Can I Claim Derelict Land?

If you want to claim derelict land there is a lengthy legal process which must be followed. Photo © M J Richardson (cc-by-sa/2.0)

Can I Claim Derelict Land in the UK?

Find out if it’s possible to claim derelict, abandoned or unused land

The practice of claiming property that is vacant and derelict is known as squatting and until the last few years it was a matter for the civil courts and not subject to criminal laws. In 2012 the law changed and it became a criminal offence to trespass in a vacant residential property.

The laws concerning non-residential properties are different and are still subject to civil law. Different rules apply for derelict land, so what actually is derelict land and the law surrounding it?

What is derelict land?

Derelict land is land that has been damaged either by industrial use or by other development that has caused the land to become unusable. It may be the case that derelict land needs levelling and any buildings demolished in order to make it beneficial for use.

Many derelict land sites have unoccupied buildings or property that have been abandoned. Land with these criteria may be considered derelict, but there are some exceptions.

Land may look derelict but if this state is due to natural causes, in the law the land is not derelict. Natural causes can be flooded farmland, farmland that has been neglected and areas that are unusable due to mudflats or marshes. Another exception is land that has been damaged by development which has been enforced by planning laws.

Any land that is still being used for industrial use and land that has been harmed by development but which is being used commercially and is no longer a problem is not classed as derelict. In addition, a vacant plot that has planning for development is not considered to be derelict. Finally, if the land is less than 0.02 hectares it is not deemed to be derelict.

Image showing a piece of derelict land on a brownfield industrial site
Derelict land also comes in the form of brownfield or former industrial sites. Photo © Alan Murray-Rust (cc-by-sa/2.0)

The best areas to find derelict land

Some areas in the UK have more derelict land than others. In Scotland it has been established that around a third of the population lives within 500 metres of land that is derelict. Of course, many councils are trying to bring some of these urban areas back to life and the private sector is also doing its part to redevelop some areas of derelict land.

You might wonder where you can find derelict land. The Ministry of Housing has a register of land that was previously developed and is now unused. These areas of land are often designated as brownfield sites and you can get access to the list by applying for a Freedom of Information request at

Derelict Land FAQ

Can I claim derelict land?

It is possible to claim derelict land but there is a long legal process which must be followed before such a claim can be made. Derelict land can be claimed via the process of adverse possession, but this method usually takes around 12 years and is filled with pitfalls and loopholes which can put a stop to the claim, even after a number of years.

How do I find unregistered land?

To find unregistered land the first step to take is contact the land registry for the part of the UK you are interested in. This could be HM Land Registry in England or the Land Registry for Scotland. These land registries keep records of unregistered land in the UK. If you find a piece of unregistered or unclaimed land you can then begin the legal process of lodging a claim.

Where can I find derelict land for sale?

Finding derelict land for sale in the UK is the same as finding any other kind of property, however there are a few methods which may assist your search. For example, if you are interested in a particular area then talk to local estate agents rather than using the big property websites. These local agents are much more likely to have listings of fairly low value derelict land in their local area. If you actually see a piece of land you are interested in then ask around locally, such as on the local farm or in the local post office. They should be able to tell you who owns the land.

Land Registry records

If you have seen a piece of land and want to find out if it is registered you can search the Land Registry records for a fee of just £3. If you find that the land is not registered then it comes down to doing some detective work and research to find out who owns the derelict land or property.

The first place to make enquiries is with nearby neighbours or owners of adjoining land. Asking around local residents who have been living nearby for years is another good source of information. Additionally, local post offices and pubs may also be able to provide details of who owns the land.

If you wish to claim derelict land through the laws of adverse possession, you must make all reasonable efforts to determine if someone owns the property. The Land Registry should be able to assist you with this.

Searching for registration of adjacent land may also provide clues to ownership as deeds often refer to adjoining land ownership. In some parts of the UK, local and county records are held that record land ownership. You can also check whether there has been any past or recent planning permission applications. Finally, you can check the electoral roll.

UK Property Resources:
How to claim a derelict property
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Buy a barn for conversion
How to claim free land in the UK

How to tell if land is derelict

If you do not know of any derelict land and want to find some, there are signs that can indicate derelict and abandoned land. Land that is neglected and overgrown is one sign as is any property sitting on the land that has been boarded up.

Gardens that have been used for fly-tipping and vermin running around are two other signs of derelict land. Reports of previous squatters or neighbours attesting that the area has been uninhabited for years are also signs of derelict land.

Unregistered land in the UK

Unregistered land does not mean that it is not owned. In England and Wales all land is deemed to be owned even though the owner may not be identified. The title deed of derelict land owned by someone who has not left a Will may have been passed to relatives through Crown Law.

Image showing a piece of derelict land in the countryside
Derelict land comes in all shapes, sizes and locations. Your first step to claiming derelict land is to attempt to trace the current owner. Photo © Darren Haddock (cc-by-sa/2.0)

How to claim ownership of derelict land

How do you claim derelict land and register yourself as the new owner? In the UK there are areas of land that are owned by a person but used by another. This is squatting and if the squatter wants to claim ownership the process is called Adverse Possession. In order to claim Adverse Possession you must apply to the Land Registry which has a strict set of criteria that must be met.

The criteria for claiming possession states that you must show physical possession of the land, such as fencing it off. You must also prove that you intend to use the land as if it is your own. The possession must be without the consent of the owner and these criteria must have been applied for at least 12 years. These rules apply to registered land as well as unregistered derelict land.

Conclusions about claiming derelict land in the UK

As you can see claiming derelict land is possible but it is not an easy project. Using some diligent research will show you where parcels of derelict land are situated and whether they are registered or unregistered. Some solicitors will be able to provide information and advise you about claiming derelict land. This route will also help you to avoid the possibility of falling foul of the laws relating to land and property ownership.

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