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Adverse possession in the state of California

Have you ever thought that someone could legally steal your land? If you own property within the second-largest city in the country, Los Angeles, or anywhere else in California, you should be wary of the state’s adverse possession laws. They specify when your land could be claimed by a trespasser, neighbor, tenant, or stranger. This is why it is important to work with a real estate attorney to know your rights when someone creeps along your property line. 

How adverse possession occurs

Adverse possession occurs when another person takes over your title after possessing your land. If they remain in possession of it for a specified number of years, they can make a legal claim in court for the title. 

The following are the four major elements that make an adverse possession claim valid.

1. Hostile claim:

In the case of a hostile claim, the trespasser must do one of the following:

  • Err in an honest manner (such as relying on an erroneous deed)
  • Merely occupy the land (whether they do or don’t know that it is private property)
  • Be in the know that they are trespassing

2. Actual possession

Here, the trespasser has to be present, physically, on the land, treating it as if it belongs to them.

3. Open and notorious possession

The trespasser should not do occupy the land in secret. In essence, the land’s legal owner should know of the trespasser’s occupancy.

4. Exclusive and notorious possession

The trespasser should have sole possession of the land and such possession should be for an unbroken period of time.

How to identify property boundaries

When you are unsure, remember that each piece of land that is leased, sold or becomes the object of the security of an obligation should be properly described or identified. This should be based on the field notes of a civil engineer or surveyor. The following are used to describe and identify property lines/boundaries:

  • Deed: A written document duly executed and delivered from grantor to grantee. It specifies the right, title or real estate that one acquires. 
  • Survey: A process that involves the measurement of a parcel of land and ascertainment of its area.
  • County recorder: They possess a record with numerous property records which are accessible to the public. 

How to protect yourself from California squatters

A squatter is an individual who occupies a property they do not rent or own, without legal permission from its owner. There are various rights for squatters in California and they could end up taking your land through adverse possession. 

Here are some suggestions for how you can legally protect your property: 

  • Pay your taxes without delay
  • Ensure that your rental property is always inhabited
  • Prohibit subletting, ensure that you clearly outline its prohibition in the lease
  • Hire a property manager to watch over your properties if you cannot manage to do it
  • Have a reliable security system on your property

If you have been affected by adverse possession laws, seek the legal counsel of an experienced real estate attorney.