After extensive research, Data Scientist discovered that titles on abandoned land and buildings can be transferred to individuals who claim the land and occupy it for a specified number of years. (The required length of time differs by US state). This legal practice is called “adverse possession” and it lies deeply rooted in English Common Law, where it was used to keep absentee nobles from retaining unused land which a poor farmer could make better use of.
But how could our hero efficiently locate abandoned real estate? By an automated property tax record search. The particular county that Data Scientist lived in at the time posted all property tax records online. The ID field in the online tax records corresponded to the lot numbers shown in publicly available survey maps. Data Scientist reasoned that tax delinquent properties are most likely to be abandoned, and set to work identifying these properties.
Using Perl and wget—our hero was less experienced in those days—Data Scientist iterated through all the lot numbers in the county, downloading the records via wget and parsing them in Perl. Using a simple filter (properties four years delinquent), Data Scientist identified places to search by car.
Many of the properties identified ended up being burnt, buried by landslides, or former drug houses. However, our hero found a sweet vacant property in the mountains, and rolled in with a camping trailer. Data Scientist immediately set up remedial solar power generation and direct compost-based waste disposal.
Our hero lived there for four months.