Skip to main content
Find a Lawyer
Please enter a legal issue and/or a location
Begin typing to search, use arrow keys to navigate, use enter to select

California Adverse Possession Laws

Last updated 11/12/2019

Depending on how one looks at it, adverse possession can either seem like an unfair 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 a 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.



Payment of Taxes

5 years required

Title from Tax Assessor


How to Claim Adverse Possession

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

1. 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.

2. Actual Possession - The trespasser must be physically present on the land, treating it as his or her own.

3. Open and Notorious Possession - The act of trespassing cannot be secret.

4. Exclusive and Continuous Possession - The 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

You can do your own research and find more general information on this topic in FindLaw’s adverse possession section.

Speak With a California Real Estate Attorney

Real estate law can be complicated, especially where concepts like adverse possession are concerned. Discuss your case with a lawyer if you want to know your rights and responsibilities as a landowner or occupier. You can find some experienced real estate attorneys in California right here.

Was this helpful?

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

Or contact an attorney near you:

Next Steps: Search for a Local Attorney

Contact a qualified attorney.

Begin typing to search, use arrow keys to navigate, use enter to select
Copied to clipboard

Find a Lawyer

More Options