In law, an unincorporated area is a region of land that is not governed by a local municipal corporation; similarly an unincorporated community is a settlement that is not governed by its own local municipal corporation, but rather is administered as part of larger administrative divisions, such as a township, parish, borough, county, city, canton, state, province or country. Occasionally, municipalities dissolve or disincorporate, which may happen if they become fiscally insolvent, and services become the responsibility of a higher administration. Widespread unincorporated communities and areas are a distinguishing feature of the United States and Canada. In most other countries of the world, there are either no unincorporated areas at all, or these are very rare; typically remote, outlying, sparsely populated or uninhabited areas.
Unlike many other countries, Australia has only one level of local government immediately beneath state and territorial governments. A local government area (LGA) often contains several towns and even entire cities. Thus, aside from very sparsely populated areas and a few other special cases, almost all of Australia is part of an LGA. Unincorporated areas are often in remote locations, cover vast areas or have very small populations.
Postal addresses in unincorporated areas, as in other parts of Australia, normally use the suburb or locality names gazetted by the relevant state or territorial government. Thus, there is rarely any ambiguity regarding addresses in unincorporated areas.
The Australian Capital Territory has no municipalities and is in some sense an unincorporated area. The territorial government is directly responsible for matters normally carried out by local government.
The far west and north of New South Wales constitutes the Unincorporated Far West Region, which is sparsely populated and barely warrants an elected council. A civil servant in the state capital manages such matters as are necessary. The second unincorporated area of this state is Lord Howe Island.
In the Northern Territory, 1.45% of the total area and 4.0% of the population are in unincorporated areas, including Unincorporated Top End Region (Finniss-Mary, the largest), areas covered by the Darwin Rates Act—Nhulunbuy, Alyangula on Groote Eylandt in the northern region, and Yulara in the southern region.
Western Australia is exceptional in two respects. Firstly, the only remote area that is unincorporated is the Abrolhos Islands, which is officially uninhabited and controlled by the WA Department of Fisheries. Secondly, the other unincorporated areas are A-class reserves either in, or close to, the Perth metropolitan area, namely Rottnest Island (controlled by the Rottnest Island Authority) and Kings Park (Botanic Gardens and Parks Authority).
In Canada, depending on the province, an unincorporated settlement is one that does not have a municipal council that governs solely over the settlement. It is usually, but not always, part of a larger municipal government. This can range from small hamlets to large urbanized areas that are similar in size to towns and cities.
For example, the urban service areas of Fort McMurray and Sherwood Park, of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo and Strathcona County respectively, would be the fifth and sixth largest cities in Alberta if they were incorporated.
In British Columbia, unincorporated settlements lie outside municipal boundaries entirely, and are administered directly by regional/county-level governments similar to the American system.
In some provinces, large tracts of undeveloped wilderness or rural country are unorganized areas that fall directly under the provincial jurisdiction. Some unincorporated settlements in such unorganized areas may have some types of municipal services provided to them by a quasi-governmental agency such as a local services board in Ontario. In New Brunswick where a significant population live in a Local Service District, taxation and services may come directly from the province.
The entire area of the Czech Republic is divided into municipalities (Obce), with the only exception being 4 military areas. These are parts of the regions and do not form self-governing municipalities, but are rather governed by military offices (újezdní úřad), which are subordinate to the Ministry of Defense.
|Military area||Region||Civilian population
|Administrative centre||No. of settlements
with over 20 inhabitants
|Area (km², 2016)|
|Libavá||Olomouc Region||0||Město Libavá
(outside the military area)
|Hradiště||Karlovy Vary Region||0||Karlovy Vary
(outside the military area)
|Boletice||South Bohemian Region||0||Kájov
(outside the military area)
|Brdy †||Central Bohemian Region||0||Jince
(outside the military area)
|Březina||South Moravian Region||0||Vyškov
(outside the military area)
Since Germany has no administrative level comparable to the townships of other countries, the vast majority of the country, close to 99%, is organized in municipalities (German: Gemeinde, plural Gemeinden), often consisting of multiple settlements which are not considered to be unincorporated. Because these settlements lack a council of their own, there is usually an Ortsvorsteher / Ortsvorsteherin (village chairman / chairwoman) appointed by the municipal council, except in the very smallest villages.
