There was a time in American history when the saying “finders keepers” applied to land and property (legally). While things have mostly changed over the years, you may be surprised to learn that there are some workarounds that actually make it legal to claim an abandoned property.
However, before you consider squatting on a vacant property, here’s some background info that can clear up any confusion.
What is an abandoned property?
Investopedia lists the definition of abandoned property to be any piece of property, a dormant account, or an unused asset that has been turned over to the state after several years of negligence or inactivity. These assets have been turned over to the government for custodianship due to their inactivity.
You probably already guessed, but each state has its own rules and escheatment laws around what makes an asset legally considered abandoned as well as outlining the process through which they may be recovered. Most states have some sort of abandoned property division or department that works solely with the management and recovery of unclaimed property; more on this later.
While there are many different types of abandoned assets, for the purpose of this article, we will focus on those considered as real estate and land. To be considered dormant or abandoned, there is generally a period of two to five years with no activity on the property.
How can you claim abandoned property in the U.S.?
For starters, do a quick Google search to see what the current laws are on abandoned property escheatment in your state. You can check directly through your state (or the state where you’re interested in acquiring property) website or through various free online services to see if the abandoned property may be claimed.
This also goes for a property that you previously owned before it was seized by the state – if this is your situation, then there is some good news, most states have reworked legislation to make it easier for the original owners to regain control of their property.
Ready to start searching for an abandoned property? Here are some steps to take:
- Look around and see if any properties appear to be vacant or neglected. Then do your due diligence and confirm that the property is in fact abandoned.
- Consult county clerk records to find out who the owner is and when taxes were last paid. You may also find the owner’s information by looking at the deed.
- Participate in property auctions in the area or reach out to local real estate agents for leads.
- Contact local banks and mortgage lenders to find out if the property is listed with them and whether anyone is paying a mortgage on it. If the mortgage payments are being paid, then the owner is fulfilling their ownership responsibilities.
These are just a few of the steps that can help you claim an abandoned property, but one other important factor that is most common with land and real estate is adverse possession, commonly referred to as squatter’s rights. This is a somewhat risky method of obtaining ownership of a property when a property has been abandoned, and there is no way to locate the owner.
In many states, vacant land can be claimed and owned simply by using it for a long period of time and paying property taxes. This method isn’t as simple as it sounds, though, it does not legally guarantee you a title, and it may require the help of a lawyer. An adverse possession claim can be challenged or declined by the courts for any number of reasons. If you decide to go this route, you may consider consulting a legal professional with experience in this area.
Ready to see what kind of properties are out there? Browse Land Hub’s listings to get an idea of available land around the country.
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