Adverse Possession

Disputes as to legal rights to property may arise between landowners involving claims of adverse possession of property. Adverse possession is a way of securing title to property after a specific period of time by continuously maintaining physical possession of property. Issues of adverse possession often arise regarding property lines. For example, in certain circumstances a landowner that maintains property lines that are not the actual, defined boundaries, may gain title to that portion of the property by meeting adverse possession requirements. Therefore, it is important for landowners to maintain their property rights and know the requirements of adverse possession to prevent loss.

In general, state statutes and previous court decisions govern property laws. As such, California state statutes and courts establish the provisions for adverse possession and set out defenses and exceptions. Accordingly, to establish a claim to property under the theory of adverse possession, the possessor must satisfy the following elements of adverse possession: (1) actual, open, and notorious occupation of the property; (2) hostile claim to the property; (3) claim of right or color of title to the property; (4) five years of continuous and uninterrupted possession; and (5) timely payment of taxes. First, possession must be obvious to the public in order to give sufficient notice to the legal owner of the property that another party is in physical possession. The possession must also be exclusive to the adverse possessor. Next, the adverse possessor must claim the property against the rights of the legal owner. In other words, an adverse possessor cannot claim a right to property if possession was shared with the legal owner. Next, a possessor must establish a claim of right to property, or a claim to the property under color of title. A right to property under color of title is based on a judgment or legal instrument, such as a deed, that establishes a claim to the property. The claim is faulty if there is some defect with the document that is not the fault of the possessor. It is essential to a claim to property under color of title that the possessor has an actual belief of legal title. A claim of right to property exists absent any such legal document. Also, a possessor must possess the property for five years. This possession must be ongoing and without any gaps in time. However, the five years do not need to be immediately before a claim to title over the property. Finally, there cannot be an adverse claim of possession to land if the possessor has not paid all taxes on time.

There are certain exceptions to adverse possession claims. For example, public property is not subject to adverse possession. Therefore, a party cannot claim a right to government-owned property regardless of terms of possession. Additionally, if a person who maintains a right of title to property is under the age of eighteen, diagnosed insane, or in prison, the usual five-year possession requirement can be extended. The specific terms of such an extension will depend on the circumstances of such a disability and a court will make a determination regarding the revised time period.

Please contact us today to speak with an attorney regarding your property rights in relation to a claim of adverse possession.