Even in New York, there are properties that are abandoned. These properties may be inhabited by individuals who publicly move in without paying. People who do this may eventually take possession of the property through adverse possession laws.
Under adverse possession laws, someone can acquire the title to a property after a certain amount of time has passed if the person has moved in publicly and made improvements to a neglected property. The main factor in the situation is that the individual must have moved in publicly and live in the home or property as if he or she owns it.
New York's adverse possession laws require a person to live in the property for at least 10 years and to pay taxes on the property during that time to obtain the legal title. Improvements are only one way to possess the land.
When you take possession of a property intending to obtain the title after years of making improvements, you must actually use the property as if it is yours. You can't, for example, make a single improvement and then live somewhere else until 10 years pass. The 10 years must be continuous as well, so someone who lives on a property for a year and then leaves before returning for nine more will have to wait an additional year before obtaining the legal title.
If the owner of a property returns, he or she does have the right to ask anyone who is possessing the land against his or her wishes to leave the property. You may want to discuss your specific situation with an attorney if you believe an owner may someday return to the property.
Source: FindLaw, "New York Adverse Possession Laws," accessed Oct. 12, 2017