Written by attorney Robert Miller

Adverse Possession of Real Property in California

Adverse Possession is the basis of a court action where a person occupying real property may sue to acquire good title to real property owned by someone else. The basic requirements are:

(1) the possession must be for 5 years;and:

(2) the occupier must pay the real property taxes for the 5 years; and, and:

(3) the occupation must be open, notorious and hostile to the true owner. The first two requirements are relatively simple, the third is the problem. If the real owner has some relationship with the occupier, such as landlord-tenant, co-owner or partner, or some other special, fiduciary or confidential relationship, there must be a very definite and unambiguous "ouster" of the other to start the 5-year clock running. The occupier must hold himself out to the world as the owner and claimant to the property, so that all who come into contact with him will leave with the clear and unambiguous understanding that he claims to be an owner and not merely holding the property for the true record title owner.

(A possible exception is in rental property where the tenant pays rent to the adverse possessor, so the tenant's possession is said to be that of his landlord). The preceding discussion concerns for the most part developed property abandoned in some sense by the true owner. Some special rules apply to persons adversely occupying real property "under color of title", or rural and unenclosed lands, or what are known as easements, which are topics beyond the scope of this article.

Additional resources provided by the author

California Code of Civil Procedure Sec. 321.

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