Claiming A Derelict Property


Image showing a buyer claiming a derelict property
Claiming a derelict property is possible but there are many legal hurdles to overcome. Photo © Phil Champion (cc-by-sa/2.0)

Can I claim a derelict or empty property?


There are a lot of myths surrounding derelict properties and empty buildings in the UK and in this article we shall attempt to answer the burning question “Can I claim a derelict property?”. In this article we shall discuss laying a claim to derelict, empty and seemingly abandoned properties in the UK. The main points of this help article are:

  • Claiming a derelict property or abandoned building
  • Claiming unregistered land in the UK
  • Finding suitable abandoned properties
  • Squatters rights in the UK
  • How to search for empty properties

Claiming a derelict property in the UK

It is not impossible to claim an empty house or abandoned building in the UK but it is certainly not simple. The reality is that almost all properties, including derelict houses and what may seem to be abandoned buildings, are owned by someone. This is especially true on large country estates in different parts of the UK, where there are likely to be empty properties and unused buildings.

Sometimes these are left abandoned on purpose, for example to lower rates, and sometimes they fall into disrepair over a period of time naturally. This may be the case for an old abandoned house on an estate, where in Victorian times the building was the main farmhouse or more likely workers houses.

We have all seen these types of properties but just because they may appear to be derelict properties or abandoned houses it does not mean they have no owner. The rise in interest of such buildings is fuelled by the recent wave of prospective self-builders who are looking for a property to renovate.

Claiming unregistered land in the UK


Essentially it is the same story with unregistered land, meaning one way or another most “commercially viable” land is owned by someone. There are a few differences though. Sometimes there are small pieces of land, possible between other owned ground, that can be claimed if they are completely unregistered. If you see a piece of ground which could be used as a house site or for your self-build project, the first place you should start is the land registry.

Don’t get too disheartened when searching for unregistered land, as you will often run into the reality of ownership, even when land appears to be completely unused or abandoned. By conducting searches with the land registry in your part of the UK you can find out if the property or land is indeed owned or if it is classed as unregistered land that you may be able to claim. Searching for opportunities to claim a derelict property or land often result in the reality of ownership becoming apparent.

The law of adverse possession

In the UK there is a law known as adverse possession, used for claiming a derelict property, building or land when no apparent owner has come forward. This process usually takes around 12 years and has many legal pitfalls. You also need to take steps to find out who owns a derelict property, including making all reasonable attempts to contact the owner.

HM Land registry England
Land registry for Scotland
Claiming free land in the UK
Claiming abandoned houses

There are also a myriad of services dedicated to land registration. Many of these independent companies will conduct searches on your behalf and some may have access to the land registry databases for England and Scotland. These companies normally charge for their services, so be sure of what you are looking for before using a third party land registry search service

Claiming a derelict property FAQ

Can I claim a derelict property?

This is a very broad question and while it is always possible, most property in the UK has a registered owner. Conduct some searches with the land registry or property registrar for the part of the UK you are interested in. If you do happen to find a suitable building that appears to be abandoned, take legal advice first and make sure you stay within the law.

Can I claim unregistered land in the UK?

If you find land which you believe to be completely unregistered, your first port of call should be HM Land Registry for England or the Land Registry for Scotland. In both cases these organisations will be able to clarify, from a legal point of view, if the land is indeed unregistered and if you could have the ability to claim the unregistered land.

How do I find unclaimed land or property?

There is no backward search for this, you simply have to find the abandoned building or plot of land you are interested in and try to establish if there is a legal owner. Talking to your legal adviser and the land registry in Scotland or England can help you find out if the building or land is registered or not. Do not assume that a building or land has no owner simply because it appears to be empty or derelict. in most cases even derelict buildings are owned or registered to a legal owner.


Why do England and Scotland have different land registries?


The simple reason for this is that in most legal matters, including property law and anything to do with property ownership, England and Scotland have completely different laws. While some aspects may be very similar, England and Scotland are two different countries in a legal union as the UK and thus their laws are different, including all aspects of land ownership and property law in general.

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Squatters rights in the UK

Squatters are people who move into an empty property without permission. This can cause multiple problems and in theory no building is immune from squatters as again, the laws regarding squatting are different in England and Scotland. For example, in England, squatting in an empty or abandoned building is not a criminal offence, but it is against civil law, under which squatters can be removed.

This is normally after a lengthy legal battle as squatters are also protected by civil law. In Scotland squatting is illegal and can be viewed as a criminal offence, therefore squatters can be removed and charged accordingly. If you have an issue with squatters in a building you own, take legal advice before acting. It is very easy for the owner to end up being in the wrong instead of the people occupying the property without permission.

Despite having a degree of protection under the law, this does not mean that squatters have a legal right to claim an empty property or obtain legal ownership of an abandoned building. Check with your legal adviser if you are in doubt about any aspect of UK property law.

Is claiming a derelict property realistic?


It is entirely possible to succeed when claiming a derelict property in the UK, but there many be a great deal of expense and it is certainly not for anyone expecting fast results. Contrary to popular belief it is also not expense free, so if you are simply looking for ways to acquire a cheap property it may be worth considering the purchase of a repossessed property, which can often save tens of thousands, or attending a property auction where a wide variety of properties are available.


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