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Squatters Rights in California

Many landlords are worried about a squatter taking over their property. This information will help you be prepared and provide tips on how to avoid them.

Squatters can be a landlord’s worst fear. In a state like California, the laws tend to be much less strict on the squatter, which can worry property owners. However, being informed about what their rights are can help you prepare and prevent this kind of situation.

Disclaimer: We are not lawyers and this is not legal advice. Please contact an attorney regarding any issues with your specific property. 

What is Squatting?

Squatting, in the simplest of terms, is when a person moves into an unoccupied property that is not theirs and attempts to claim possession. They are typically there without the owner’s knowledge.

Squatting vs. Trespassing

The difference between squatting and trespassing is that trespassing is a criminal offense, whereas squatting is a civil matter. Typically the first response when discovering people in your property is to call the police and report trespassing. However, if they claim squatters rights (also called adverse possession) it becomes more of an issue. Squatters can still be arrested or evicted if they do not meet the qualifications for adverse possession or if they are found to be trespassing.

California Laws Regarding Squatting

When a squatter claims that they have squatter’s rights, they are typically referring to adverse possession laws. Adverse possession is the legal term used to describe what happens when a squatter takes over the property. In California, there are four requirements to make an adverse possession claim.

  1. Hostile possession: the squatter truly believes that they are the rightful owner; they are occupying the land without knowledge of who owns it; or they are aware that they are trespassing. Typically this means that the squatter moves into the property with no concern to who owns it because they believe they are taking ownership.
  2. Actual possession: They live on the land as if it is their own and pay associated bills and property taxes. This is in opposition to someone that would occasionally stop by the property or only use it for other, infrequent purposes.
  3. Open and notorious possession: Their occupancy must be apparent that they are living there; cannot be hidden. They are not sneaking around the property; they own it and can be observed by neighbors.
  4. Exclusive and continuous possession: Their possession cannot be interrupted or shared with other parties. This time period must be 5 years in California. If they were previously a tenant in the property, the 5 years begins once the tenancy ends.

You might be wondering why these possession claims exist in the first place. Simply put, the government would prefer to have an occupied property over a vacant one to avoid waste. This keeps the home maintained and the property taxes (usually) paid. California has some of the most favorable laws for squatters. Other states require that the continuous possession last for 30 years!

What You Can and Can't Do If You Have Squatters

If you get to the property and find that your home is occupied, you’ll first want to call the police. Depending on the situation, they may deem it a civil issue if there is not present evidence of trespassing. It’s still a good idea to call the cops, even without obvious evidence of trespassing, so that they can make the distinction and there will be a record of the incident. In either case, you’ll want to consult your attorney and figure out what to do next.

In regards to what you can’t do, you cannot cut the electricity or other utilities, threaten them, or attempt to handle it on your own and remove them. This can not only be dangerous but can also have serious legal implications.

Tips for Protecting Your Home

The best thing to do to prevent the possibility of squatters is to pay your own property taxes and check in on your property. Squatters won’t be able to claim possession if you are the only paying the taxes. By stopping by your property every now and then, you’ll know sooner rather than later if people have moved into the property. If you don’t live nearby, consider hiring a property management company to manage your properties. They will likely be able to do routine checks.

Additionally, if you own rental property, look into squatters rights and adverse possession in your state. At the very least, you will be informed on your local laws should you encounter this situation.

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Hi, I’m Olivia with Good Life Property Management, and today we’re going to go over Squatters Rites in California. Squatters can be a landlord’s worst nightmare, but by staying informed and taking preventative measures, you can avoid this kind of situation. Squatting and the simplest of terms is when someone moves into a property and takes possession even though it’s not theirs. You’re typically there without the owner’s knowledge, and sometimes it can even be a tenant that used to live in the property, but is supposed to vacated. You might be wondering what’s the difference between squatting and trespassing? While trespassing is considered a criminal offense, squatting is usually considered a civil matter. So typically, on occasion, when you call the police to notify them of squatters or trespassing, they will come assess the situation and determine if it is trespassing and then proceed with an arrest or process for eviction, anything like that. If they deem it a civil matter, then you’ll need to contact your attorney immediately. Either way, you should be contacting your attorney whether the police deem it trespassing or squatting. So California has some of the most lenient laws for squatters in the entire country. So typically, if you come to the home and counter squatters, they might claim what they call, and what some landlords call squatters rights. This is typically referring to the legal term of adverse possession, which is how they attempt to claim possession of the vacant property. In California, there are four requirements that squatters have to meet to claim adverse possession. Number one is hostile. This means that the squatter knows the property is not theirs or has no regard to the original property owner and they claim it as their own property. Second is actual possession. This is when they take care of the property as if it is their own, meaning they likely are paying property taxes, associated bills, and things like that. Third is open and notorious possession. This means that their occupancy cannot be hidden from surrounding neighbors or anyone coming to the property. They’re openly acting as if the property is their own. And lastly, exclusive and continuous possession. This means that the squatter is not sharing occupancy with other parties and they’re occupying the property for a continuous period, which in California has to be a minimum of five years uninterrupted. If they’re previously attendant at the property, the five years starts once their tenancy ends. You might be wondering why these adverse possession laws exist and why a squatter is able to claim to a property that is not theirs. Simply put, the government would rather have someone taking care of and maintaining a property over a vacant one to prevent waste. So here’s what you can do if you find squatters at your property. Like mentioned previously, you’ll likely want to call the police just to see if it is a trespassing issue or civil issue. Because they make that distinction, you’ll at least have a record with them of the incident. In either case, you’re going to want to consult your attorney to see what the best next steps are. In regards to what you can’t do, you can’t cut the utilities or electricity. You cannot threaten them and you cannot attempt to remove them yourself. At the very least, it’s a sticky situation and at the worst, it’s a dangerous one and can also have serious legal implications. The best thing you can do to prevent the possibility of squatters is to make sure that you’re the one paying your property taxes and stopping by the property fairly often to make sure that no one has entered it without your permission. By doing these two things, you’re able to prevent them from claiming adverse possession and you’ll make sure that your home is still in good condition while vacant. If you don’t live in the area, you can always hire a property management company as they typically will stop by their vacant properties every now and then to make sure that there is no trespassers or swatters. Additionally, if you own rental property, make sure you look into your state laws regarding adverse possession and squatters rights. At the very least, you’ll be informed should this situation occur. If you have any other questions, feel free to leave us a comment and don’t forget to subscribe to our channel.