Squatters Rights in California & Adverse Possession Laws

Do you have a squatter living on your property in California without your permission? Or maybe you want to know what to do if a squatter moves in, just to be prepared. Either way, now’s the time to become aware of California squatters rights.

By knowing the California squatter laws and your rights as a landlord, you can take one step toward understanding how to remove them now or in the future.

Let’s take a closer look at California squatters rights.

Key Takeaways

  • California squatter rights state that you must provide a squatter with an official notice to vacate to start the eviction process, which means you must go through the legal channels before removing a squatter. If a squatter does not cooperate, you may need to file an unlawful detainer lawsuit to have them removed from the residence.
  • Squatters may qualify for property rights (adverse possession) if they have lived at the property for five years, have been paying property taxes, and meet other criteria.
  • Understanding squatter rights for landlords and tenants can help you save time and stress. It can also help you know what to do if you ever have a squatter on your property.
  • If squatters ever take up residence at your property, rest assured that TurboTenant can help you with an eviction through our partnership with EZ Evict USA. Plus, we provide tenant screening reports (including a background check for tenants) to help keep your properties occupied and avoid squatters. Find out more below.

Squatter vs Trespasser in California

Squatters are individuals who move into a property without the legal owner’s permission. While trespassers are similar in that they enter a property illegally, they do not take up residence. Moving in and staying there is the differentiator between squatters and trespassers.

How you deal with both types of intruders matters. According to CALCRIM No. 3475 (California law), a property owner may utilize reasonable force to remove a trespasser from a property if they appear to pose a threat and refuse to leave.

However, the same can’t be said for squatters. Squatters have rights in California, meaning that property owners must go through the eviction process to remove them from a property. Compared to trespassers, landlords cannot use reasonable force to remove a squatter, or the landlord could face legal action as outlined in California eviction laws.

California Laws on Squatters

What are the squatter laws in California? While squatters can’t simply move into a property without the legal owner’s permission, it happens. Remember, you can’t remove them yourself. Instead, as a property owner in California, you are required to go through the eviction process to have a squatter removed.

If the squatter stays long enough and completes a number of requirements, they can also claim legal property ownership using a term called adverse possession. Let’s dive into their requirements so you understand the timeline.

How Squatters Can Legally Claim Property in California

A few conditions must be met if a squatter wants to claim property rights via an adverse possession claim. For example:

  • Actual Possession: A squatter must live at the property openly and notoriously at the property for at least five years continuously without breaks. In other words, they must make themselves known. If they move away at any point, the clock starts over. In addition, the squatter must have completed work to improve the property’s condition somehow.
  • Hostile/Adverse Possession: In the legal sense, the word hostile means the squatters do not have permission (no lease or rental agreement) from the property owner to live there. It’s hostile in the sense that it’s against the interests of the property owner.
  • Pay Property Taxes: Squatters must pay property taxes for an entire five-year period beginning when they moved in and be able to provide receipts indicating payments.
  • Produce a Color of Title: Squatters must have a color of title, a document demonstrating the squatter is claiming ownership.

Squatters can file to claim ownership if they adhere to this criteria, which is often unlikely. One of the main blockers for squatters is paying property taxes. So, even though squatters may not meet all these criteria, you’ll want a firm understanding of the legal process to protect yourself.

Landlord Rights and Responsibilities

The good news is that landlords still have rights. Landlords and property owners have the right to ask the squatters to leave, file an eviction, and contact the authorities if needed.

However, as previously stated, landlords do not have the right to remove squatters themselves. The only individuals who can physically remove squatters from a property in California are the authorities, which happens later during the court process if the squatters choose not to leave.

Landlords should be tactful when dealing with squatters. Landlords can photograph the property to look for signs that the squatters do not care for it or have vacated it. Photographic evidence is a great tool to use against the squatter’s adverse possession claim.

Tenant Rights and Responsibilities

Tenants with a valid California lease agreement have the legal right to live on the property. Since squatters must live on a property alone and for a continuous time frame, they would be considered trespassers if they tried to move into a property with existing tenants.

California tenants have the right to contact the authorities if anyone is trespassing or attempting to squat on the property. They also reserve the right to take pictures and document any signs of illegal entry.

How to Evict Squatters in California

Here’s how to evict a squatter in California:

  • First, you are legally required to provide squatters with a three-day notice to vacate the premises.
  • If the squatters remain after three days, you can file an unlawful detainer lawsuit to remove them.
  • Next, you can get a court order to have them removed. The authorities will take them off the property if they refuse to leave under their own free will.
  • Alternatively, offload the entire eviction process to our trusted partner, EZ Evict USA, and they can handle the whole process to save you the frustration of going through the process alone.

Legal Help for Landlords

Check out California landlord-tenant law for more resources and guidance regarding California squatting laws and related topics. If you’re looking for legal help, visit the links below:

Be sure to provide as much information as possible about your situation so that you can find the right legal advisor.

Disclaimer: TurboTenant does not provide legal advice. This material has been prepared for informational purposes only. All users are advised to check all applicable local, state, and federal laws and consult legal counsel should questions arise.

Preventing Squatter Situations

Below are some tips to avoid squatters:

  • Visit your property regularly if unoccupied.
  • Ask friends, family, or neighbors to check on your property if you must be away for extended periods.
  • Stay on top of home maintenance tasks, such as lawn mowing, watering, pruning, etc.
  • Install a security system to deter unlawful entry.
  • Use TurboTenant to find tenants quickly. With digital applications, thorough tenant screening, and unlimited property listings on popular listing sites, finding tenants rapidly will help you prevent squatters in the first place.

Squatters Rights California Conclusion

If you are a property owner or landlord in California, ensure you know squatters rights in California. Like most states, California squatting laws are in place to protect squatters. But be aware that you also have rights and must understand them in order to exercise them.

Legally, squatters can reside at a property until being asked to leave and go through the eviction process. They can also claim property rights (adverse possession) if they meet specific criteria, such as living at the property for five years and paying property taxes.

The good news is that landlords and property owners also have rights in California. It’s time to take action and stay educated to keep your property in good hands and know what to do in the event of a squatter.

Squatter Rights in California FAQs

Can you kick out a squatter in California?

You can provide an eviction notice to remove squatters in California, but you can’t physically remove them like you would with a hostile trespasser.

How long does a squatter have to be in a house in California?

A squatter must live in a California residence for five years before qualifying for adverse possession, assuming they meet the other criteria.

Can you sue a squatter in California?

Legally, you can sue a squatter through an unlawful detainer lawsuit.

Can you go to jail for squatting in California?

Squatters don’t generally go to jail in California. The one situation where squatting could lead to jail time is if you go through the eviction process and win the unlawful detainer lawsuit. Then, the authorities will get involved. If a squatter is uncooperative, the result can be jail time.

Can you turn off utilities on a squatter in California?

No, it is not recommended to turn off utilities as this could be construed as an eviction. It’s important to follow the correct procedures to avoid legal challenges.

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