The Basics of Illinois Abandoned Property Law

In Jerry’s guide to Illinois abandoned property law, we cover the basics of abandoned homes, vehicles, and personal property in Illinois.
Written by David Ghanizadeh-Khoob
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff
Illinois abandoned property laws can get pretty complicated. Abandoned homes, vehicles, and personal property all have distinct statutes in the Illinois legal code. In this article, we’ll cover all of the basic information that you need to know.
Picture this: you rent a unit to a tenant and when they move out, they leave behind their TV and an uncashed paycheck. You’ve attempted to contact them, but they aren’t responding to your messages. Or, imagine you parked your car on a public road while you go out for a multi-day camping trip, only to come back to find it missing. 
These are just two examples of when abandoned property laws come into play. In this article from
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Illinois abandoned home law

It is rare for someone to try and actually purchase or start living in an abandoned home or on abandoned property, but there are avenues through which it can be done legally. All of the avenues come down to the property being continuously unoccupied for certain periods.
According to the Illinois statute
Chapter 310 ILCS 50
, abandoned property can be temporarily acquired for rehabilitation to make it usable as low or moderate-income family housing if:
  • The property has been continuously unoccupied for the preceding year
  • The property is not fit for human habitation and is a blight on the surrounding area
  • The organization interested in the property sends a 30-day notice of intent to any relevant party that might have legal title or interest in the property
Even if you were interested in purchasing a property that belonged to a deceased person with no will or claims by family, the property must be abandoned for seven years before it can be purchased.
What’s more common is the case that, say, a farmer encroaches on neighboring land to rear their cattle or a homeowner accidentally builds a fence that crosses over their property line onto the empty lot next door. In these situations, along with scenarios such as someone just moving into an abandoned home, squatter laws become relevant. 

What qualifies as an abandoned home in Illinois? 

An abandoned home is a property that has been continuously unoccupied. If you visit the property or have someone else visit the property on occasion, then it can’t be considered abandoned. This is true if you leave it empty for months or even years. An example of this is a vacation home that you visit once every couple of years. 
However, if you completely neglect a property for as little as seven years, it can be acquired by another person through an adverse possession claim
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What is an adverse possession claim?

In Illinois, a squatter can make a legal claim to ownership of a property through an adverse possession claim. To qualify, they must meet five criteria: 
  1. Hostile claim: Hostile in this case simply means that the claim goes against the interest of the property owner and that they intend to take the property
  2. Actual possession: The squatter must be physically present on the property, using it as if they were the owner
  3. Open and notorious possession: It needs to be obvious that the squatter is occupying the property
  4. Continuous possession: In Illinois, a squatter must be continuously residing on the property for 20 years before they can file an adverse possession claim. If the squatter continuously pays the property tax, then they may be able to make the claim in as little as seven years
  5. Exclusive possession: The above criteria must be met by a single person
If these criteria are met, and the owner of the land doesn’t take action during the seven to 20-year period, then ownership of the home can pass to the squatter.
MORE: What you need to know about eviction in Illinois

Illinois abandoned vehicle law

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

What qualifies as an abandoned vehicle in Illinois? 

Illinois abandoned vehicle laws can be found in
Chapter 625 ILCS 5/Ch. 4 Art. II
of Illinois compiled statutes. There is a lot in there, but here are the main points that define an abandoned vehicle in an actionable way in Illinois:
  • The vehicle was left unattended on private property not belonging to the owner of the vehicle for seven days.
  • The vehicle was left on a toll highway or expressway for more than two hours
  • The vehicle was abandoned on a highway in an urban district for 10 hours
  • The vehicle was left on a highway other than a toll highway, interstate highway, or expressway, outside of an urban area for 24 hours
  • The vehicle has been left on a public way without state registration for 48 hours
  • A damaged vehicle or any part that is creating a hazard on the road can be removed immediately

What happens to abandoned vehicles in Illinois?

If a vehicle was deemed abandoned, it can be towed at the owner’s expense. The vehicle will usually end up in an impound lot where it can begin being processed as abandoned 10 days after the tow date. If vehicles go unclaimed they are usually either sold for scraps or auctioned off by law enforcement.

Illinois abandoned personal property law

Commonly, personal property is abandoned in a home, usually after a tenant moves out of a rental unit. What are landlords supposed to do with their stuff?
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What qualifies as abandoned personal property in Illinois?

It can be hard to know when personal property is considered abandoned in Illinois. Often landlords can include a section in the lease detailing how abandoned property should be handled. If there is nothing in the lease, then the first step is usually to try contacting the tenant. If you don’t get a response, then here is the direction you should take:
  • Take an inventory of the abandoned property, including photos
  • Store any property that has value 
  • Provide written notice to the tenant detailing how and where they can pick up their things
  • Provide a deadline for picking up the property (usually at least 30 days)
  • Inform the tenant that they will be required to reimburse you for the costs of storing their property, if applicable
  • Declare that failing to reclaim their possession will deem them legally abandoned

What should I do with abandoned personal property in Illinois?

If you are unsure of what you should do, you can contact the
Illinois comptroller’s office
to ask for guidance. They can usually point you in the right direction.
Once you have done your due diligence to try to return the personal property, usually you should send a final written notice that the property will be sold or disposed of. If you receive no reply you can usually dispose of the property or sell it at a public sale.
Pro Tip When in doubt, reach out to the Illinois Comptroller or contact a lawyer to make sure you deal with the property in accordance with state and municipal law.

How can I find my abandoned property?

If you recently left some property abandoned and are looking to reclaim it, the process can be quite difficult depending on how long it has been. Here are some avenues to try:

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Abandoned and unclaimed property in Illinois is handled by the
Illinois Treasurer
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