An unincorporated town is a community that is within a region of land that does not receive governing by a local municipal corporation. It is administered as part of a larger division instead, such as a city, county, parish, or township. This feature is part of the national structure in the United States and Canada where there are remote or sparsely populated areas where people live together and a handful of businesses might operate, but has no municipality services.
Most states in the U.S. have a form of home rule in place so that county commissions, boards, or councils have the same power as a town or city council in their incorporated areas. Unincorporated areas do not receive this governing. There are currently five states where there are no unincorporated lands: New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Massachusetts.
The pros and cons of an unincorporated town include a common social identity without political designation or municipal organization and the costs which come with that association.
List of the Pros of an Unincorporated Town
1. There are fewer regulations that you must follow in an unincorporated town.
There are far fewer regulations that apply to your property when you live in an unincorporated town. That means you will need to check any zoning that applies to the area very carefully before you purchase real estate in this area, because you might have a business, a farm, or some other entity set up shop next to you that could make life miserable. There are plenty of advantages here as well since you can typically do more with your property without as much oversight while paying less in taxes since there is no governing municipality to enforce certain costs.
2. You have the option to start farming or homesteading.
Although there are some zoning restrictions in an unincorporated town that might restrict how many animals you can own or the types of farming you can do, the rules are usually quite relaxed when you live outside of a municipality. That means you can have livestock, horses, chickens, dogs, and a full farming business at your property if you want. If you like the idea of operating a small-scale farm as a way to earn some extra money, this advantage is something worth considering.
3. It gives you an opportunity to start living off-the-grid.
Many families prefer life in an unincorporated town because it allows them to make more decisions about their property without government interference. You will need to check your deed restrictions to ensure there aren’t any hidden rules that prohibit what you are planning, but it is usually much easier to install solar, wind, and geothermal resources on a property that isn’t governed by a municipality. It is possible to create a self-sustaining method of life that allows you to have as many or as few neighbors as you want.
4. You can get off of the municipal lines for needed services.
Although it does require more maintenance to live on your own in a rural area than it does in a city, there is also the benefit of getting off of the municipal lines for your needed services. Relying on well water can be tricky at times if the quality of the underground reservoir is questionable, but that is an issue you can review before purchasing the home. Septic systems ensure that you don’t need to deal with a sewer service.
Regular maintenance is still cheaper than the monthly costs of service, but you will still be doing more work than you would with a city connection. For many people who consider an unincorporated town, that is a definite benefit because they are relying on themselves instead of elected officials.
5. Most of your neighbors were born and raised where they live.
When you live in a rural unincorporated town, then your neighbors are going to be people who want to be there. Many of them were born in the same house where they live today. They spent their childhood in that community, and it is a connection which keeps them there to this day. These people invest in themselves and in you. There may not be a more genuine, caring set of households than those who band together to form communities like this in North America.
Many of your neighbors will have their work be at their home as well. You will find farmers, blacksmiths, candlemakers, cheesemakers, writers, and many more professions that all work together to create a warm, welcoming community.
6. It is a way for you to get back in touch with nature.
If you like the idea of living somewhere that doesn’t require you to keep your doors and windows locked 24/7, then an unincorporated town is the place to be. These communities are still a place where kids can ride their bikes on the streets, play in their front yards, and enjoy the adventures of childhood that were written about in the generations before. You can learn the quiet joys of sitting by a creek, what a starry night looks like without light pollution, and keep your doors open without worrying about who will walk in. If you love to get in touch with nature, then this is the place to be.
List of the Cons of an Unincorporated Town
1. You do not have local police, fire, or ambulance support near your home.
When you live in an unincorporated town, then the lack of municipality means that there are no emergency services present in the community. In the United States, the local sheriff’s office would provide policing, while the closest fire district (usually volunteer) would respond to a situation that requires their expertise. The local hospital would supply ambulance services if an EMT unit is not with the fire district.
Because you are in a more remote area, it will take longer for these services to come your way. Although this issue isn’t a disadvantage for some families, it can be a problem if you need help immediately.
2. You will pay more for the emergency services that you do receive.
Because there isn’t a municipality that governs the area, an unincorporated town can seem like an inviting place to live because the costs are typically lower. Some of this savings is offset when you have the need to access emergency services. You will be riding in the ambulance longer, which means the cost of the trip is going to hit you hard in the checkbook. This disadvantage applies to any repair personnel that you might need to hire at your property too. If you live out of the way on dirt roads and it takes some time to reach your home in town, then you might see a significant trip charge added to your final expenses.
