Adverse Possession and California property owners

Adverse possession a concern for California property owners

The relatively obscure principle of “adverse possession” may be demonstrated by the story of a Bay area man who found a suitably abandoned house and simply moved in. The concept of adverse possession is rooted in the belief that society’s best interests are met when property and land are utilized productively rather than sitting fallow.

Steve DeCaprio had become aware of a turn-of-the-century bungalow that had sat vacant for many years. He also knew that the previous owner of the house had died in the early 1980s and that no one had come forward to claim it. The house was in major disrepair.

DeCaprio and a group of friends got to work making the place habitable. He got the water flowing, bought storm doors and painted the exterior, planted vegetation in the front yard, and cut down another backyard tree that posed a hazard to the house next door.

DeCaprio didn’t buy this house but adverse possession says he owns it

DeCaprio didn’t buy this house, but, after more than a decade of struggle, he now owns it through the process of adverse possession. The obscure law called “adverse possession” allows ownership not through purchase or inheritance (the usual paths to home ownership), but through occupation. It only applies when no one else can prove they are the real owner.

In California, adverse possession requires five years of continued use

In California, adverse possession requires five years of continued use which is “open and notorious” and “adverse” to the owner’s interest. The maintenance and upkeep and improvement of the property is required and for the five years of use the property taxes must be paid for the property being adversely possessed.

Through adverse possession, it is possible to gain ownership of just a few feet of property or many acres. Adverse possession is not necessarily intentional on the part of the party that gains possession. It can happen through a legitimate mistake. For example, a neighbor may have relied upon a faulty property description in a deed when building a fence on an adjoining property.

DiJulio Law Group