Is Squatting the Same Thing as Trespassing?

June 26, 2022 by Seppi Esfandi in California  Criminal Defense  
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Squatters’ Rights in California

California is the highest populated state, and because of this, many people tend to reside in properties that are not theirs. Squatting is overwhelming for landlords and frustrating, especially for new property owners. Getting rid of a settler is not just a spin of a wand as per California’s legal statutes.

Squatters have rights, and removing them can be a challenge. Let’s look at what you need to know both as a landlord dealing with settlers and as a squatter.

Who Is a Squatter in California?

A squatter lives on or occupies land over which they have no legal claim. Most of these properties are residential and are either vacant or foreclosed. They might be able to claim ownership of your property if they meet certain requirements.

Is Squatting the same as Trespassing?

No, a trespasser is a person or a group that enters and occupies someone’s property without their consent. It is a crime under PC 602. They differ from squatters because they don’t claim to have a right to the property

Adverse Possession in California

Adverse possession is a legal term applied to a situation where someone who does not have a legal claim to a property acquires it via continuous occupation of the property without permission from the owner.

Squatters’ Rights in California

Squatters’ rights enable a person to continue occupying a residence or property if the landlord or property owner doesn’t remove them within a specific period, depending on the state.

While the exact details and requirements to claim squatters’ rights or seek ownership of a property by adverse possession varies in different states, the rights generally require five principles to be accepted.

  • The occupancy must be “hostile.” Hostility does not imply violence in property law. In California, hostile possession means occupying a property and claiming ownership. The squatter does not even need to know who owns the property.
  • The trespasser must not attempt to conceal their presence. The resident must clarify their occupation to make an adverse possession claim work. Even the real property owner should be able to detect squatting on their property.
  • The trespasser must be on the property. They must maintain the property as an owner would, such as by landscaping or other means.
  • The squatter must occupy the property fully. The squatter must have been the sole occupant of the property. In other words, they had to have kept it to themselves. Conducting routine maintenance and upkeep may be indicators of exclusive ownership.
  • Continuous possession by the squatter for five uninterrupted years. For squatter rights to work in California, a squatter must have occupied a property for at least five years. The entire five-year period must be continuous.

How Squatters’ Rights Work

According to the statute of limitations, squatters’ rights allow them to become owners of properties they have illegally settled in if the owner doesn’t evict them on time. If the owner does not act and the statute expires, the squatters can claim Adverse Possession. However, they usually are asked to prove other crucial requirements are met.

States that Have Squatters’ Rights

The regulations for squatters’ rights are different in every state but exist in all fifty states. The time or period the occupant must have resided on the property they are claiming ownership of is what sets them apart. Louisiana and New Jersey have the longest period, requiring thirty years of continuous residence. California, alongside Montana, requires the least amount of five years.

The enforcement of the rights also fully depends on the state where the squatter and property owner resides.

Countering Squatting Rights in California

Squatters get different ways of accessing a property. Some may end up being conned to paying for the property and thus believe they own it legally since they have signed documents as much as they may be fake. The risk escalates for foreclosed homes and abandoned houses not under rental property management.

If you have an existing case, there are a few ways to deal with squatters. Consider paying them to vacate your premises. While it may not be ideal, this can save you valuable time in the long run and prevent legal complications. Serve an eviction if paying them fails and file an unlawful detainer suit in court. If the above fail, you will have to file a lawsuit to counter the adverse possession lawsuit they filed.

How to Prevent Squatting in California

Prevention is preferable to cure. It is important in the case of squatters because avoiding them is better than evicting them. There are several precautions that you could consider to avoid or prevent squatting in your property. Some of them include:

  • Conduct routine property inspections.
  • Protect the property from intruders by blocking entrances and installing security cameras.
  • Post “No Trespassing” signs throughout the property, especially if it is unoccupied.
  • Hire a property management company to assist you in finding a suitable tenant.
  • Always pay your property taxes on time.
  • Serve written notices as soon as you become aware of the presence of squatters.
  • Make an offer to the squatters to rent the property.

Related Crimes:

PC 602 – Criminal Trespassing
PC 601 – Aggravated Trespassing

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