How squatters, trespassers and real estate investors can gain title to property in California by the legal process of “Adverse Possession” and gain full ownership of property without purchasing it.
Attorney Daniel Bakondi focuses on the law of adverse possession and represents clients in the legal process helping them understand whether they have met the strict legal requirements, and representing them in the process of gaining title to the property by adverse possession. Attorney Daniel Bakondi has successfully represented and helped possessors of real property file a quiet title action and acquire title lawfully through the court process, and counsels clients on all aspects of the process of title acquisition by adverse possession.
Squatter’s rights California ca and adverse possession frequently asked questions (FAQ):
How can I get title to property by adverse possession?
In California, per the law of adverse possession, or what some call “squatter’s rights”, if a trespasser or squatter moves into and occupies property, for example an abandoned property, for 5 years, and meets a number of specific legal requirements, including maintaining and paying the taxes due, that person can file legal action to quiet title and become the lawful, record title holder and owner.
Who can acquire title?
Generally, almost any person can obtain property by adverse possession. Typically they are:
- Squatters with no previous rights
- Relatives or friends of the former property owner
- Investors in real estate who move into and improve property
- Those with rights to land or property but without legally recorded title
- Those with some claim to property without title
- Those with or without a written instrument giving some claim to the property
- Neighbors who own property nearby and have moved a fence or have begun use of their neighbor’s property
What is the purpose of squatter’s rights or the law of adverse possession?
The purpose of adverse possession is that the law finds it better that property be well kept, maintained, and taxes be paid; rather than go to waste, sit abandoned, or left to ruin by the former owner. Other times, someone is in possession of property they do not have record title of, for example, if a former owner was a relative who passed away or moved. If a deceased relative or friend owned property and passed away and did not record title in your name, it is possible to quiet title in your name through the legal process, obtain a judgment granting you ownership. Whether you have a claim or rights to property without full documentation, or no documentation, it is possible to quiet title in your name by the process of adverse possession.
Must I be in possession of the property for at least 5 years?
Yes, and have timely paid all the taxes assessed on the property. Think of the 5 years as a statute of limitations or time limit for the former owner to bring eviction proceedings to remove you from the property. If the former owner’s time to eject an occupant has expired, your rights to the land may change legally. However, unless you bring an action to quiet title in your name, the grant deed recorded will still have a former owner, and you will not formally have record title. You will not be able to sell the property. You may have trouble getting permits, insurance, and other things. And, it may in some cases be possible to legally remove you from the property even after 5 years.
Can you really get property really free?
It is possible to acquire the property with legal title recorded in your name with a grant deed without purchasing the property, including without needing any mortgage (no down payment or monthly payments.) However, there are a number of costs and requirements including paying taxes, improving and maintaining the property.
What taxes need to be paid and how?
Adverse possession requires that all taxes assessed on the property be paid for a minimum continuous period of 5 years. This also gives notice to any person, that if someone else is paying your taxes, they may be claiming rights to that property. The legislation recently changed the law with regards to Section 325 regarding the requirements for adverse possession, by adding to the tax requirement that they be “timely” paid. This requirement is intended to prevent investors, speculators, and others looking to become owners of property without having met the other elements, by preventing the taxes from being paid off in a lump sum payment. Attorney Bakondi can advise you regarding how to meet this requirement.
What kind of property can be acquired by adverse possession?
Almost any kind of real estate or real property can be acquired by adverse possession, large or small, with some exceptions. Land, residential housing, houses, buildings, real estate investment property, commercial, residential, vacation homes, single family units, multi-family units, duplex, triplex, retreat properties. Generally government land is more difficult to acquire by adverse possession.
Is there a difference between acquiring residential versus commercial property by adverse possession?
There are some differences based on the nature of the property. The nature of the occupation and possession may affect the rights. For example, occupying an abandoned warehouse or office building by adverse possession will have some different requirements than a single family residential house, a farm, or vacant land or hunting land.
Are squatter’s rights and adverse possession legal?
Being unlawfully present on or in possession of real property you have no rights to may not be legal, depending on the circumstances. It may constitute trespassing, and you need attorney counsel regarding trespassing and other laws.
Can I move into abandoned or vacant property and fix it up and maintain it and eventually get title in my name?
