California Adverse Possession Laws
Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors | Last reviewed November 15, 2019
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.
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.
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.
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