In 2000, the number of unincorporated areas in Germany, called gemeindefreie Gebiete (municipality-free areas) or singular gemeindefreies Gebiet, was 295 with a total area of 4,890.33 km² and around 1.4% of its territory. However, these are mostly unpopulated areas like forests, lakes and their surroundings, military training areas and the like.
As of 31 December 2007, Germany had 248 uninhabited unincorporated areas (of which 214 are located in Bavaria), not belonging to any municipality, consisting mostly of forested areas, lakes and larger rivers. There were also three inhabited unincorporated areas, all of which served as military training areas: Osterheide and Lohheide in Lower Saxony, and Gutsbezirk Münsingen in Baden-Württemberg. They had fewer than 2,000 inhabitants in total. After losing its inhabited parts to adjacent municipalities on 1 January 2011, Gutsbezirk Münsingen is now uninhabited.
The following shows the largest unincorporated areas in Germany (including all inhabited areas, but excluding lakes) with an area of more than 50 km²:
|Unincorporated area||County||State||Area in km²||Population|
on 31 December 2010
|031530000504||Harz (Landkreis Goslar)||Goslar||Lower Saxony||371.76||–|
|031560000501||Harz (Landkreis Osterode)||Osterode am Harz||Lower Saxony||267.35||–|
|031550000501||Solling (Landkreis Northeim)||Northeim||Lower Saxony||177.49||–|
|066360000200||Gutsbezirk Kaufunger Wald||Werra-Meißner-Kreis||Hesse||50.32||–|
† No inhabitants since 1 January 2011 as a result of reduction in area.
In Bavaria, there are other contiguous unincorporated areas covering more than 50 km²; these are however composed of several adjacent unincorporated areas combined, each of which is however under 50 km² in area.
The Netherlands has had regular periods with unincorporated land when newly reclaimed land polders fall dry. Unincorporated land is since medieval times administered by an appointed officer with the name Landdrost or Drossaart. Also, Elten and Tudderen, both annexed from Germany after World War II, were governed by a Landdrost until they were ceded to Germany in 1963.
The most recent period with unincorporated land started in 1967 when the dyke around Southern Flevoland was closed. It however requires several years before the polder is genuinely accessible for cultivation and construction of roads and homes can start, as in the first years the soil is equivalent to quicksand. During the initial period of inhabitation a special, government-appointed officer was installed, known as the Landdrost. During the administrative office of a Landdrost there is no municipal council.
In 1975, the first homes in what is now the city of Almere were built and from 1976 to 1984 the area was governed by the Landdrost as the executive of the Openbaar Lichaam Zuidelijke IJsselmeerpolders (Southern IJsselmeerpolders Public Body). In 1984 the Landdrost became the first mayor of the new city Almere. Since that date the Netherlands does not have any unincorporated land areas.
The Openbaar Lichaam remained however, only governing the water body of the Markermeer. After the municipal division of the Wadden Sea (1985), the territorial waters in the North Sea (1991) and the IJsselmeer (1994), all water bodies are now also part of a municipality and there are no unincorporated areas in the Netherlands anymore. The Openbaar Lichaam Zuidelijke IJsselmeerpolders was dissolved in 1996.
In Norway, Jan Mayen, Svalbard and Bouvet Island are outside the division into counties and municipalities. They are ruled directly by national authorities without any local democracy. An exception is the Longyearbyen Community Council which since 2004 in reality acts partly like a Norwegian municipality. Svalbard has a governor appointed by the government of Norway, ruling the area. Jan Mayen has no population, only radio and weather stations with staff, whose manager has the responsibility for the activities. Bouvet Island has only occasional visitors.