This is essentially what adverse possession law allows you to do. The government prefers that property be maintained, and taxes be paid, rather than have it sit abandoned, and therefore encourages improvement and compliance with the law and payment of taxes rather than properties going to waste, and sitting in disrepair and causing a nuisance. However, it is not advisable to do this without fully understanding the law as there are a number of risks, including your costs and expenses in fixing and maintaining the property, and the taxes you pay, which may or may not be recoverable. It is important to have an attorney advise you, as courts are hesitant to grant title by adverse possession unless all of the elements have been strictly met.
I am in possession of an abandoned, vacant or other property – now what?
If you have possessed or occupied real property for at least 5 years and believe you have met all the requirements, want to assess your rights under the law of adverse possession, or want representation in bringing the legal steps to become record owner on title, contact Attorney Bakondi for a consultation now.
Can I gain title to property that is owned by a bank?
Yes, if a bank or mortgage company allows property to sit in disrepair and fails to maintain it, it is possible. However, this generally cannot happen when you are in a mortgage relationship with the bank.
How do properties become vacant or abandoned?
Sometimes a former owner dies, moves away, forgets about it, becomes ill, or can’t pay the taxes. Sometimes the property is part of a corporation or trust whose owner dies or goes bankrupt. Sometimes a principal of an organization who owns the property abandons their obligations, does not know about the property, or moves out for whatever reason and leaves the property.
What is a quiet title action?
A quiet title action means, literally means to quiet any disputes regarding ownership of title, or in other words, to determine the true and proper owner and adjudge him or her to be the property owner.
What is the legal process like to obtain title by adverse possession?
First, you need proper legal counsel to know all the legal requirements for adverse possession and how to meet them. This may involve dealing with the county recorder’s office, assessor’s office, and other persons or government agencies. Then, if you have met the necessary prerequisites, Attorney Bakondi may represent you in filing a quiet title action, which is essentially a lawsuit to give you title. The ultimate goal of this is a court judgment which declares you the owner, and orders the county to record a grant deed in your name. Such lawsuits may be intricate and complex, with success depending on a number of factors and steps executed properly, and Attorney Bakondi has successfully brought such legal action based on adverse possession to quiet title for clients.
Can a tenant acquire title by adverse possession against a landlord?
Generally no, because a tenant is there with permission to be a renter, assuming everything was done properly. But if the tenant is not paying rent but staying in the property, there may be an issue. First, a tenant would have to give legal notice of refuting the tenancy for the 5 year period to start, at which point the landlord would likely bring eviction proceedings.
Can I acquire a large part of my neighbor’s land just by moving a fence?
It is tricky because you typically will not be paying taxes on your neighbor’s land, unless the tax assessor’s office makes specific changes.
Can someone be on a property for 2 years, leave, and later come back for another three?
No, to acquire title by adverse possession, your presence on the property must be “continuous.” The legal definition of continuous is specific and complex, and Attorney Bakondi can help you understand the requirements for meeting this element of title acquisition.
Can an adverse possessor rent the place to someone else during the time period when they do not have record title yet?
Yes. And they may be able to collect rent, and eventually obtain title counting the tenant’s time as part of the 5 years required. As long as the occupier treated it as their own, and gave permission to a tenant under their rights, this might work in some cases.
Can you be removed, evicted, or be found to be in unowned or unclaimed property illegally before the 5 years have run?
Can an adverse possessor simply visit the place occasionally?
No, the adverse possessor’s present and claim of possession must be open, obvious, and hostile to any claimed ownership by anyone else. If a true owner visits, it must be clear that someone else is claiming possession to the property.
How do I gain property without paying for it by adverse possession or squatter’s rights in California?
Only a qualified attorney can guide you through the process, but the elements generally are as follows. Your possession of the property must be:
- Adverse or hostile – Your possession of the property must be adverse, meaning hostile or in opposition to any other’s rights and claim of title. You cannot be an invited guest, a tenant, or there with permission. Attorney Bakondi can advise you based on your specific facts whether you have met this requirement against a former owner, record title owner, landlord, bank, or former or other deed holder.
- Actual – You must actually possess the property and be present on the property. The type of presence legally necessary varies depending on the facts and the nature of the property.
- Open – You possess the property openly against the rights of any others who may claim ownership. This means your presence there must be obvious in a manner as to give notice to anyone else claiming rights to the property, for instance, if they are driving by, to put them on sufficient legal notice that someone else is in possession of the property. Attorney Bakondi can advise you regarding the specific acts necessary to establish this element.
