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Real estate risk and insurance

How potential liabilities may be defrayed using contractual terms and insurance

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Whether an owner, occupier, investor or developer, one faces risks when managing real estate
Property Weekly

As an owner-occupier, your primary risk would be damage or destruction to your real estate asset. As such your insurance will likely be for a lump sum amount or full replacement or reinstatement of the asset. Owner-occupiers may also insure for business interruption to cover them for lost income when the premises becomes unusable due to damage. This may be important, for example, where the owner has a mortgage and would have difficulty in meeting the repayments.

An owner would generally take out insurance for third-party risks: for example, where a visitor suffers an injury caused by or occurring on the real estate asset. In transferring ownership of a real estate asset, the buyer and seller will need to establish a clear date for the risk of damage or destruction of the real estate asset to pass. The logical time for the passing of this risk is the date the title is transferred. Generally the seller will cancel the insurance on this date and the buyer will implement its own insurance. There may also need to be a clear position in the sale-and-purchase contract as to what may happen should damage occur between the date of contract and the date of title transfer.

Where a real estate asset is tenanted, the lease contract may expressly address the allocation of risk between the landlord and the tenant and require the parties to obtain insurance.

It is not possible to map out all of the possible variations in such arrangements, however, the following represents a fairly typical allocation of risk and insurance in a retail/office unit context.

Fit-out period

The landlord will generally require the tenant to have or procure contractors all risk insurance as well as worker’s compensation insurance. The landlord will generally require that the landlord is named co-insured and specify the level of cover the tenant must obtain or procure.

Typically the insurance undertaken during the fit-out period will be obtained by the contractor completing the fit-out. The tenant will need to ensure that this insurance is obtained and contains the relevant covenants sought by the landlord under the lease agreement.

Damage and destruction of the building

The landlord would normally obtain all risk building insurance but may require the tenant to insure for damage arising out of the tenant’s or occupiers’ negligence. This could result in double insurance and an alternative approach would be for the tenant to be named as a beneficiary of the landlord’s insurance. This is, however, not the practice in the region.

Landlords will typically exclude liability for any other types of losses sustained by the tenant — for example, economic losses when the tenant is unable to operate from the premises. Were the landlord to face a claim by the tenant in these circumstances, it may be that the landlord’s third-party liability insurance provides a measure of protection to the landlord. As the landlord will exclude liability for the same, the tenant may wish to obtain insurance for business interruption.

As the landlord will be required to cease charging rent for the period the premises cannot be occupied, the landlord may wish to obtain loss of income insurance.

It is common in the context of a commercial office or retail unit lease that the tenant would meet the landlord’s insurance costs as part of the service charges charged to the tenant.

Tenant contents damage

The landlord may specifically require the tenant to insure the tenant’s contents, fixtures and fittings and to name the landlord as co-insured and/or require the insurer to provide a waiver of its right to sue the landlord in any case where the landlord’s negligence causes the damage.

Third-party injury

Third-party injury claims are civil wrongs and accordingly the party claiming damage or injury does not need to establish a relationship in contract with the party causing the harm. Generally, such claims will arise due to the party in control of the area not taking due care to ensure that areas are kept safe.

Accordingly a landlord may wish to insure for any injuries that may occur to third parties in common areas of a building. As the tenant may also exercise control over their premises, the tenant should also take out insurance for such claims.

Other third-party risks

Other third-party risks arise in multi-tenanted buildings in that if a tenant damages the building, this may cause losses to other tenants. The landlord can seek to exclude liability for such claims in the contract with each tenant, but would very likely also cover such risks through their own third-party policies.

As a tenant will have no ability to mitigate the possibility of claims from other tenants in contract, the tenant would need to obtain its own third-party policy to cover such risks.

Developers, investors

Throughout the construction of a project, the contractors will undertake the necessary insurances. As the developer will be paying progress payments throughout the construction, it is in the developer’s interest to ensure that this insurance is in place and that the developer is also co-insured under the contractor’s policy. It is also important to specify clearly under the construction contract when the developer shall be required to accept risk for the property following completion of construction and, therefore, should obtain its own insurance.

If the project involves off-plan sales, then, once the development is completed, the developer will start handing over the units to the investors. Generally, in the case of jointly owned (strata) property, insuring the building, including the usual fitting and fixtures in the units, would be the responsibility of the owners’ association (OA). In cases where there is not a legally established OA, then it may be possible for the developer to obtain a policy that nonetheless recognises the interests of investors as beneficiaries of the policy.

The developer or the OA will need to consider the type of policies they obtain. Generally speaking, such insurance will cover, and may be required to cover by law, full replacement and reinstatement, third-party liabilities and could cover loss of income or alternative accommodation costs.

Investors would typically insure their own contents and improvements. Investors may also wish to obtain loss of rent insurance or insurance covering the cost of alternative accommodation if this is not taken out by the developer or OA.

Summary

This is a general discussion of the risks in real estate and how they may be addressed in contract and through appropriate insurance. As each property and transaction is different, the risks and insurance solutions may differ so it is important that each transaction is assessed on a case-by-case basis. Accordingly, this article should not be treated as advice as to what is required in any particular set of circumstances.

 

The writer

Jeremy Scott is partner, real estate, and Justin Carroll is senior associate, insurance, at Al Tamimi & Company. The views expressed here are their own.

For information on the real estate sector within the UAE, please visit our sister site, getthat.com.

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