Most states have granted some form of home rule, so that county commissions (or boards or councils) have the same powers in these areas as city councils or town councils have in their respective incorporated areas. Some states instead put these powers in the hands of townships, which are minor civil divisions of each county, and are called "towns" in some states.
Some American states have no unincorporated land areas; these include Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island, although these states all have communities that are not separately incorporated but are part of a larger municipality.
An unincorporated community is one general term for a geographic area having a common social identity without municipal organization or official political designation (i.e., incorporation as a city or town). There are two main types of unincorporated communities:
Due to differences in state laws regarding the incorporation of communities, there is a great variation in the distribution and nature of unincorporated areas. Unincorporated regions are essentially nonexistent in seven of the northeastern states. All of the land in New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, and Rhode Island, and nearly all of the land in New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Vermont, is part of an incorporated area of some type. In these areas, types (and official names) of local government entities can vary. In New England (which includes five of those eight states, plus the less fully incorporated state of Maine), local municipalities are known as towns or cities, and most towns are administered by a form of direct democracy, such as the open town meeting or representative town meeting. Larger towns in New England may be incorporated as cities, with some form of mayor-council government. In New Jersey multiple types exist as well, such as city, township, town, borough, or village, but these differences are in the structure of the legislative branches, not in the powers or functions of the entities themselves.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is the Virginia "strong county" model. Virginia and other states with this model, such as Alabama, Maryland, and Tennessee, set strict requirements on incorporation or grant counties broad powers that in other states are carried out by cities, creating a disincentive to incorporate, and thus have large, urbanized areas which have no municipal government below the county level.
Meanwhile, in other mid-Atlantic states, such as New York and Pennsylvania, a "hybrid" model that tries to "balance" the two approaches is prevalent, with differing allocations of power between municipalities and counties existing.
Throughout the U.S., some large cities have annexed all surrounding unincorporated areas, creating what are known as consolidated city–county forms of government (e.g., Jacksonville, Florida and Nashville, Tennessee). Conversely, there are a number of "county islands" that exist, where an unincorporated area is surrounded on most or all sides by municipalities. In areas of sparse population the majority of the land in any given state may be unincorporated.
Some states, including North Carolina, grant extraterritorial jurisdiction to cities and towns (but rarely villages), so that they may control zoning for a limited distance into adjacent unincorporated areas, often as a precursor (and sometimes as a legal requirement) to later annexation of those areas. This is especially useful in rural counties which have no zoning at all, or only spot zoning for unincorporated communities.
In California, all counties except the City and County of San Francisco have unincorporated areas. Even in highly populated counties, the unincorporated portions may contain a large number of inhabitants. In Los Angeles County, the county government estimates the population of its unincorporated areas to exceed one million people. Despite having 88 incorporated cities and towns, including the state's most populous, 65% of the land in Los Angeles County is unincorporated, this mostly consisting of Angeles National Forest and sparsely populated regions to its north. California law makes no distinction between "city" and "town", and municipalities may use either term in their official names.
An unincorporated community may be part of a census-designated place (CDP). A CDP is an area defined by the United States Census Bureau for statistical purposes only. It is a populated area that generally includes one officially designated but currently unincorporated community, for which the CDP is named, plus surrounding inhabited countryside of varying dimensions and, occasionally, other, smaller unincorporated communities as well. Otherwise, it has no legal status.
In the context of the insular areas of the United States, the word "unincorporated" means that the territory has not been formally and irrevocably incorporated into the United States. (See: United States territory.) Unincorporated insular areas are therefore potentially subject to being sold or otherwise transferred to another power, or, conversely, being granted independence. There are currently five major unincorporated U.S. insular areas: American Samoa, Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Northern Mariana Islands.
Unincorporated areas with permanent populations in the United States are defined by the US Government scientific agency United States Geological Survey (USGS) as "populated places", a "place or area with clustered or scattered buildings and a permanent human population (city, settlement, town, village)." There are no legal boundaries, although there may be a corresponding "civil" record, the boundaries of which may or may not match the perceived populated place.
