Though a property owner may prefer not to consider it, there are rights which an individual is entitled after using a property for a particular period of time despite the fact that they do not own said property. Legally, when an individual uses a property without the permission of the owner it is known as adverse possession. California has a variety of protections for both property owners and squatters that ensure that these circumstances can be litigated fairly and effectively.
For those engaged in adverse possession the law is highly specific. Depending on the type of property and the manner of its use, the failure of a property owner to take action against a squatter can eventually lead to the latter claiming legal ownership of the property. Though the requirements vary widely, they generally include paying property taxes continuously for 5 years.
Property owners have few means of recourse other than litigation, as the courts must establish conclusively that the squatter has no authentic claim to the property before eviction can be pursued. Such claims commonly include tenant’s rights, or a situation where the claimant can prove that they provided monetary compensation, goods or services to the property owner in exchange for use of the property. Even an implied oral or written contract with the owner could be valid. If this can be established any attempt at eviction would have to proceed in accordance with local landlord-tenant law.
Prescriptive easement is a commonly encountered relative of adverse possession. Generally it entails intermittent use of a section of a property for a particular purpose without the consent of the owner, such as an unpaved driveway to one’s property that runs across another property for some distance. Like adverse possession, the key to any claim is continuous unchecked use for a period of time, otherwise it is simply trespassing. However, the major difference is that the claimant does not have to pay property taxes and other parts of the property can be used and resided upon by the owner during the claimed period of continuity.