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Squatting Laws in California – An Overview

squatting laws ca

We are not a legal firm and cannot represent you, nor give specific legal advice; the following is meant to serve as information for landlords. With Realevate Specialists managing your vacant property, the chances of squatters causing issues are significantly decreased. Contact us to learn more.

As a landlord, do you know what a squatter is? Did you notice one in your California property?

A squatter is a person who occupies someone else’s property without lawful permission. However, squatting is not a criminal offense.

In California, squatters have adverse possession rights. They can legally gain ownership of your property. That’s why it’s important that you understand the statewide law on squatters’ rights.

Here are answers to landlords’ frequently asked questions regarding squatters’ rights in California:

What’s Color of Title?

In property law, color of title means gaining property ownership without having any required documentation. 

What are California Squatters Rights?

Squatters’ rights are a form of Adverse Possession. If a squatter occupies your property for a certain period of time and meets a set of guidelines outlined by California, then your property may legally become theirs with no exchange of payment.

That’s why it’s essential for landlords to familiarize themselves with their rights to prevent this from happening.

In order to file Adverse Possession claims, a squatter must meet certain requirements. They are as follows:

Requirement 1: Continuous Possession

To file an Adverse Possession claim, a squatter must possess your property for a certain amount of time in order for them to gain legal rights in California. In California, a squatter must occupy your property for a period of 5 years. This is known as continuous possession.

Also, the entire 5 years must not have been interrupted. The squatter must not have abandoned the property at any time.

If they did, even for some few weeks, they may lose their right to claim the property adversely. (CCP § 318325).

interior of a property

Requirement 2: Hostile Claim

In order to file an Adverse Possession claim, a squatter must occupy your property in a specific way for them to have rights as a squatter.

Their occupation must be ‘hostile.’ Different states have different definitions of what ‘hostile’ means. California uses ‘Simple Occupation’ to define ‘hostile.’

This means that the squatter doesn’t even have to know who the property belongs to.

Requirement 3: Open & Notorious Possession

For an Adverse Possession claim, the occupation must be ‘Open & Notorious Possession.’ Under this requirement, the squatter must not try to hide the fact that they are occupying the property. They must make it obvious to anyone that they are the ones living there.

Requirement 4: Exclusive Possession

In order to file an Adverse Possession claim, the squatter must also be the only one possessing the property. They must not share it with anyone else, including other tenants or even the actual property owner.

Requirement 5: Actual Possession

The other requirement for an Adverse Possession claim is that the squatter must be able to prove actual possession. The squatter can prove this by providing documentation of their maintenance efforts. Landscaping, for example, is an example of what can constitute actual possession.

Do Squatters in California Have to Pay Property Taxes?

Under California law, a squatter must be paying property taxes in order to claim adverse possession. If they haven’t been paying the necessary property taxes, bills, and fees required to maintain the property, then they may not be able to file an adverse possession claim.

home with landscaped yard

How to Prevent Squatters from Entering your Property

Squatters are every property owners’ worst fear. Knowing that squatters can gain legal ownership of your property is scary.

Not to mention, removing squatters from one of your rental properties can be time-consuming, costly and stressful.

Therefore, as a landlord, you want to prevent squatters so that you never have to deal with their removal.

So, as a property owner in California, here are some of the things you can do to prevent squatters from entering your property:

  • Secure your home. Ensure that all access points are inaccessible to strangers, such as doors, windows, and even the attic.
  • Pay your own property taxes.
  • Visit your vacant property regularly.
  • Ask your neighbor to be vigilant when you are away.
  • Cap all utilities.
  • Secure the home’s perimeter.
  • Consider hiring the services of an experienced property management company or a property manager.

How to Remove Squatters from your California Property

As a property owner, if you already have a squatter in your California property, there are a few ways you can deal with this.

The easiest thing you can do is to pay the squatters to leave. While this solution isn’t ideal, it can be the quickest way to remove the squatters. Legal battles can be stressful, lengthy and costly.

The other way to get rid of squatters is to rent to them and have them sign a lease. However, once you rent to them, it’ll be even more difficult to remove them as you’ll be obliged to rent to them until the lease period is over. That said, it’s better to rent the property to them for a year if it means not losing your property entirely! Plus, you’ll still be making a passive income.

If those two solutions fail, then the last option would be to try and evict the squatter. In California, the first step begins with an eviction notice.

You must serve them with a 3-day notice to vacate the rental unit. If they don’t move out within the 3 days, then you can move to court and file an unlawful detainer suit. An expert, such as a qualified attorney or an experienced property management company, can help you with this.

The court will then issue a complaint and summon after you’ve successfully filed the suit. If the squatter doesn’t answer it, then the court will probably issue a default judgment in your favor.

You must then present the judgment to the sheriff for execution. The sheriff will post a 5-day notice. If the squatter is still occupying the property after 5 days, the sheriff will forcibly remove them from the property.

For more on eviction laws and how to evict regular tenants, read here.

real estate laws

Bottom Line: California Squatters Rights

Understanding adverse possession and squatters rights in California is crucial for property owners as squatters can gain legal possession of your unoccupied property.

At Realevate Specialist, our property managers are well versed in California state laws and real estate law. If you need help preventing or removing a squatter, or need further help understanding squatter’s rights, feel free to contact us today.

Looking for more information of California rental laws? Read our post here.


Disclaimer: This post is only intended to be educational material. Laws change and it might not be updated at the time you read it. For legal advice, please seek the services of a qualified attorney or an experienced property management company.

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