How to Claim Abandoned Real Estate

Real estate that seems abandoned is seldom completely without a legal owner.

Property that seems "abandoned"' is seldom completely without an owner. There are ways to claim this property, but it can only happen through the principle of "adverse possession." You will have to provide legal reasons for your claim that the real estate belongs to you and prove that the former owner did not fulfill his duties in respect of the property. The principle of adverse possession is based on statutory and common law concepts and varies by jurisdiction, so check the law in your region carefully before attempting to stake a claim.

Step 1

Visit the local tax office and find out who is listed as the payer of taxes on the real estate and when last the taxes were paid. This should give you the name and address of the owner. If the taxes are in arrears, the city may have a lien on the property for the outstanding amount, and this gives the city first option to claim the land.

Step 2

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. The existence of a mortgage that is paid regularly indicates an owner who is fulfilling his ownership rights, and a mortgage that is in arrears gives the lender first option on the property.

Step 3

Use and take care of the real estate as if it belonged to you. Use of the property, payment of taxes and making improvements over time may give you the right to claim the land, provided the real owner makes no objection to these activities. For example, if the owner is absent or has passed away and his heirs have not exercised the right of ownership over the land, they may not be aware that you are taking care of it.

Step 4

Use the land openly. The legal principle is that the use of the property must be "open and notorious" enough to give notice to the owner that there may be a claim on his land. If the owner does not lodge an objection either with the authorities or with the potential claimant, he has notfulfilled his right to ownership.

Step 5

Live in a building on the land. The use of the property must be "hostile," as anyone entering with implied or actual consent of the owner implies recognition of ownership. Squatting qualifies as hostile use of the land, but it must occur for a full, unbroken period of 20 years for a claim of adverse possession to have a chance at success.

Step 6

File a claim for adverse possession through the relevant state authorities, based on the requirements of the laws in your state. Find the requirements for each state online (lawchek.com).

Step 7

Be prepared for the owner to file a defense, based on the arguments of permissive use, insufficient acts, nonexclusive use or insufficient time. If he is unable to prove any of these, he may still defend by bringing an action of "quiet title."

Warning

Claims for abandoned real estate do not fall under the law governing the claiming of "abandoned property," which applies to bank accounts, financial assets and personal property.

references & resources