Incorrect addresses on work orders are common in the property preservation industry and an incorrect address may appear on subsequent orders every month. Never assume that just because you have a work order in hand that the property is vacant. The information on the work order may have come from a bad source.
Contractors are responsible for recognizing and reporting bad addresses on work orders. Contractors are also responsible for insuring that the property to receive the preservation work is indeed vacant.
Occupancy Verification Sources
There are dozens and maybe hundreds of references on the internet that give supposedly valid occupancy verification sources. The most common are:
- Check with neighbors
- Check with the post office
- Check with the fire department
- Check with the police department
- Check with the tax assessor’s office
- Check for personal property. Be knowledgeable of your local and state laws that may give a value which delineates debris from personal property.
- Check utilities at the house and contact the utility companies
You would certainly want to check with these most basic of sources if in doubt but there is nothing like acquiring confidence from your own observations. If you think it is appropriate you can always “stakeout” the property for a few days.
Occupancy Verification Complications
The ability to make an accurate decision about occupancy is greatly complicated because:
- homeowners may stay in the house without utilities turned on
- real estate agencies may turn on utilities or partially furnish the home
- homeowners may return to the property after lawful eviction
- transients may strive to give the impression they are legal occupants
- neighbors park their vehicles on the property and temporarily place other items on the property to give the appearance of being occupied: potted plants, trash cans, toys, etc.
- neighbors maintain the lawn and shrubbery
- neighbors have actually run extension cords to the property in order to have some light bulbs turned on
I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to be 100% sure that the property is no longer occupied before you proceed to do any work. While on the witness stand you will be drilled to no end on how you determined the property to be vacant or occupied – your “due diligence.”