How to File for Unclaimed Land in North Carolina

How to File for Unclaimed Land in North Carolina
••• mountains in the mist image by Jorge Moro from

You see a prime property that seems to have been abandoned. Nobody’s lived there for years, and you’re sure it’s completely unowned. Unfortunately, there’s no such thing as “free land” in the U.S., with every square inch of property owned by someone. Although you can’t find free homestead land in 2019, you can find discounted properties by searching for preforeclosures.

Finding Free Land in NC

When you see the words “unclaimed property,” you may assume this includes land, but the unclaimed property search in North Carolina mostly relates to abandoned cash. While it would be nice to find an unowned acre of land and simply claim it, that’s not how it works. All property in the U.S. is owned by someone, whether it’s the government, an individual, a developer or Native American tribes.

If you’re looking for free homestead land in 2019, look to the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976, which phased out the original homesteading program. Under the act, any land not belonging to someone would by default become public property and, therefore, owned by the government. If a property is abandoned and no one is paying taxes on it, the government will try to get property taxes and, failing that, hold an auction to sell the property and collect those back taxes.

Squatter’s Rights in North Carolina

Although you can’t get free homestead land in 2019, there is something called adverse possession, which you may know by the name squatter’s rights. These laws vary by state, but generally speaking, they can allow someone to claim ownership of an abandoned piece of property by trespassing, staying and, in some cases, paying property taxes on it. In North Carolina, to qualify for adverse possession, a person must openly occupy a property without its owner’s permission.

But if you want free land in NC through adverse possession, you’ll have to be patient. North Carolina law requires a person reside on a property without the owner’s permission for at least 20 years. This must be an uninterrupted period of time and it can’t be in hiding. If you can somehow prove that you truly believe you own the property, that time frame drops to seven years.

Buying Foreclosed Property in NC

It may not be free, but you can get a great deal on land in North Carolina if you purchase properties in foreclosure. You can watch for NC mountain land foreclosures, for instance, if you want to get property at much lower than the premium you’d typically pay. A property can go from Notice of Foreclosure to auction in as few as 90 days in the state of North Carolina. If you can catch land during the preforeclosure process, you’ll typically get the best deal.

Whether it’s NC mountain land foreclosures or another type of property in the state, you can work with a real estate agent specializing in foreclosures or use online tools to find foreclosed properties. RealtyTrac lists properties in preforeclosure by county, including the estimated value and a description. You can also check public records on preforeclosures at the county recorder’s office.

Claiming Unclaimed Property in NC

Although you won’t find free land in NC listed online, the state does let you search for other types of unclaimed property. Even if you don’t think you have unclaimed cash or other property you don’t know about, it’s worth searching to see. Just go to the North Carolina Department of State Treasurer website and input your information.

If you do find unclaimed property in your name, you’ll be directed to complete a form requesting the property and verifying your identity as its rightful owner. They’ll need proof of your Social Security number, proof of address and the information must be submitted by mail to: Unclaimed Property Division, PO Box 20431, Raleigh, NC 27619-0431. You may find enough hidden cash to give you a head start on paying for one of those NC mountain land foreclosures you find on your search.