3. The school bus might not visit your home.
Having access to a municipality means that there are public schools in your area that will provide transportation services if you live more than one mile from the district. Because you are living in an unincorporated town, this benefit disappears entirely. You may need to transport your children to a designated bus stop that is on the municipal route if you decide to send your kids to the closest school, and then pick them up from there as well.
You can avoid this disadvantage by home-schooling your kids if you wish, but then that means you might not be able to pursue the career that you want. If you have a family, this is one of the trade-offs that you must consider.
4. There is less road maintenance that occurs in unincorporated areas.
Your roads will be rustic and primitive in many unincorporated areas of the United States and Canada. Although some towns have paved roads, they typically use the chip gravel and oil method to resurface them, which can be damaging to some vehicles. Any maintenance that you might receive is usually done by the country or your township if one exists. If your streets are gravel, then you might receive a little extra surfacing once per year once the spring thaw is over.
5. You might pay higher insurance premiums for your property.
Because an unincorporated town can be outside of a fire protection area, you might find that your homeowners’ insurance rates are higher than they would be if you lived in a city or incorporated county area. Another reason for the insurance increase is that your building codes might be lax, so there might be updates that are necessary to make the home safe. You’ll likely be responsible for your water and septic. If you purchase a home that needs repairs without the coverage of building codes and a fully inspection, then you might be stuck with some significant costs.
6. If you commute to work, then you will be driving further.
If you drive to work every day instead of working from home, then living in an unincorporated town will increase the time you spend behind the wheel. Most towns like this are away from any significant city, which means you are going to be adding several miles to whatever errands you need to run. It will take more time to get groceries, fetch your mail at a PO Box, and everything else. You’ll need to change your habits in most situations so that you shop on your way to or from work so that you can save on some of the mileage.
7. Zoning issues can change in a heartbeat in unincorporated towns.
If someone doesn’t like the way that their property is zoned in an unincorporated town, then a simple request to the local county or township will generally solve that problem. That means your backyard could be looking at a nice patch of woods one day, and then a large industrial center and warehouse on the next. You need to be careful when purchasing real estate to ensure that there is enough acreage available to buffer yourself from unexpected changes that might come through. That means you might pay more for the property at first, but it is an expense that will be worthwhile if an unwanted neighbor stops by.
8. Your internet and TV access may have limitations.
Because an unincorporated town can be fairly far from the regular grid of services, you may discover that satellite reception is the only way to receive internet and television at your home. Satellite internet is better than DSL, but it is lacking when compared to broadband speeds. You will also notice that on overcast or very rainy days that you might experience some service interruptions. If you are used to receiving high-speed services and the benefits that come with streaming, a swap in lifestyle is necessary when you move to a community like this.
9. There might be a reason why the city doesn’t want to annex a certain area.
Some states do not have any unincorporated areas despite the fact that there can be some very rural locations in them. The cost of administering services to some regions is just too high, which is why communities place the cost on those who choose to live in these towns instead of making it a community responsibility. You will want to figure out the reason why the area where you want to purchase a home remains unincorporated to ensure that you are comfortable with those expectation. If services are few and far between, then it can suppress the value of your home if you are not careful.
10. Your tax assessments might be higher than your property value.
Because the value of your home can be suppressed when living in an unincorporated town, the tax assessment that you do receive might not reflect the actual amount that you would receive during a sale. This issue can be an ongoing challenge for some property owners if they make land improvements because it could cost them more each year in taxes – especially if there is a school levy in place as well. It helps to look at the history of the property before purchase to have an idea of what to expect with this potential disadvantage.
Conclusion of the Pros and Cons of Unincorporated Towns
Living in an unincorporated town can give you some extra privacy, more real estate flexibility, and an opportunity to live life in a way that is important to you. These benefits come at the expense of a slower response time if you need emergency help and a lack of control over what your neighbors might decide to do.
If you are in a small town, then the likelihood that someone might decide to start a pig farm next to you is not high – but it could still be possible. That is why you should check the deed very carefully before finalizing a transaction.
The pros and cons of unincorporated towns allow you to balance freedom of living while still being part of a community. When you add in the lower costs that are typically found in this arrangement, it is easy to see why this option is quite popular in the United States and Canada.
Blog Post Author Credentials
Louise Gaille is the author of this post. She received her B.A. in Economics from the University of Washington. In addition to being a seasoned writer, Louise has almost a decade of experience in Banking and Finance. If you have any suggestions on how to make this post better, then go here to contact our team.