Abandoned Property: How Long Before A Property Is Considered Abandoned?


Abandoned property in the UK

Abandoned Property

How Long Before A Property Is Considered Abandoned?

Although many people dream of stumbling across the perfect abandoned property, the fact is almost all property and land in the UK belongs to someone. The Crown owns a vast amount of land and buildings as does the UK government. There are many instances where property has been abandoned and sometimes these are derelict properties. It is possible to claim land and property that has been abandoned and is unregistered although this is not an easy process.

In the UK there are thousands of abandoned sites some with properties and some without. The law is not clear about exactly when a property is considered to be abandoned. In this article we will look at some of the facts about abandoned properties in the UK and what you can and cannot do about buying, claiming or taking possession of such properties.

What Is An Abandoned Property?

An abandoned property is one that is vacant for a number of reasons. It could be because the owner has defaulted on a mortgage, has gone bankrupt or has just decided to leave the property empty. The legal definition states that a property is deemed to be abandoned if the owner has voluntarily relinquished all rights to the title, claim or possession and does not intend to reclaim it.

Abandonment can also apply to a tenant’s lease. At the heart of the issue of abandonment of property is the clear fact that the owner has given up their rights and that they have done so knowingly and willingly. An owner may express the abandonment verbally or may simply leave the property unguarded and easily accessible by the public.

Abandoned Property In The UK


There are more than 200,000 properties in the UK that are empty and many of these are vacant in the long term. The number that have been empty for six months or longer rose by 5.3% in 2019. Many of these properties are situated in coastal towns which have suffered higher unemployment figures than some other areas in the UK. In London the amount of long term vacant properties has risen more by 11%. In other cities like Birmingham and Liverpool the rise is also higher than the national average.

What Is The Difference Between Vacant And Abandoned Property?

Vacant property is a building that is currently empty i.e. with no visible owner, resident or tenant. A property may be vacant for many months or even years but that does not make it abandoned. Some holiday homes or military housing may go unoccupied for longer than 6 months but these are not classed as abandoned. Although a longer term vacant house may impact on property values or have an otherwise adverse effect to nearby neighbours it may not be permanently abandoned.

Property That Is Permanently Abandoned

Permanently abandoned property may have no known owner because the house has been inherited and the new owner cannot be traced. It could also be a property where the owner is unable to finance repairs or there could be planning restrictions which relate to the occupancy. An abandoned property can sometimes be identified when the property is boarded up and/or it has severe damage to the roof or walls. Additionally, an overgrown garden full of rubbish is another indicator that a property might be abandoned.

UK Property Resources:
Property To Renovate
Unoccupied Property Insurance
Derelict Buildings

Why Are Some Properties Abandoned?

Properties are abandoned for a number of reasons. Chief amongst these are financial problems which have resulted in repossession. People under financial pressure will sometimes leave a property before repossession simply to save their mental health. However, there are plenty of other reasons for abandonment.

The cost of repairs and maintenance may be simply to much for an owner. If an owner has been made redundant due to loss of industry or if taxation and interest rates have proved too high, some will walk away from their home. Properties situated at the coast might be abandoned due to the danger from cliff erosion. Other causes can be lack of access due to road closures or a dispute over land. In the case of a property that has been inherited the cause may be death duties or government taxes that are outstanding.

Are Abandoned Properties Shown On The Land Registry?

Both registered and unregistered properties show up on Land registry searches. An abandoned property may have either status. If you have seen a property that looks abandoned and want to find out more information you can activate a search on the Land Registry for a fee of £3.00. The search will show details of the title, show the boundaries of the land and highlight if there is any legal charge attached to the title.

An unregistered property can be formally registered at the Land Registry and to do this there are certain requirements. These include title deeds or documents, a will showing inherited entitlement and possibly records from the local council.

How Long Must I Wait To Claim An Abandoned Property?

It is possible to claim both unregistered land and abandoned property in the UK and the first step is to locate possible targets. Even if a property is not registered it is not automatically classed as abandoned. Claiming an abandoned property requires fencing off the land on which it sits. This is called adverse possession and in order make a claim under this rule the property must be occupied for 10 years if it is registered. A period of 12 years is needed for property that is unregistered.

The law on abandoned properties is not crystal clear. Unless you are sure that the owner has voluntarily and knowingly given up possession and does not intend to return and make a claim on the title, the property should be considered vacant and not abandoned. Local councils can sometimes make a compulsory purchase on an empty property. Alternatively, the council may enforce a sale to cover any debts that are due. An abandoned property will have an owner somewhere even if they prove difficult to locate. Under the adverse possession rule there is always the possibility of an owner turning up and demanding back the house so care is needed before going down this route.