Many unincorporated communities are also recognized as acceptable place names for use in mailing addresses by the United States Postal Service (USPS) (indeed, some have their own post offices), and the United States Census Bureau uses the names of some widely recognized unincorporated communities for its census-designated places (CDPs) for which it tabulates census data.
There are instances of unincorporated areas having a mailing address indicating the name of an incorporated city, as well as those where residents of one incorporated city have mailing addresses indicating another incorporated city. Mailing addresses do not necessarily change whether an area becomes a part of an incorporated place, changes to another incorporated place, or de-incorporates. For example, places in Kingwood, previously unincorporated, retained "Kingwood, TX" mailing addresses after the 1996 annexation of Kingwood into the City of Houston. The Houston city government stated on its website that "The U.S. Postal Service establishes ZIP codes and mailing addresses in order to maximize the efficiency of their system, not to recognize jurisdictional boundaries."
However, the USPS is very conservative about recognizing new place names for use in mailing addresses and typically only does so when a place incorporates. The original place name associated with a ZIP Code is still maintained as the "default" place name, even though the name of the newly incorporated place is more accurate. As an example, Sandy Springs is one of the most populated places in Georgia, but is served by a branch of the Atlanta post office. Only after the city was incorporated in 2005 has "Sandy Springs" been approved by the USPS for use in mailing addresses, though "Atlanta" remains the default name. Accordingly, "Atlanta" is the only accepted place name for mailing addresses in the nearby unincorporated town of Vinings, also served by a branch of the Atlanta post office, even though Vinings is in Cobb County and Atlanta is in Fulton and DeKalb counties. In contrast, neighboring Mableton has not been incorporated in nearly a century, but has its own post office and thus "Mableton" is the only acceptable place name for mailing addresses in the town. The areas of Dulah and Faria, California, which are unincorporated areas in Ventura County between Ventura and Carpinteria, have the ZIP Code of 93001, which is assigned to the post office at 675 E. Santa Clara St. in Ventura; thus, all mail to those two areas is addressed to Ventura.
If an unincorporated area becomes incorporated, it may be split among ZIP Codes, and its new name may be recognized as "acceptable" for use with some or all of them in mailing addresses, as has been the case in Johns Creek and Milton, Georgia. However, if an incorporated area disincorporates, this has no effect on whether a place name is "acceptable" in a mailing address or not, as is the case with Lithia Springs, Georgia. ZIP Code boundaries often ignore political boundaries, so the appearance of a place name in a mailing address alone does not indicate whether the place is incorporated or unincorporated.
Some countries have some exceptional unincorporated areas:
Many countries, especially those with many centuries of history using multiple tiers of local government, do not use the concept of an unincorporated area.
The city's first choice for providing fire and EMS service[...]to provide these services if the area is annexed[and]No. Annexation does not change school district boundaries or attendance zones in any way.[and]No. The U.S. Postal Service establishes ZIP codes[...] Annexation would not change the Kingwood ZIP code or mailing addresses.
Brighton is an unincorporated area in the town of Tonawanda in Erie County, New York, United States.Camp Springs, Maryland
Camp Springs is an unincorporated area and census-designated place (CDP) in Prince George's County, Maryland, United States. The population was 19,096 at the 2010 census. Camp Springs is not an official post office designation; the area is divided between the surrounding mailing addresses of Temple Hills, Fort Washington, Clinton, and Suitland. It includes the unincorporated area of Andrews Manor, Maryland.Compton Unified School District
Compton Unified School District is a school district headquartered in Compton, California, United States.
