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What are the requirements of adverse possession in California?

On Behalf of | Apr 6, 2024 | Real Estate Law |

Land disputes can take many forms, but few are as threatening and disruptive to established property rights as adverse possession, wherein individuals may lay claim to land through occupation and use over time. This situation has the potential to upend long-standing ownership arrangements.

In California, a claimant must fulfill several strict criteria to establish adverse possession rights, also known as squatter rights. The following are the essential requirements.

Open and notorious possession

The claimant must openly occupy and use the land in a manner that is easily observable and would put the true owner on notice of the adverse possession. This means the possession must be apparent to anyone who might reasonably be expected to notice it such as neighbors, passersby or the owner themselves. The claimant cannot hide or conceal their use of the property but must instead assert control over it openly and visibly.

Hostile possession

The trespasser must possess the land with the intent to claim ownership regardless of whether they believe they have a legal right to it. In California, the claimant’s possession is considered hostile if it is without the owner’s consent regardless of the claimant’s knowledge of their lack of ownership rights.

Continuous possession

In California, the trespasser must maintain continuous possession of the land for the statutory period, which is typically five years. Continuous possession means uninterrupted use and occupation of the land without abandonment or substantial interruption. Even temporary absences from the property do not necessarily break the continuity of possession as long as the claimant intends to continue possessing the land as their own.

Possession under the claim of right

Adverse possession laws in California recognize possession under the claim of right or color of title as additional requirements. Possession under the claim of right refers to the claimant’s belief that they have a legal right to possess the land. This belief must be asserted openly and continuously during the period of adverse possession.

Since the laws surrounding adverse possession may be complex and subject to interpretation, it’s advisable to seek legal counsel if you’re involved in a property dispute and adverse possession is a concern.