The Basics of California Abandoned Property Law

Curious about abandoned property law in California? Jerry’s got you covered.
Written by Elaine Yang
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff
Property law can get confusing—and if you’re wondering about abandoned property law in California, you’re in for a wild ride. If you’ve lost property, first visit
the California unclaimed property website
to try to find it.
Maybe you’re living next to an abandoned farmhouse and want to know whether you can use some of the land, or maybe you’re a landlord who doesn’t know what to do with the furniture your previous tenant seemingly left behind. 
Either way,
can help you understand all there is to know about abandoned property rules in California. And as a
licensed insurance broker
, we’ll let you in on a couple of tips on how to save money on your
California insurance rates
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California abandoned home law

While abandoned homes are few and far in between, California law still has regulations that must be followed when you come into contact with one. 
Perhaps you’ve found yourself in one of these situations:
  • Your previous neighbor left her home over 15 years ago but didn’t sell the property—it’s just sitting there. Can you use it for your own needs? 
  • The farm next to yours has been vacant and you want to plant your crops on an abandoned field
  • A squatter has been causing trouble down the street and you want to know whether they have a right to be there
Being in the know about California’s abandoned property laws can be helpful if you’re wondering what your rights are in a variety of circumstances. Let’s get into it. 

What qualifies as an abandoned home in California? 

In California, whether a home is designated as “abandoned” depends on how long it has been empty
A couple of factors to consider include whether there have been documented transactions regarding the property (i.e., property taxes paid, renovations completed) or whether the owner can be contacted.
If you have a vacation home that goes unused most of the year, you don’t need to worry. Even if the owner doesn’t visit a property for several years, it isn’t abandoned as long as it has been consistently used for a purpose
In contrast, if you have a residential home but have not set foot on the land for over 30 years, a squatter may be able to claim the property by using an adverse possession claim

What is an adverse possession claim?

Under California law, an adverse possession claim allows a non-owner to claim property as their own. Typically a squatter will file this claim, and it’s difficult to be successful—you have to meet the following criteria: 
  • The claimant must be living in the home for at least five years, and demonstrate the criteria listed below
  • The claimant must have received bills and mail to the address
  • They must demonstrate that they are using the property to others—making it clear to neighbors that they’re using the home
  • The claimant must pay property taxes on the address 
  • They must demonstrate intention to take over the title to the home
If the property owner notices the claimant in their home and chooses to reject the claim, the claimant could risk being arrested for trespassing or served an eviction notice. 
If the property owner chooses not to respond to the claim, the claimant will become the new owner of the property once their claim has been filed and approved. 

California abandoned vehicle law

Wow—that was a lot! Luckily, abandoned vehicle law in California is much easier to understand. 

What qualifies as an abandoned vehicle in California? 

California law deems that a vehicle has been abandoned if it has been left parked or idle on a highway for 72 or more consecutive hours
And you might want to be careful—abandoning a vehicle in California is a misdemeanor, so you might get a fine if you leave your car too long regardless of the reason. 
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What happens to abandoned vehicles in California?

Usually, if a vehicle has been left unattended for over 72 hours, it can be impounded
For instance, in Fontana, anyone can call the Fontana Police Department’s Abandoned Vehicle Hotline at 909-350-7761 to report an abandoned vehicle. It can also be
reported online
or by email at

California abandoned personal property law

Tenants might leave some of their belongings behind when their leases expire, and if you’re a landlord, this can get tricky to deal with. That’s why it’s important to understand the proper procedures to follow under California law. 

What qualifies as abandoned personal property in California?

Personal property in California may include: 
  • Cash
  • Safe deposit boxes
  • Technology: phones, laptops, TVs, etc.
  • Furniture: couches, bed frames, etc.
  • Jewelry: necklaces, rings, bracelets, etc.
First, a landlord must determine whether the property their tenant left behind has actually been abandoned. You must give the tenant official notice informing them that they’ve left belongings in the unit and asking them to remove them. 
If the tenant does not respond within 18 days, the property left in the unit is considered abandoned. 

What should I do with abandoned personal property in California?

If there’s no response from the tenant after 18 days, a landlord in California can keep, sell, or recycle any items worth less than $700
Anything over $700 must be sold at auction and its profits must be returned to the county. You can contact a bond agency for assistance—and the cost of hiring them can be deducted from the profits. 
Pro Tip You can get a bond agency to help you sell abandoned property worth more than $700 in California. 

How can I find my abandoned property?

the California unclaimed property website
to look for unclaimed property in the state. And if you’ve misplaced some you can visit the nationwide
Missing Money
database too. 

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Of course, most of us wouldn’t abandon our assets—and we often do everything we can not to lose money on them, including protecting them with the right car or
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The California State Controller is responsible for abandoned property in California.
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