The district serves Compton, portions of Paramount, portions of Carson, and the unincorporated Los Angeles County neighborhoods of West Compton and East Compton.Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District
The Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District (CFISD, often referred to as Cy-Fair) is an independent school district with its headquarters in northwest unincorporated Harris County, Texas, United States. Cy-Fair ISD is the largest Recognized school district in the state of Texas with 75 out of 78 campuses receiving an 'Exemplary' or 'Recognized' rating by the Texas Education Agency in 2010.The district covers a small portion of Houston (including the Fairbanks section), the city of Jersey Village, and other unincorporated areas in Harris County (including Cypress). The district covers 186 square miles (480 km2) of land.Cypress-Fairbanks ISD is part of the taxation base for Lone Star College System (formerly North Harris Montgomery Community College District).As of August 2017, the district had 91 general-purpose campuses (fifty-six elementary schools, eighteen middle schools, thirteen high schools, and four special program facilities).Dulles, Virginia
Dulles () is an unincorporated area in Loudoun County, Virginia, which is part of the Washington metropolitan area. The headquarters of Orbital ATK, Radiant Solutions, and ODIN technologies and the former headquarters of MCI Inc. and AOL are located in Dulles. The National Weather Service Baltimore/Washington forecast office and the National Weather Service's Sterling Field Support Center are also both in Dulles.Fairbanks, Houston
Fairbanks is a community along U.S. Highway 290 and the Southern Pacific Railroad in Western Houston, Texas, United States. At one point it was a distinct unincorporated area within Harris County.Fairland, Maryland
Fairland is a census-designated place and an unincorporated area in Montgomery County, Maryland, United States.Fort Bend Independent School District
The Fort Bend Independent School District, also known as Fort Bend ISD or FBISD, is a school district system in the U.S. state of Texas based in the city of Sugar Land.
The district spans 170 square miles (440 km2) covering almost all of the city of Sugar Land, the city of Meadows Place, the Fort Bend county portion of Missouri City, Arcola, small sections of Houston, small sections of Pearland (including some of Shadow Creek Ranch, which is attempting to secede from FBISD), the unincorporated communities of Clodine, Four Corners, Juliff, and Fresno, and the Fort Bend County portion of Mission Bend.
Fort Bend Independent School District was created by the consolidation of the Sugar Land ISD and Missouri City ISD in 1959. The school district is the seventh largest public school system in the state of Texas and third largest within the Houston–Sugar Land–Baytown Metropolitan Area. The school district is currently the largest employer in Fort Bend County with more than 9,000 district employees, and encompasses some of the wealthiest locales in the State of Texas.Fort Bend ISD is distinguished by its honors. In 2010, the school district was rated "recognized" by the Texas Education Agency.The district is the only school district in the nation to be named a 2011 National School District of Character by the National Schools of Character Program in Washington DC—and only one of two districts in Texas to be honored with this designation. The Washington Post ranked Clements, Austin, Kempner, Travis, Dulles, Hightower and Elkins High Schools as seven of the Top 2011 High Schools in the Nation.Greenburgh, New York
Greenburgh is a town in the western part of Westchester County, New York, United States. The population was 88,400 at the 2010 census.Huffman Independent School District
Huffman Independent School District is a public school district based in Huffman—an unincorporated area of northeastern Harris County, Texas (USA) within the Houston–Sugar Land–Baytown metropolitan area.
Huffman ISD serves a small portion of the city of Houston.In 2009, the school district was rated "recognized" by the Texas Education Agency.As of 2018 the district had 3,500 students.Lamar Consolidated Independent School District
Lamar Consolidated Independent School District, also Lamar Consolidated ISD, Lamar CISD or LCISD, is a public school district in the U.S. state of Texas within the Houston–Sugar Land–Metropolitan Area.
Lamar CISD includes almost 43 percent of Fort Bend County, covering the cities of Richmond, Rosenberg, Kendleton, Simonton, Thompsons, a very small portion of Sugar Land, most of Fulshear, the village of Pleak, the community of Lakemont, the unincorporated areas of Booth, Crabb, Cumings, Foster, and Powell Point, and most of the unincorporated rural areas (including areas in Sugar Land's extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ) in central Fort Bend County.
