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How could adverse possession affect your pursuit of a clear title?

The concept of “squatter’s rights” is familiar to many. It involves someone feeling that they can claim ownership of real estate despite not being the property’s true owner. The legal name assigned to this concept is “adverse possession.”

Existing laws allow someone to legally stake a claim to the property they didn’t originally own. Both the original owner and the person seeking to stake a legal claim to the property must meet specific conditions to be in a position to lose the real estate or lawfully stake a claim to it.

What does an adverse possessor need to do to secure a clear title?

Under California law, a prospective adverse possessor must meet four requirements to qualify to stake a claim to the deed to a property.

First, there must be a hostile claim. This may involve the adverse possessor voluntarily trespassing, taking over the land (regardless of whether they knew it was private property or not) or making an honest mistake — as is often the case if the deed they read was invalid.

Other conditions that the adverse possessor must meet to lawfully stake a claim of ownership here in California are the following:

  • They must have taken ownership of the property and be treating it as if it were their own.
  • The adverse possession must go unshared and uninterrupted. This legal concept is referred to as continuous and exclusive possession.
  • Any use of the land must be obvious. This is referred to as “open and notorious possession.”

Here in California, an adverse possessor must use the land and pay taxes for at least five years before staking a legal claim to the property.

Whether you’re seeking to protect your rights to your property as its true owner or an adverse possessor, you need to know what your rights and responsibilities are. This will minimize the chances of exposing yourself to unnecessary legal and financial liability issues.