Squatters Rights Laws in California
The legal term for squatter’s rights is adverse possession. Adverse possession has similar requirements in every state. California’s Code of Civil Procedure Section 318 governs the requirements for acquisition of title through adverse possession. An individual who adversely possesses the property of another has no legal rights to the property until he has possessed it for a specific number of years.
Cause of Action by Owner
The person who holds title to property pursuant to a valid instrument of conveyance — such as a deed — must have a cause of action against an adverse possessor. In California, the owner’s recourse is typically an action for trespass or ejectment. The record owner must bring an action for trespass or ejectment before the five-year statute of limitations required in California’s Code of Civil Procedure. This is significant because it is the adversely possession another’s property throughout the five-year statutory period that creates a successful adverse possession, which confers the right to take title to another’s property.
Throughout Limitations Period
Adverse possession must continue for the length of the statute of limitations set by California’s statute. If the record owner regains possession at any time during the statutory period, he loses his ability to bring an action for ejectment or trespass. Similarly, if the record owner regains possession during the five-year statutory period, the statute of limitations period begins anew for the adverse possessor.
Open, Actual, Hostile and Exclusive
An adverse possessor cannot possess another’s property in secret. Adverse possessors must actually and openly possess land so that a reasonably diligent record owner has the opportunity to take notice. The hostile requirement means an adverse possessor must possess property without the record owner’s permission. The possession must be exclusive, meaning the adverse possessor’s type of possession must be different from that of the public.
Acquisition of Title
After the running of the five-year limitations period — and barring the owner’s cause of action — an adverse possessor acquires title. In California, adverse possessors gain title upon the running of the five-year period. However, adverse possessors may further secure title by bringing an action to quiet title. A quiet title action is a judicial decree confirming the validity of title to property. When an adverse possessor obtains title through a quiet title action, his title is sufficiently legal to be recorded.