The Basics of Texas Abandoned Property Law

Check out Jerry’s guide to Texas abandoned property law—we’ll go over what you should do with abandoned homes, vehicles, personal property, and more.
Written by Samuel Todd
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff
The laws that govern abandoned property in
can get pretty tricky—but we’re here to walk you through all of the basics. If you’re looking for your own abandoned or unclaimed property, the
Texas Comptroller
can help you track it down.
Let’s imagine a few scenarios. If you’re a landlord in Texas, and your tenant leaves behind possessions, what should you do? Well, under state law, you can sell or dispose of the possessions—as long as you’ve given notice to the tenant!
But what about abandoned houses and vehicles? And what’s this business about “adverse possession”? If all of the Texas regulations are making your head spin, don’t sweat it. Car insurance
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Texas abandoned home law

In reality, it’s pretty rare that somebody will stumble upon an abandoned home and start living there. More often than not, Texas abandoned home law kicks in when, say, a farmer starts using the abandoned land next to his farm to raise his cattle, or a family begins to gradually expand their playground into the empty lot next door. 
Whether you’re hoping to use abandoned property for yourself or trying to evict a squatter, we’ll walk you through the relevant state laws.

What qualifies as an abandoned home in Texas? 

In a nutshell, whether a home is abandoned depends on how long it has continuously been empty.
If you own a vacation home in
, and you visit every summer, nobody will be able to claim that it’s abandoned. Even though you sometimes go months (or even years) without visiting, it still belongs to you because you consistently use it for a specific purpose.
If, on the other hand, you’ve left a farmhouse empty for more than a decade, somebody else might be able to acquire the property—but they’ll have to meet certain criteria before they can claim that it’s their own! How? Through something called an
adverse possession claim

What is an adverse possession claim?

In Texas law, an adverse possession claim is a legal principle that allows a squatter to claim ownership of a property. To make a successful claim, they must meet five criteria:
  1. Hostile claim: The squatter must demonstrate that they intend to take the property from the original owner.
  2. Care for the property: The squatter needs to treat the property like their own (for example, by making repairs or doing landscaping projects)
  3. Ten-year rule: In Texas, the squatter cannot make an adverse possession claim unless they have lived at the property continuously for ten years.
  4. Exclusive ownership: If the squatter is living at the home with other people (or even the owner!), their adverse possession claim is invalid.
  5. Obvious ownership: The squatter must make it clear to the general public that they are using the property.
If these criteria are met, and the original owner doesn’t take action against the squatter within the allotted time period (three, five, or ten years, depending on the circumstances)—ownership of the abandoned home will pass to the squatter!
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Texas abandoned vehicle law

Whew, that was a lot! Thankfully, Texas abandoned vehicle law is a bit more straightforward than home law. Let’s jump in.

What qualifies as an abandoned vehicle in Texas? 

Chapter 683 of the Texas Transportation Code
has a detailed explanation, but we’ll hit the highlights here. Most abandoned vehicles in Texas fall under one of five categories:
  • The vehicle is inoperable, 5+ years old, and has been leftunattended on public property for 48+ hours
  • The vehicle has remained illegally on public property for 48+ hours
  • The vehicle has been on privatepropertywithoutconsent for 48+ hours
  • The vehicle has been left unattended onahighway for 48+ hours
  • The vehicle has been abandoned on a publicturnpike for 24+ hours

What happens to abandoned vehicles in Texas?

Most abandoned vehicles in Texas meet one of two fates:
  • Under the
    Texas Transportation Code
    , abandoned vehicles can be seized and auctioned off by law enforcement. So, if you come across an abandoned vehicle, give the police a call—they’ll be happy to help you!
  • You can dispose of the vehicle yourself, as long as you apply for a
    Certificate of Authority
    that authorizes you to get rid of the vehicle.

Texas abandoned personal property law

Here’s a pretty common scenario: say you’re a landlord, and your tenant moves out, leaving behind a few personal possessions. What should you do?
Texas personal property law
can help us answer the question.

What qualifies as abandoned personal property in Texas?

Abandoned personal property falls into a bunch of different categories. Here are a few examples:
  • Bank accounts
  • Gift cards
  • Utility deposits
  • Paychecks
  • Safe deposit boxes
  • Personal belongings
Though it’s hard to know exactly when personal property is considered abandoned under Texas law, there are some helpful guidelines to follow. It’s safe to assume that personal property is abandoned if the owner has left the property behind, and you:
  • Reach out to the owner, but receive no response, or
  • Don’t know where the owner is located.

What should I do with abandoned personal property in Texas?

Usually, it’s best to report abandoned personal property to the
Texas Comptroller
. They’re in charge of abandoned and unclaimed property in Texas, so they’ll walk you through the steps you should take.
If you’re a landlord or a
school district employee
, the specifics might be slightly different, but the general procedure is the same. Report the abandoned property, try to give notice to the owner, and then follow the Comptroller’s instructions. That’s all there is to it! 
Pro Tip When in doubt, reach out to the Texas Comptroller or contact a lawyer to learn what you should do with abandoned property.

How can I find my abandoned property?

If you’ve recently remembered some lost property, there are a few different things you can do to track it down:
  • Search for your property through the “
    Claim It Texas
    ” website, which is governed by the TexasComptroller. The Comptroller has returned more than $3 billion in property to its rightful owners.
  • If you’re looking for money, try out the nationwide
    Missing Money
  • If you’re still having trouble finding your unclaimed/abandoned property, try going through a
    specific government office
    . They have betteraccess to certain property types, and they’ll do their best to find your abandoned property.

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In Texas, abandoned property is handled by the
Texas Comptroller
. If you’re trying to track down lost, abandoned, or unclaimed property, visit the “
Claim It Texas
” website.
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