A squatter is someone who takes up residence in someone else’s property. Usually, such a property is either abandoned, foreclosed, or unoccupied. And without having lawful permission, a squatter will live in such properties rent-free.
In California, a squatter has rights and can own property by adverse means if they meet certain requirements prescribed under the state’s Adverse Possession laws.
The following is a basic overview of the squatting laws in California. As a landlord, knowing this information should help you know how to prevent and remove squatters from your property.
What Are Squatters Rights in California?
Squatters’ rights are a form of Adverse Possession. Every state in the country has unique requirements that squatters must meet to make an adverse possession claim. In the state of California, they are as follows.
1. The squatter must have a physical presence on the property.
Besides actually possessing the property, they must also treat it as if they were the real owner. The following are a couple of things that can constitute actual possession:
- Property improvements, such as fencing
- Property beautification, such as putting pavements and planting trees and flowers
2. The squatter must not attempt to hide their identity.
Another requirement a squatter must meet under Adverse Possession laws is making their occupation obvious. It should be clear to anyone that they are the ones occupying the property.
Even the actual owner making their investigations should be able to tell that there is a squatter on their property.
3. The squatter shouldn’t share their possession with anyone else.
The squatter’s possession of the property must be exclusive to them. They shouldn’t share the property with other strangers, tenants, or even the owner. If they do, their claim to own the property adversely would fail.
4. The squatter must prove that they have occupied the property for at least 5 uninterrupted years.
‘Uninterrupted’ here means that the squatter shouldn’t have at any time abandoned the property. The entire length of 5 years should be continuous. This means that a squatter cannot abandon the property, then return to it later to make an adverse possession claim.
5. The possession of the property by the squatter must have been hostile.
Contrary to the typical meaning, ‘hostile’ takes a different definition from a legal perspective. It can be defined in three ways:
- Simple Occupation – It defines ‘hostile’ as a mere occupation of land. The squatter doesn’t have to know that their occupation constitutes a trespass.
- Awareness of Trespassing – The rule requires that the squatter know their use of the property constitutes trespassing.
- Good Faith Mistake – This defines ‘hostile’ as an occupation of property through an innocent mistake. The squatter may have relied on an incorrect deed.
6. The squatter should show proof of tax payments.
While some states don’t require this under Adverse Possession, this isn’t the case in California. To obtain the property’s title, the squatter must be the one paying the taxes, fees, and bills required to maintain the property.
If the squatter hasn’t been doing so, you may have the right to legally evict them from the property as they’d have no rights to file an Adverse Possession claim.
How to Get Rid of Squatters in California
California is a landlord-friendly state when it comes to squatters as long as you haven’t abandoned it.
To begin with, a squatter may only be able to file an adverse possession claim if the property has been vacant. If someone else has been living on it, then the squatter may be committing criminal trespass.
When it comes to removing squatters, there are a couple of ways you can go about it. Of course, the first step would be to simply ask them to leave. The other way is to begin formal eviction proceedings against them.
You must begin this process by serving them a 3-day notice to leave. If they don’t leave, you can move to an appropriate court and file an unlawful detainer suit. Make sure to seek help from either a qualified attorney or an experienced property management company when doing this.
Without a legal right to occupy the property, odds are that the squatter won’t put up a fight against their eviction. Thereby, the court will most likely rule in your favor.
How to Prevent Squatters from Entering Your Property
There are some steps you can take to prevent squatters from entering your California property. The following should get you started:
- Make regular inspections of the property – During these inspections, check to see that everything is working as it should, and keep a record of everything including both photographic and video evidence.
- Decommission all utilities – A property that has no working utilities is far less appealing to a potential squatter.
- Install an intruder alarm – This will deter squatters and alert you of a break-in attempt.
- Block all possible areas of entry – This should include windows and doors. You can even go a notch higher and fit windows with steel and anti-tamper fixings to strengthen their defense level.
- Put up ‘No Trespassing’ signs – This essentially means ‘Keep Out, this is Private Property.’
- Consider renting out the property – If you are leaving town for an extended period, then consider renting the home out. Not only will you not have to worry about squatters, but it also means opening up another income stream for you. A good property management company will help you find and retain a reliable tenant.
Understanding squatter’s rights and laws will help you better protect your property and therefore your investments. You should also ensure that you’re up-to-date on the landlord-tenant laws in the state, security deposit laws, and more. If keeping track of these laws and increasing your property’s security systems seems daunting reach out to a reliable property management company.
Home Choice Property Management can help! Strong leadership, experience, and exceptional service make us the best choice for managing your property. Get in touch today to learn more about our services.
Disclaimer: This post is not meant to be a substitute for professional legal advice. If you have questions or need help please contact a licensed attorney or a property management company.