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California Adverse Possession Laws

Depending on how one looks at it, adverse possession can either seem like an unfair of theft of land by squatters or a justified grant to someone who will actually put the property to good use. Or maybe you’ve never heard of adverse possession before. So how does it work, and what are the particulars in the Golden State? Here is a brief introduction to adverse possession laws in California.

Adverse Possession

When someone publicly moves into and improves an otherwise neglected property, he or she may acquire title to that property after a certain amount of time has passed. This is called "adverse possession," based on the notion that land should not sit idle. These protections are not valid if the possession of the property is done in secret. California adverse possession laws require at least five years of possession and payment of taxes throughout that period in order to be eligible for legal title.

Adverse Possession in California

State adverse possession laws can vary significantly. The following table highlights the basics of California’s adverse possession law.

Code Section

Civ. Proc. §§318, 325, 328

Time Period Required for Occupation

5 yrs. and Payment of Taxes

Time for Landowner to Challenge/Effect of Landowner's Disability

With disability: 20 yrs.; After disability lifted: 5 yrs.

Improvements

-

Payment of Taxes

5 years required

Title from Tax Assessor

-

Generally, there are four elements to a valid adverse possession claim:

  • Hostile Claim - The trespasser must either:
    • make an honest mistake (such as relying on an incorrect deed),
    • merely occupy the land (with or without knowledge that it is private property); or
    • be aware of his or her trespassing.
  • Actual Possession - The trespasser must be physically present on the land, treating it as his or her own.
  • Open and Notorious Possession - The act of trespassing cannot be secret.    
  • Exclusive and Continuous Possession - Trespasser cannot share possession with others, and must be in possession of the land for an unbroken period of time.

Related Resources for Adverse Possession Laws

Real estate law can be complicated, especially where concepts like adverse possession are concerned. If you would like to discuss your case with an lawyer or if you want to know your rights and responsibilities as a landowner or occupier, you can schedule a consultation with an experienced real estate attorney in California. You can also do your own research and find more general information on this topic in FindLaw’s adverse possession section.

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