Lamar CISD enrolls over 27,000 students and is the fastest-growing district in Fort Bend County. In 2013 it received the highest possible academic rating (Met Standard) from the Texas Education Agency.In 2009, Lamar CISD was named an H.E.B. Excellence in Education School District.Local government areas of the Northern Territory
The Northern Territory is a federal Australian territory in the central and central northern regions of Australia. It is the third largest Australian federal division with an area of 1,349,129 square kilometres (520,902 sq mi) but the least populous with 228,833 inhabitants as at the 2016 Census. The Northern Territory is divided administratively into 17 Local government areas (LGAs) generally known as Councils who are responsible for providing local government services.Local government in New Jersey
Local government in New Jersey is composed of counties and municipalities. Local jurisdictions are simpler in New Jersey than in other states because every square foot of the state is part of exactly one municipality; each of the 565 municipalities is in exactly one county; and each of the 21 counties has more than one municipality. New Jersey has no unincorporated areas, independent cities, or consolidated city-counties.
The forms of municipality in New Jersey are more complex than in most other states, though, potentially leading to misunderstandings regarding the governmental nature of an area. With five types and twelve forms of local government (plus several non-standard forms in municipalities with special charters), some areas of New Jersey are administered significantly differently from other states. Types of municipalities may choose to operate under a form of government different from that of their default form. The New Jersey Legislature has provided optional forms of municipal government, but some forms carry restrictions and are not available to all municipalities in New Jersey.To make matters more complex, New Jersey also distinguishes between regional, consolidated, and countywide school districts and school districts that serve only a single municipality. As well, the total area of any given airport may or may not lie completely within the boundaries of a given municipality — or even a given county.
All local general purpose governments have equivalent legal powers, with the different forms and types reflecting the historical circumstances of the municipality's incorporation, similar to New England towns. For statistical purposes, the United States Census Bureau treats only boroughs, cities, towns, and villages as "municipalities", and townships as "townships"; the Census Bureau's classification does not reflect the underlying state law that draws no distinction between the five types.New Caney Independent School District
New Caney Independent School District (NCISD) is a public school district based in New Caney—an unincorporated area of southeastern Montgomery County, Texas (USA) within the Houston–Sugar Land–Baytown metropolitan area.
NCISD serves the cities of Roman Forest and Woodbranch and the minuscule Montgomery County portion of Houston. NCISD also serves the unincorporated communities of Porter and New Caney.
In 2009, the school district was rated "recognized" by the Texas Education Agency.Redland, Maryland
Redland is a census-designated place and an unincorporated area in Montgomery County, Maryland, United States.Saginaw, Minnesota
Saginaw is an unincorporated area in Saint Louis County, Minnesota, United States. Although unincorporated, Saginaw has a post office with the ZIP code 55779.Universal City, California
Universal City is an unincorporated area within the San Fernando Valley region of Los Angeles County, California, United States. Approximately 415 acres (1.7 km²) within and around the surrounding area is the property of Universal Pictures, one of the six major film studios in the United States: about 70 percent of the studio's property is inside this unincorporated area, while the remaining 30 percent is within the Los Angeles city limits.
Located within the area of Universal City is the Universal Studios Hollywood film studio and theme park, as well as the Universal CityWalk shopping and entertainment center. Within the Los Angeles city limits lies 10 Universal City Plaza, a 36-floor office building for Universal and NBC; the Sheraton Universal; and the Universal Hilton. The Metro Red Line underground station of the same name is located opposite the 10 Universal Plaza.
A Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department (LASD) station is located at Universal CityWalk, and the community also houses the only government-funded fire station located on private property. The Los Angeles County Fire Department (LACFD) Station 51 (formally Station 60 until the mid 1990s) is of special significance to Universal, as "Station 51" was the fictional setting of the Universal and Jack Webb television series Emergency!. However, the current Station 51 was not used for external shots, or used as a model for the interior shots seen on the show (LACFD Station 127 in Carson, California was used).
Universal City's ZIP code is 91608, and the community is inside area code 818.Windsor Hills, Austin, Texas
Windsor Hills is a neighborhood in the northeastern part of Austin. It is bounded by Braker Lane on the north, Dessau Road on the east, Rundberg Lane on the south and Interstate 35 on the west.
It is not to be confused with the Windsor Hills unincorporated area near Los Angeles.