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When Can Adverse Possession Be Used to Claim Property 


Did you know that if a property is neglected or not in use, someone else could potentially take ownership of the property? Under a legal doctrine called “adverse possession”, individuals could obtain the legal title of the property if it has not been used and they pay the property taxes in California.

What Is Adverse Possession?

Adverse possession is a legal doctrine that allows a tenant, neighbor, interested third party, or even a trespasser to obtain the legal title to property owned by someone else. The rationale behind this centuries-old legal concept is that property should be maintained. If the landowner abandoned the property, then the person who is in possession of the land and has maintained it in the owner’s absence should gain ownership of the property. In California, this adverse possession requires payment of taxes over the course of at least five years of possession to be eligible for a legal claim to the property.

When Can Adverse Possession Be Used to Claim Property in California?

In California, the Civil Code lays out certain elements someone must prove to take adverse possession of a property.

In California, the trespasser in possession of the property must:

  • Include a claim of right of title that either claims ownership despite the lack of a purchase document or shows an actual title document alleging ownership.
  • Be open and notorious, which uses the property as if you are the owner and that others indeed believe you to be the actual owner.
  • Be hostile, or in other words, is done without the rightful owner’s permission.
  • Have actual control of the property, such as living in the home, and taking care of it through upgrades or other maintenance.
  • Be continuous, which in California must be for a term of five straight years.
  • Prove that they paid the property taxes for the entire five years.

Who Has the Burden of Proof?

In California, the burden of proof falls on the individual who is interested in the property. An adverse possessor must prove the six above elements to a judge to gain ownership of the property. The presumption of ownership is always afforded to the legal owner until proven otherwise.

Can a Quiet Title Action Be Used?

Suppose there is a dispute over ownership or a trespasser has intruded onto property that you own. In that case, you should consider contacting a lawyer and filing an action in California court for a quiet title. This process would have a judge declare you as the rightful owner.

Could I Take an Adverse Possession Action Against a Government Entity?

All property owned by California state and local government is protected from actions seeking adverse possession.

How Wagner Zemming Christensen, LLP Could Help

If you believe someone is unlawfully attempting to take control of your property or if you have been in possession of abandoned property for over five years, you should consult with the skilled California title dispute lawyers at Wagner Zemming Christensen, LLP.

Contact WZC today and let one of our experienced Riverside attorneys speak with you about your situation right away.

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