Is squatting illegal in California?
Did you know that a squatter can legally own your California home? Through a procedure known as adverse possession, a squatter may be able to become the owner of the property they are squatting on.
Under California squatters’ rights, before a squatter can make an adverse possession claim, they must meet several distinct requirements. One of these requirements is being able to stay on the property for at least five years.
As a property owner, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the laws surrounding squatters’ rights in California so you know how to prevent it from happening in the first place.
Who is a squatter?
The state of California describes a squatter as someone that takes up residence on a property they neither rent nor own. Surprisingly, squatting is both common and legal in the U.S.
Squatters usually occupy properties that are abandoned, unoccupied, or foreclosed. Squatting can come about via several different situations:
- To make a political statement. Some people, especially activists, may use squatting to make a political point regarding the economic gap existing between the poor and the rich in society.
- To take refuge. The homeless often take refuge in an abandoned or foreclosed house for a few nights – or, in some cases, years.
- For others, squatting is simply a way to rebel against authority.
Is a squatter a home invader?
It depends. Squatters become are only considered invading if they move into a house that already has someone occupying it. In other words, they are trespassing, which is a punishable felony. In this case, they don’t have the same rights as squatters.
What is a holdover tenant?
Holdover tenants are those that won’t leave after their real estate lease is up. So, do they qualify as squatters? Simply put, the property owner decides their fate. If you decide they stay, then the tenant will live on the property at your will. This means that you can evict them at any time without serving them any notice.
But if you decide that they should leave, then you must serve them an unlawful detainer lawsuit. An unlawful detainer lawsuit seeks to give back the owner’s possession of the real estate.
What is trespassing?
Some people often view squatting and trespassing as one thing. But in the eyes of California law, the two terminologies usually refer to different things. Whereas squatting is a civil matter, trespassing is a criminal offense.
That said, squatters can quickly become trespassers by law if the property owner begins the formal eviction process.
California squatters’ rights
As previously mentioned, squatters can only make an adverse possession claim once they fulfill certain requirements. If successful with the claim, they may be able to gain legal title of a property. At that point, they are no longer criminal trespassers but the legal real estate owner.
In the United States, squatters must meet the following 6 distinct requirements for them to make an adverse possession claim. They are as follows:
#1: They must make a hostile claim to the property.
Unlike conventional meaning, the legal sense of the word ‘hostile’ doesn’t refer to anything violent or forceful. Instead, it takes on three distinct definitions:
One of the definitions is ‘simple occupation’. Most of the states follow this definition. It defines ‘hostile’ as a land occupation only. Squatters are not required to know that they are occupying someone else’s property.
The other definition is ‘awareness of trespassing’. According to this definition, squatters must be aware that they are actually living on another’s property without permission. In other words, squatters must know that they don’t have the legal rights to occupy the land they are occupying.
Last, but not least, ‘hostile’ may also be defined as a ‘good faith mistake’. Only a small number of states follow this definition. Here, the squatters are assumed to have made an honest mistake in occupying the property. They may have done so by relying on invalid paperwork or an incorrect deed.
#2: They must live on the property.
Under this requirement, squatters need to be physically living on the property. Additionally, they must also treat it just like the actual real estate owner would. For example, landscaping is a good example of an action that constitutes actual possession by improving or beautifying the property.
#3: They must have occupied the property for at least 5 years.
Squatters making an adverse possession claim must have resided on the property for 5 continuous years. ‘Continuous’ means that they have remained on the property consistently during their residency.
#4: They must be the only ones occupying the property.
Squatters must also not share the occupation with someone else. They must be living on the property exclusively.
#5: The squatter must not hide their occupation of the property.
It must be obvious to anyone that there is a squatter occupying the property. Even the actual property owner making reasonable efforts to investigate the matter should be able to tell there is a squatter living there.
#6: The squatter must pay property taxes for 5 years.
This differs from one state to another. In the state of California, a squatter will only qualify for an adverse possession claim if they can show that they did in fact pay property taxes and bills to maintain the property.
How to prevent squatters in California
- If your property is unoccupied, regularly inspect it for squatters, or have someone do it on your behalf.
- Secure it by blocking all entrances.
- Put up signs throughout the property saying “No Trespassing”.
- Begin the eviction process immediately the moment you find squatters on your property.
- Hire professional legal services.
- Hire a reputable property management company to maintain your property if you cannot be physically there to do so.
Evicting squatters in California
The first thing you should do is serve squatters an eviction notice. In particular, serve them the 3-Days’ eviction notice. The notice will give them 3 days to either pay all due rent (plus fees) or leave.
If they don’t move after the notice is up, move to court and file an unlawful detainer lawsuit. A hearing will then be scheduled within 20 days.
Do you still have more questions? If you do, consider hiring a professional property management company. At Doug Anderson Property Management, we can help you achieve peace of mind through professional property management.