- Exclusive – You must be the exclusive possessor.
- Continuous and uninterrupted – Your possession of the property must meet this requirement as defined by law, for at least the statutory period of 5 years. There are exceptions.
- Taxes – You must pay all taxes of every type assessed against the property, including “have timely paid all state, county, or municipal taxes that have been levied and assessed upon the land for the period of five years.”
This is only a general summary and does not contain all the elements or requirements.
Only a qualified California real estate attorney with experience in adverse possession like Attorney Daniel Bakondi can advise you regarding how to meet the specific procedures and requirements of adverse possession, and represent you in bringing the legal process to obtain judgment declaring you owner, and to have title recorded in your name.
If you are looking for counsel on how to obtain title to real estate property by adverse possession, contact Attorney Daniel Bakondi for a consultation.
Daniel Bakondi, Esq.
Preferred contact is by email at email@example.com
The Law Office of Daniel Bakondi
870 Market Street, Suite 1157
San Francisco CA 94102
IMPORTANT NOTICE: No attorney-client nor confidential relationship is created through this communication. Nothing communicated or provided constitutes legal advice nor a legal opinion unless it so specifies and written agreement for attorney services has been entered into. Attorney licensed in California only. Your issue may be time sensitive and may result in loss of rights if you do not act in time. Thank you.
This page was updated July 6, 2017 7.2.2017 Copyright (c) Daniel A. Bakondi, Esq.
(not meant to be legal advice or a complete list)
321. In every action for the recovery of real property, or the possession thereof, the person establishing a legal title to the property is presumed to have been possessed thereof within the time required by law, and the occupation of the property by any other person is deemed to have been under and in subordination to the legal title, unless it appear that the property has been held and possessed adversely to such legal title, for five years before the commencement of the action.
322. When it appears that the occupant, or those under whom he claims, entered into the possession of the property under claim of title, exclusive of other right, founding such claim upon a written instrument, as being a conveyance of the property in question, or upon the decree or judgment of a competent Court, and that there has been a continued occupation and possession of the property included in such instrument, decree, or judgment, or of some part of the property, under such claim, for five years, the property so included is deemed to have been held adversely, except that when it consists of a tract divided into lots, the possession of one lot is not deemed a possession of any other lot of the same tract.
323. For the purpose of constituting an adverse possession by any person claiming a title founded upon a written instrument, or a judgment or decree, land is deemed to have been possessed and occupied in the following cases:
1. Where it has been usually cultivated or improved;
2. Where it has been protected by a substantial inclosure;
3. Where, although not inclosed, it has been used for the supply of fuel, or of fencing timber for the purposes of husbandry, or for pasturage, or for the ordinary use of the occupant;
4. Where a known farm or single lot has been partly improved, the portion of such farm or lot that may have been left not cleared, or not inclosed according to the usual course and custom of the adjoining country, shall be deemed to have been occupied for the same length of time as the part improved and cultivated.
324. Where it appears that there has been an actual continued occupation of land, under a claim of title, exclusive of any other right, but not founded upon a written instrument, judgment, or decree, the land so actually occupied, and no other, is deemed to have been held adversely.
325. (a) For the purpose of constituting an adverse possession by a person claiming title, not founded upon a written instrument, judgment, or decree, land is deemed to have been possessed and occupied in the following cases only:
(1) Where it has been protected by a substantial enclosure.
(2) Where it has been usually cultivated or improved.
(b) In no case shall adverse possession be considered established under the provision of any section of this code, unless it shall be shown that the land has been occupied and claimed for the period of five years continuously, and the party or persons, their predecessors and grantors, have timely paid all state, county, or municipal taxes that have been levied and assessed upon the land for the period of five years during which the land has been occupied and claimed. Payment of those taxes by the party or persons, their predecessors and grantors shall be established by certified records of the county tax collector.
(Amended by Stats. 2010, Ch. 55, Sec. 1. Effective January 1, 2011.)
List of counties in California:
- San Leandro
- Union City
- Sutter Creek
- El Cerrito
- Pleasant Hill
- San Pablo
- San Ramon
- Walnut Creek
- South Lake Tahoe
- Orange Cove
- Blue Lake
- Rio Dell
- El Centro
- California City