California is one of the largest states in the US in terms of land, and it is governed by complex real estate laws in both rural and urban areas. Under California law of adverse possession, your neighbors can possess parts of your property.
It is essential that you consult with an experienced real estate attorney immediately if you are worried about adverse possession or would like to know how to protect your legal rights.
Overview of Adverse Possession Laws
Adverse possession is a legal concept that allows a trespasser to obtain legal title over another person’s land. The concept first originated in Britain centuries ago. It essentially allows trespassers on the land to gain ownership of it. This occurs if the true owner of the land doesn’t object within a specified period of time or if the trespasser pays property taxes on the land.
The law has been kept alive in various states to achieve a fair result where one owner leaves their land unused or idle, while another has been tending it for a long time. In such instances, it is believed that making the trespasser leave the land should seem unfair or create an undue hardship. Adverse possession in California is defined and regulated by both state courts and statutes.
It is important to understand that government property in California is immune to adverse possession actions. For instance, if you attempt to annex a portion of the Big Basin Redwoods State Park, you won’t be able to claim ownership. This is even if you build a shed on the land and wait for 5 years.
Trespasser Needs to Prove Adverse Possession in California
There are a few hurdles the trespasser will need to clear before they claim a piece of your land in California using this approach. The burden of proof falls on the trespasser.
You will be presumed the owner of a piece of land as long as you hold the legal title to it. This is unless the adverse possessor comes up with enough compelling arguments and evidence against you to convince a judge to give them ownership of a piece or all of the land.
It is important to understand the difference between adverse possession and having an easement to use another person’s land. For instance, a neighbor may have an easement to use your driveway for accessing their property. But they cannot claim ownership of the land they are allowed to use. In adverse possession, there is a shift in the title and the owner gets a right to exclude others from the property.
Requirements for Adverse Possession in California
There is no single statute dictating the elements required to be established by a trespasser for proving adverse possession in California. The courts have instead established a wide array of such factors over several decades for issuing decisions in different cases.
Adverse possession in California, as in most states, is established from the nature and length of time of the possession. In California, a trespasser’s possession should be:
- Accompanied with a color of title or claim of right. This means the trespasser should assert ownership even when they don’t have purchase documents or when they have title documents that make them look like the owner.
- Hostile, which means it should be without the true owner’s permission or right.
- Actual, which means the trespasser should exercise control over the physical property by continually improving it or enclosing it.
- Open and notorious. The property should be used by the trespasser as if they are the real owner. They should place the original owner on notice and possess the property without hiding their occupancy.
- Continuous for at least 5 years as per Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 325
There is another vital element that needs to be established in California. The adverse possessor should show that they paid taxes on the property for all five years.
Action to Quiet Title to Cut Off Adverse Possession Claim
If you spot an encroaching neighbor or a trespasser on your California land, you should speak with the person and ask them to remove all structures from it. You should also ask them to refrain from entering your property. The person will likely comply with your request if it was an honest mistake.
If the trespass continues, however, you should immediately get in touch with an attorney and bring an action to quiet title. This legal recourse is available to property owners for determining the rightful owner of the land.
In this process, you will essentially ask a California state court judge to issue an order that declares you as the true owner or the title holder of the land and not the trespasser. Action to quiet title is usually helpful when a person is trying to sell their property and needs to reassure the potential property buyers.
Get a Dedicated Real Estate Lawyer on Your Side to Protect Your Rights
The seasoned attorneys at Peterson, Martin & Reynolds LLP are here to help you avoid the mistakes that can place your legal situation in jeopardy. Our real estate attorneys have a deep understanding of California laws and regulations and can provide the right advice for obtaining your goals.
To schedule a consultation with our property lawyers, call us at (415) 399-2900 or contact us online.