The Basics of Arizona Abandoned Property Law

Check out Jerry’s guide to Arizona abandoned property law where we cover all of the basics regarding abandoned homes, vehicles, and personal property.
Written by David Ghanizadeh-Khoob
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff
Arizona abandoned property law can get property complicated. This article will summarize the key points to help build your understanding. If you are looking for unclaimed property, you can search for it through the
Arizona Department of Revenue
What is a landlord to do with a tenant's abandoned belongings? What about parking your vehicle, how long before an officer might want to tow it away? And what’s the deal with “adverse possession claims”?
We’ll answer all of these questions and more in this guide covering the basics of Arizona abandoned property law from
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Arizona abandoned home law

If you leave your home abandoned and unchecked for years, it is possible for someone to legally claim ownership of that property—even if it’s not for sale. This falls under squatter laws, which are designed to give unused land a chance to be useful again.
In reality, it is rare that someone will actually try to claim ownership of a home as a squatter. These laws tend to come into play more often in subtler situations. For example, it may come up for farmers using their neighbor’s abandoned property to rear their cattle or homeowners unknowingly thinking their property line extended into the adjacent abandoned lot. 
Regardless of whether you are hoping to claim possession of an abandoned property or trying to evict a squatter, you’ll need to get familiar with Arizona squatter laws.

What qualifies as an abandoned home in Arizona? 

Basically, a home is considered abandoned when it has been left continuously unoccupied for a certain period. Continuous is the key here. For a claim to be made on an abandoned property, it needs to be empty for years on end. 
But if you have a vacation home that you only visit once every year, that would be enough to make it more or less impossible for any squatter to claim ownership. However, it is typically a good idea to have someone check on your property every once in a while if you do leave it empty for months or years on end.
If a home or property is neglected for long enough, though, then someone could potentially make a claim for ownership through what’s called an adverse possession claim.
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What is an adverse possession claim?

An adverse possession claim is a legal claim of ownership of a property that another person has title to. Arizona is one of the easiest states to claim adverse possession, because of the short occupation period, and because Arizona law allows the claim to be made even when the squatter knows they are trespassing.
To make a successful adverse possession claim, a handful of criteria must be met:
  1. Hostile possession: This just means that the squatter is occupying the land without permission from the owner
  2. Active possession: Anyone claiming ownership through adverse possession must have been using the land, improving and maintaining it as if they owned it
  3. Continuous possession: The squatter must have been occupying the land for at least 2 years continuously, or at least three years to claim possession through color of title
  4. Open and notorious possession: It must be obvious that anyone squatting is living there and using the land. If the owner were to visit the property the squatter can't hide their presence
  5. Exclusive ownership: All of the above criteria must be met by an individual. The title cannot be transferred to a group
If these criteria are all met, and the owner doesn’t take action, then ownership can be transferred to the squatter.

Arizona abandoned vehicle law

Abandoned home laws can get pretty complicated. Fortunately, abandoned vehicle laws are a bit more straightforward.

What qualifies as an abandoned vehicle in Arizona? 

Arizona’s abandoned vehicle laws can be found in detail in Chapter 11 of the
Arizona Revised Statutes
. Here are the main details.
First, abandoning a vehicle on any public or private land that doesn’t belong to the owner of the vehicle is explicitly prohibited. Any officer of the law that deems a vehicle abandoned can remove it at the owner's expense. 
What defines a vehicle as abandoned depends on where it is left:
  • If it was left within the right-of-way on any highway, road, street, or another public throughway it is considered abandoned after 48 hours 
  • If it was left on public property, private property, or elsewhere it is considered abandoned after 72 hours
Cities or townships may have additional policies regarding abandoned vehicles applicable within municipal limits.

What happens to abandoned vehicles in Arizona?

Once an abandoned vehicle is towed, a written notice must be sent to the owner, lien holder, or any other interested party notifying them that they have 30 days to claim the vehicle. If the vehicle is not claimed within 30 days, ownership is transferred to the towing company. The towing company can do as it pleases after that point, usually either selling the vehicle at auction or scrapping it for parts. 
If the owner of the vehicle wants to claim it within 30 days, they will have to cover all applicable fees.

Arizona abandoned personal property law

It’s pretty common for tenants to leave behind some possessions after moving out of a rental unit. This is the most common scenario where
abandoned personal property law
comes into play. Landlords should make sure that they act in accordance with these laws to avoid any legal headaches or consequences.
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What qualifies as abandoned personal property in Arizona?

A rental unit and its contents are considered abandoned under Arizona law if:
  • The tenant is absent from the unit without notice for at least seven days
  • The tenant is absent from the unit with unpaid rent for 10 days, and there is no evidence that the tenant is occupying the unit other than the presence of their belongings 
  • The tenant is absent from the unit for five days if there is outstanding rent and none of the tenant’s belongings are in the dwelling
Once a rental unit is considered abandoned, the landlord must send a written notice to the tenant and post a notice on the entrance to the dwelling for five days. After five days, the landlord can retake and re-rent the dwelling unit, effectively terminating the lease agreement.

What should I do with abandoned personal property in Arizona?

If a tenant has left personal property in the dwelling, the landlord has to store it safely and send a 10-day written notice to the tenant. After 10 days, if the tenant makes no reasonable effort to reclaim their things, the landlord can sell the property. 
The money can be put toward any outstanding rent or other costs, but any extra proceeds must be held for at least 12 months for the tenant to recover. The tenant is responsible for covering the cost of clearing and storing their property before they can receive their money.
If it is included in the lease, then the landlord can also dispose of any property that they reasonably deem to have a value too low to cover the cost of storage.
When in doubt, contact a lawyer for guidance to make sure you handle the situation correctly.

How can I find my abandoned property?

It can be difficult to track down abandoned property. You can start by searching for unclaimed property through the
Arizona Department of Revenue
. If you are looking for money, you can also try the nationwide
Missing Money

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In Arizona, unclaimed property is handled by the
Department of Revenue
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