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 or empty property in the UK
- Claiming unregistered land in the UK
- Finding suitable abandoned properties
- Squatters rights in the UK
- How to search for empty properties
Claiming an empty 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 abandoned 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.
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
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.
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 property owner.
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.