Squatters are individuals who live on someone else’s property without
permission, and in some situations, they can gain legal rights to the
property. Squatter’s rights occur when a squatter gains legitimate
tenants’ rights or gains legal ownership of a property.
The Doctrine of Adverse Possession
The doctrine of adverse possession allows someone who possesses someone else’s property to gain legal
ownership of that property – as long as certain requirements are met.
Each state has its own requirements, but the common law requirements for
adverse possession include:
- Continuous possession of the property – in California, squatters
can gain legal possession if they possess the property and pay property
taxes for 5 years.
- Hostile possession (the possession infringes on the rights of the true
owner, and the squatter does not have permission).
- Open and notorious possession (the possession is not a secret, and the
true owner could be aware that a trespasser is in possession of their
- Actual possession (the true owner has a cause of action for trespass).
- Exclusive (the squatter controls the property as if they were the actual
owner and does not share ownership).
If you live openly on someone else’s property without permission
and pay property taxes, you may be able to gain squatter’s rights
under the doctrine of adverse possession. Assuming you meet all your state’s
requirements, you may be able to legally transfer the property you possess
to yourself, thus
becoming the legal homeowner.
If you have a squatter on your property, you need to intervene before it’s
too late. Be careful, though, as squatters may attempt to claim a written,
oral, or implied rental contract with you as the homeowner. In California,
if someone pays some form of rent by watching over or making repairs to
your property, you may owe them tenants’ rights, and you should
evict them via local
No matter your situation, discuss your case with a
seasoned real estate attorney in your state.
Squatters vs. Trespassers
Another way to think about squatters is as long-term trespassers. If someone
lives on a property for a few days or even a couple of weeks, the property
owner can simply call local law enforcement, and the trespassers may be
removed and even charged with breaking and entering.
If someone lives on a property for months or years, however, they are “unauthorized
tenants” or squatters, and the property owner should serve them
with an eviction notice. The number one “squatter’s right”
is the right to not be displaced from a property without notice.
Squatting may start as trespassing, but it can shift quickly, especially
if the unauthorized tenants take care of a property.
To avoid the consequences of illegal eviction, landlords should call the
police and/or speak to an attorney rather than confronting squatters.
If you believe you have legal rights as a squatter, especially if you have
lived in someone else’s property for at least 5 years and gained
adverse possession, you should speak to a lawyer sooner rather than later.
Although rare, adverse possession is not unheard of and you could gain
legal property. At the very least, an attorney may be able to help you
negotiate a legal tenancy, so you are not displaced from your home.
Squatter’s rights and adverse possession are complex areas of the law, but
Allen, Semelsberger & Kaelin LLP has been handling California property law since 1987.
Call us at (888) 998-2031 or contact us online
to learn what we can do for you today.