The only people who live in your property should be the ones that you have chosen in accordance with your tenant selection criteria. In some rare cases, however, an individual or a group of people could choose to live there without your approval. These people are considered squatters.
It goes without saying that knowing that there is a squatter living on your California property can be devastating. After all, you can’t simply wish squatters away. The process can be lengthy, time-consuming, and stressful.
With that in mind, here’s a basic overview of the California law regarding squatters’ rights. You’ll also learn how to keep your property protected against intruders.
What are Squatter’s Rights? A squatter is someone that occupies a property that they don’t own or pay to reside in. In most cases, such properties are abandoned, foreclosed, or unoccupied. Now, squatters in California can obtain legal ownership of a property through adverse possession laws. In the state of California, squatters need to meet five distinct requirements in order to make an adverse possession claim.
One of the requirements for adverse possession is 5 years of continuous use or maintenance. And this period must be uninterrupted. If the squatter leaves for a while, for any reason, their adverse possession claim can be invalidated.
Why Do Squatters have Rights? In the U.S., squatters’ rights were drawn from the property laws of Great Britain. They were meant to distinguish where the land of every property owner began and ended.
From a historical perspective, squatters’ rights gained traction in the U.S. as calls for affordable housing intensified. Every day individuals also sought to protect their properties from potential squatting.
What’s the Difference Between Squatting and Trespassing A squatter is someone who willingly and knowingly occupies someone else’s property without their permission. And they do so with the aim of claiming its ownership.
A trespasser, on the other hand, is someone who willingly and knowingly enters someone else’s property without their permission. But unlike a squatter, their goal isn’t to claim the property adversely. Also, trespassing is a criminal offense while squatting is usually civil in nature.
How Can a Squatter Make an Adverse Possession Claim? As already mentioned, squatters in California can claim adverse possession of a property. However, to do so, they must first meet certain requirements. The requirements are as follows:
They must prove that they have occupied the property for at least 5 continuous years: This entire 5 years must also be uninterrupted. In other words, the squatter cannot abandon it for some time and then return to it later to claim its ownership through adverse means. They must occupy the property exclusively: Another requirement for adverse possession is that the squatter must have occupied the property exclusively. For the entire 5 years, they must have not shared it with anyone else.
The squatter must not try to hide their occupation of the property: In legal terms, this is referred to as “open and notorious.” And it simply means that the occupation by the squatter must be obvious to anyone.
Even the actual property owner making reasonable efforts to investigate the matter should be able to tell that there is a stranger squatting, or living at their property as though they owned it.
The squatter must actually possess the property: ‘Actual possession’ basically means that the trespasser must have a physical presence at the property and not try to claim it from afar.
They must also treat the property like the owner would. For example, they should be able to prove that they’ve improved it through renovations and beautification efforts.
The claim must be hostile: From a legal perspective, the term “hostile” takes on three distinct definitions.
The first one defines “hostile” as a mere occupation of the land. The person trespassing isn’t required to know who the land belongs to in order to claim possession.
The other definition for “hostile” requires that the trespasser knows of their actions. In other words, the trespasser is required to know that they have no legal right to occupy the property. And last but not the least, “hostile” is defined as a good-faith mistake. The trespasser is assumed to have made an innocent mistake in occupying the property. That’s because they may have relied on an incorrect deed or paperwork, or another miscommunication, such as being a holdover tenant.
Does the State of California Honor Color of Title? Color of Title is simply irregular ownership of a property. The person with the color of title may be missing one or more of the legally required documents needed to own the property. Some states require color of title as one of the requirements to making an adverse possession claim. This is, however, not the case in the state of California.
Do Squatters Making Adverse Possession Claims Need to Pay Property Taxes? Again, different states have different requirements when it comes to property taxes. Some states don’t require squatters to pay property taxes as a prerequisite to making an adverse possession claim. However, the opposite is true for California squatters.
The squatter is required to have been paying the necessary bills, fees, and taxes required to maintain the property.
How Do You Remove a Squatter From Your California Property? According to the laws, the only way to remove a squatter from your home is by following the state’s tenant eviction process. And that begins with serving the tenant with a 3-Day Notice. The notice simply tells tenants to either pay all due rent owed or leave within three days. If the tenant takes neither option, you can file an unlawful detainer lawsuit at a relevant court. The clerk will then schedule a hearing within a period of 20 days.
If the court rules in the property owner’s favor, they will be issued with a writ of restitution. You’ll then need to present it to a sheriff for execution.
How Do I Protect My California Home from Squatters? The following are a couple of things that you should take to safeguard your property against potential intruders and squatting.
Prepare yourself with comprehensive move-in and move-out checklists for your tenants.
Erect “No Trespassing” signs throughout the rental property.
Inspect your property regularly.
Ensure all entrances are secured.
Start the eviction proceedings the moment you realize there is a stranger living in your rental property.
The chances of dealing with a squatter may be slim for many property owners. With that being said, it’s best to have the knowledge on how to deal with squatters under your belt.
For property owners, it’s important not only to prevent squatters but also to conduct your responsibilities in a professional manner, and follow the laws surrounding squatters’ rights.
Looking for help managing your rental property in Southern California? Get in touch with the experts at Archer Property Management. We have proven experience helping clients maximize their rental income and achieve peace of mind.
Disclaimer: Please keep in mind that while this article is filled with helpful information, it does not constitute legal advice and should not be interpreted as such. For help with legal matters that pertain to your property, be sure to get in touch with a lawyer who specializes in landlord-tenant laws.