The Basics of Delaware Abandoned Property Law

Need to know what to do about abandoned homes, cars, or other personal property in Delaware? Jerry has you covered!
Written by Bonnie Stinson
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff
State laws can get pretty tricky—especially when it comes to abandoned property. Whether you are dealing with abandoned property or need to recover some of your own, we’ve got your guide with everything you need to know about abandoned property laws in Delaware.
Whether it’s the vacant house down the street collecting weeds or the old junk car sitting on the side of the road, every state has laws about abandoned property.
If you’re needing to navigate Delaware’s abandoned property laws,
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Delaware abandoned home law

Every state has different laws for abandoned homes. Some have very specific requirements a property has to meet before it’s considered abandoned, while some states have very few laws at all.  
Whether you’re dealing with squatters taking over an abandoned property, or just want to take possession of some vacant land next door, here’s what you need to know about Delaware’s abandoned home laws.

What qualifies as an abandoned home in Delaware? 

Unlike most states, Delaware’s statutes don’t spell out exactly what qualifies as an abandoned home. However, the law gives several examples of types of personal property and how many years it must go unclaimed before being considered abandoned. In most cases, if the property goes unclaimed for five years or more, the state will consider it abandoned. 

What is an adverse possession claim?

In most states, an adverse possession claim legally allows a squatter to claim property if they meet a specific set of criteria. In Delaware, those criteria are:
  1. Hostile claim: The squatter intends to take over the property without the owner’s permission.
  2. Actual: The squatter exercises control over the property and treats it as their own.
  3. Continuous: A squatter has to have lived on the property for at least 20 years.
  4. Exclusive ownership: A squatter must be the only one occupying the property.
  5. Obvious ownership: The squatter can’t make any attempts to hide their occupancy of the property.
If the above criteria are met and the owner of the property makes no attempt to have the squatters removed, they can take ownership of the property. 

Delaware abandoned vehicle law

Delaware law is clearer for abandoned vehicles than it is for abandoned homes.

What qualifies as an abandoned vehicle in Delaware? 

Chapter 44 of Title 21
of Delaware’s code has specific criteria that define an abandoned vehicle. Vehicles must be either:
  • Inoperable, dismantled, or wrecked
  • Has registration that is expired by more than 30 days
  • Displays no registration
  • Has been left on private property without permission
  • Has been left on public property for longer than 12 hours

What happens to abandoned vehicles in Delaware?

In Delaware, any reported abandoned vehicles are removed by the state, county, or municipal police. A notice is sent to the registered owner of the vehicle within five days of removal letting them know the vehicle has been removed and they must pay any fines or fees within 30 days to reclaim their vehicle.  

Delaware abandoned personal property law

So what about abandoned property that isn’t a house or a car, like personal belongings or even money? Delaware has pretty specific laws about abandoned personal property, too. 

What qualifies as abandoned personal property in Delaware?

Delaware has several categories of abandoned personal property, but here are a few common ones:
  • Bank accounts
  • Money orders or savings bonds
  • Gift cards
  • Utility deposits
  • Paychecks
  • Safe deposit boxes
  • Virtual currency
  • Personal belongings
For each category of personal property, Delaware law specifies exactly how many years the property must go unclaimed before it is considered abandoned. For most categories, it’s three to five years.

What should I do with abandoned personal property in Delaware?

If you find yourself having to deal with abandoned personal property, the best thing to do is
file a report online
with the State Escheator. You must then send a notice by mail to the owner of the property within 120 days of submitting a report to the State Escheator.
The State Escheator will evaluate the report of abandoned property and consult you on how to proceed with getting rid of the property.

How can I find my abandoned property?

If you’ve lost some property and want to get it back, your best bet is to contact the Delaware Office of Unclaimed Property. You can
search online
for any unclaimed property and file a claim to have it returned.

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In Delaware, the State Escheator handles all abandoned property. You can file a report on abandoned property or search for property to claim on the Delaware Office of Unclaimed Property
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