The Basics of New York Abandoned Property Law

For everything you need to know about New York abandoned property law, Jerry’s got you covered.
Written by Elaine Yang
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff
As with any other state,
New York
’s abandoned property laws are complicated, especially when you get into the nitty-gritty. But if you’re curious about the laws regulating abandoned homes, vehicles, or personal property, we’ve created a guide to all of the relevant New York provisions. 
The issue of abandoned property can pop up in many different scenarios—whether you’re looking at lost items in a rental unit, abandoned vehicles, or more. If you’re a landlord or even living near an abandoned home, you’re no stranger to the complications that unattended property can bring. 
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New York abandoned home law

While finding an abandoned home might be rare, it’s even rarer for someone to set up shop in one. That’s why New York abandoned home law typically intervenes in situations where neighbors begin encroaching on property that isn’t theirs
For instance, maybe you’re looking to build a playground for your kids, and you don’t see the harm in setting up a swing set on the front lawn of an abandoned home. Or maybe you’re a farmer looking to plant some extra crops in a field nearby that hasn’t been tended to for years. 
Either way, you’re going to need to familiarize yourself with New York's abandoned home laws so you’re aware of your rights and limitations. 

What qualifies as an abandoned home in New York? 

In New York, a home may be classified as abandoned when the following occurs:
  • A homeowner is 90 days behind on their mortgage payments and occupancy inspections are performed. These inspections go on once a month as long as the mortgage is not being paid
  • If after three consecutive inspections, there is no evidence of occupancy and a lack of basic maintenance work
A property can also be seen as abandoned if the court or local official deems it so.
But wait—you might be thinking, what about vacation homes? Aren’t those technically empty for months during the year? As long as a home is being consistently used for a purpose and is being cared for, it will not be classified as abandoned. 
However, the same isn’t true about abandoned houses like a farmhouse. If the house has been abandoned for decades and someone new (e.g., a squatter) wants to claim its possession, they can do so through an adverse possession claim
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What is an adverse possession claim?

Under New York law, an adverse possession claim is a situation where someone other than the property owner (let’s say a squatter) has taken occupancy of an abandoned home and wishes to possess it by law. A successful adverse possession claim must be:
  • Hostile and under a claim of right—meaning that the claimant wishes to take away the right of possession from the original owner 
  • Actual—meaning that there must be actual grounds the claim can stand upon
  • Open and notorious—meaning that the claimant must have demonstrated to others that they are clearly using the property for their own purposes
  • Exclusive—meaning that the claimant can demonstrate an intention to exclude others from using the property (roommates or squatting with a group may prevent the claim from succeeding)
  • Continuous—the squatter/claimant must have been occupying the home for at least 10 years straight
If the claim has all of these characteristics and the true owner of the home does not protest the claim, ownership of the property will pass onto the claimant. 

New York abandoned vehicle law

Wow, that was pretty complicated! Abandoned home laws can get messy—especially if you’re dealing with multiple different factors. But thankfully, abandoned vehicle law is much easier to understand. 

What qualifies as an abandoned vehicle in New York? 

New York DMV
helps clarify what it takes to classify an abandoned vehicle. The vehicle must have been left unattended on someone else’s property without their permission for over 96 hours

What happens to abandoned vehicles in New York?

Typically, if a vehicle has been abandoned, the owner of the property on which it was parked can dispose of it. If you’re the property owner, here’s what to do: 
  • Contact your local police department to determine whether the vehicle has been reported as missing or stolen
  • Contact the local authority (typically the city or town police) to take custody of the vehicle. The vehicle will usually be towed at this point
  • If you choose not to take custody of the vehicle and if the vehicle’s value is $1,250 or less, 10 or more model years old, and there has been no contact with the owner for at least one month, you may contact a vehicle dismantler or collector for next steps
  • Fill out
    NY DMV form MV37
    before proceeding

New York abandoned personal property law

If you’re a landlord or if you’ve ever been a tenant, you know that belongings get left behind when the lease expires all the time. But what can a landlord do with abandoned personal property? 

What qualifies as abandoned personal property in New York?

Personal property can be a ton of things—and here are just a couple examples: 
  • Cash
  • Furniture
  • Jewelry
  • Electronics
  • And more
While many states have codified laws governing abandoned personal property, New York doesn’t—but there are still common law rules that landlords must follow. 
Typically, it’s a good idea to include a provision in your lease to determine how a landlord is to deal with abandoned property. This may include what a landlord can do with abandoned property. Can they sell it? How long until it is considered abandoned? 
If there is no written agreement prior to a tenant leaving property behind, typically, a landlord should document the items left behind (photographs, lists, etc.), store it, and provide the tenant with a notice so they may come pick the property up.
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What should I do with abandoned personal property in New York?

If your tenant does not respond to your notice to pick up their items, then the property is considered abandoned. In this situation, a landlord can choose to dispose of the items. But they can also take the following steps to be safe:
  • Send a final notice to the tenant. This may include details concerning when and where you are planning on selling the items
  • Publish a notice of sale in the newspaper
  • Keep a record of your profits and how you plan to use them
Pro Tip If you’re unsure what to do with a tenant’s abandoned property, you can always contact a lawyer for advice.

How can I find my abandoned property?

If you’ve lost some money, you can contact the
New York Comptroller
for next steps. This is the official site for lost funds, and many people report money they find with the comptroller. 
Maybe you forgot that you left some stuff behind in an apartment, and you want a family heirloom back. Try contacting your landlord. They likely kept a record of what they did with your things, and hopefully, they’ll have it stored away somewhere. 

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New York Comptroller
is in charge of abandoned property—specifically abandoned funds—in the state.
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