You can claim unused property and land under the legal concept of adverse possession. Adverse possession generally represents a way to obtain ownership of someone else's land without paying for it. While each state has specific rules that must be followed, most aspects involve claiming the land openly, notoriously, hostilely, exclusively and continuously.
Maintain open and notorious possession of the property. The public usually must be aware that you are claiming the land. One way to take open possession is by residing on the property so that people visibly can notice your claim. If you are living in a separate city, your claims will not have merit.
Possess the necessary intent, which usually refers to claiming the land under hostility. You cannot claim that land as unused if the property owner on record (e.g., title holder) gave you permission or knows that you are on the property. For instance, a tenant cannot prove that an apartment is unused by the landlord since the rental agreement establishes that the property is being rented.
Reside on the land exclusively without anyone else who might make a claim. For example, you could satisfy the exclusive element by living on the property with your immediate family, such as your minor children. You would not be residing exclusively if your siblings and their families lived on the property with you.
Maintain a continuous and uninterrupted residence on the unused land. If you live on the property for one year and subsequently leave, your previous claim is lost or nonexistent.
Review the state's statute of limitations for adverse possession claims. The statute of limitations provides a time frame that property owners have to dispute any claims. Some states recognise claims of unused land after seven years. In New York, the statutory period is 10 years, which means that you must openly, notoriously, hostilely, exclusively and continuously claim the property for at least 10 years.
Contact a local real estate lawyer for help preparing your claim. Once you satisfy the required elements, you must formally submit a petition against the recorded title or deed.
Some states will prohibit your claim if you assert the land as being unused despite knowing that someone else owned the property.