Claiming Abandoned Buildings

The UK has, according to statistics, more than 600,000 abandoned buildings. As many as 445,000 of these are residential dwellings. With financial and housing crises occurring all the time, it makes you wonder why people aren’t simply claiming these abandoned homes as their own. 

The problem is that a lot of seemingly abandoned properties do actually have a registered owner. There are, of course, a lot that do not and it is possible to claim these as your own but it’s far from a simple process which is likely why not many people do it. Moreover, I’m pretty certain that most people aren’t even aware that you can claim genuinely abandoned property and land

If there is an abandoned house you’ve had your eye on then this guide is for you. I’ll cover all the legalities and give you as much information as possible to help you on your way to becoming the new owner of an unloved building. 

How To Tell If A House Is Abandoned

Unless you’re actively paying attention, you might not notice the number of abandoned properties around the UK. But when you start your search, you’ll begin to notice buildings that show no signs of life. There are plenty of different types of abandoned buildings such as warehouses, office blocks and shops. But for the purposes of this guide, I’ll focus on houses as they’re what most people will be looking to claim. 

So, how can you tell whether a house is abandoned or whether it’s just not been used for a while and the owners will be returning? The good news is that there are a few things you can look for that show you a property is likely abandoned. 

One of the most obvious is that windows have been boarded up; you can clearly see this from the outside and you might also notice that the garden is overgrown and in need of some TLC. Other key things to look for outside the house are vermin in the garden and piles of rubbish as well as general disrepair to the outside of the building. If you notice any of these things then you could speak to some of the neighbours to find out how long the property has been like this.

The thing you need to keep in mind is that houses which are abandoned aren’t necessarily unowned. A lot of the time, there will still be a registered owner so you can’t just assume that the property is ready to be claimed. In order to find this out you will need to have the Land Registry perform a search for you. There is a fee but it’s only £3 so it’s hardly bank breaking and it doesn’t matter who you are or what the property is, you are allowed to ask for a search.

It’s really important to understand that abandoned houses are not the same as unregistered ones. Across the United Kingdom, there are an enormous number of abandoned houses and to be considered abandoned, the property must not have been used in months or even years. During this time, it will have been left without repairs or maintenance and so will have fallen into a state of disrepair.

On the other hand, an unregistered property is one that does not have a registered owner. If you perform a search to find that the house does have a registered owner, then it may still be possible to claim it. But I’ll cover how to go about that in the following sections. 

Can I Claim An Abandoned House?

Whether a property is abandoned or unregistered, you may still be able to apply to claim it as your own. However, depending on the circumstances, there are two ways that you may have to go about this. In both cases, you are working with the law of adverse possession. 

In the case that the property is merely abandoned but does have a registered owner, then you will need to apply to the Land Registry Citizen Centre where you’ll send a statement of truth along with a form supplying yours and the property’s details. 

Upon doing this, the registered owner will be advised and will be given a timeframe of 65 days to respond with an objection. If they do this, then the process will stop and you will not be able to claim the house. However, if they do not object then you will be granted the property for a time period of two years. During this time, the legal owner has the opportunity to come forward and reclaim the house. If they don’t, then when the two years are up, you automatically become the new owner. 

Now, if the property is unregistered then you’ll need to go down a different route. You’ll still need to supply the Land Registry with a statement of truth but this time, you’ll also need to apply for first registration of the house. 

After this, the Land Registry will inspect the house and come to a decision on whether they think you have a valid claim. It may be the case that they have details relating to the original owner, in which  case, they will be contacted. There is a chance that any of the past owners will make an objection which could result in the issue being dealt with in court. If this happens, you will be liable for any costs involved. 

If you are going to claim an abandoned house then you can’t just pop up from nowhere and hope to be granted the property. There are restrictions for claiming which you’ll need to take into account before applying. They are as follows:

  • You must live within the local area
  • You will be contracted to perform repairs and maintenance on the property to bring it to a decent standard
  • You will not be allowed to sell the property for five years

Buying An Abandoned House Cheaply

Sometimes, you might not be able to claim an abandoned property but there are still a lot of opportunities out there to get one very cheaply. 

In some cases, abandoned properties are taken over by the local council who will then sell them on at a very low price. In other cases, where a house does have a registered owner, the authority might buy the house and use it for rental purposes. However, if the owner owes any money to the council, they may take the property as payment for their debt.

Now, it isn’t always going to be in the local authority’s best interests to hold onto the property so they’ll generally sell them at a heavily discounted price. They will do their best to find a new owner and there have been cases where houses have sold for as little as £1! 

Can You Squat In An Abandoned House?

Surprisingly, squatting is not actually against the law per se although under civil law it is considered illegal so there’s a very fine line. In the UK, squatters have long taken over empty properties and set up home. The thing is that, once a squatter is inside a property, they do have certain rights that prevent the owners from simply evicting them. 

It is unlikely that, if you discover an abandoned property and squat there, the police will force you to leave. You may be advised to move on to avoid any civil action but at this point, nobody can make you go.

That said, the legal owner of the property can take civil action and there’s a very high chance that they’ll win and you’ll eventually be forced to leave.

On the flip side, houses without any registered owner could be taken over by squatters for many years. After which point, you would be able to claim ownership provided you have been living there permanently for at least ten years. 

If you wish to claim a property after this length of time then you must be able to prove that you have occupied the house and acted as its owner. You must also be able to provide proof that you did not have permission from the owner to reside in the property.


With so many empty houses around the United Kingdom, it seems such a waste. If you’re keen to get your hands on a property for free or at least very cheaply then it is possible to claim abandoned buildings for yourself. 

You cannot simply do this for any building as while it may seem empty, there could be a registered owner. However, there are processes you can go through to claim the building even when there is an owner, provided they do not raise an objection to your application within the specified time period. 

If you find an abandoned property and wish to take it over, it’s best to check with the Land Registry to find out who, if anyone, owns it and go from there. Check out how you can buy woodland here