jump in insurance claims from insured vacant buildings.
While outside air-conditioning units
are easy targets, Burns & Wilcox is also
seeing claims where there is entry into the
building to remove copper plumbing pipes
“We have had more than one instance
where the thief actually stayed for a period of
24 or 48 hours and literally stripped out every
piece of copper tubing and every piece of copper wiring,” Zoidis says, noting that there is
typically a lot of damage done to the building
itself as these parts are being removed.
More creative thieves will pose as uniformed maintenance people, rather than
breaking and entering, he says.
A slide displayed while Zoidis was de-
scribing these vacant-property insurance-
claims examples indicated that the dollar
figure associated with the copper claims is
$275,000 and up. In contrast, claim values
for two other common sources of losses—
water damage caused by freezing pipes and
trip-and-fall claims for third parties outside
insured premises—were roughly $75,000
and $30,000, respectively.
E JEFF SHEARMAN E CHRIS ZOIDIS
VACANT BUT VALUED
FOR MORE INFORMATION
J A whitepaper detailing vacant property
maintenance and security guidelines,
outlining potential hazards and providing the ISO standard policy definition of
vacancy is available on Zurich’s website
J Articles with advice from Burns & Wilcox
professional are available at www.property-
J Links to the vacant property and other
recent webinars presented by Property-
Casualty360.com are available at www.
“A few years ago, carriers began to pursue vacant property as a desired class”—
especially on the excess-and-surplus lines
side, he says.
By 2010, both standard and E&S carri-
ers had become “very, very aggressive” in
pursuit of this business, Zoidis says, refer-
ring to carriers’ willingness to liberalize
endorsements to standard ISO (Insurance
Services Office) policy forms that would
have otherwise excluded perils like vandal-
ism, theft and water damage.