Squatter Rights in California: A Comprehensive Guide for Landlords

Squatter Rights in California: A Comprehensive Guide for Landlords

Learn all about the legal regulations, common myths, and practical strategies for dealing with squatter's rights in California. Find out the steps to take if someone refuses to move out and how to protect your property investments against potential squatters.

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Squatter Rights in California: A Comprehensive Guide for Landlords

If you’re a real estate investor, landlord, or property owner in California, you’re likely familiar with the concept of squatter’s rights. However, it can be challenging to have a full understanding of what these protections mean and how they might affect your ownership without the assistance of an attorney.

To help you better understand this legal term, we’ve created a comprehensive guide that covers the following points:

  • Who is eligible for protection under the law?
  • What are the laws surrounding squatter’s rights in California?
  • How do these protections affect property owners and landlords?
  • What are the best practices for rental agreements that include provisions designed specifically for squatters?
  • What are the eviction steps for landlords dealing with squatters?

With our help, even novice landlords can navigate their way through complicated leasehold issues involving trespassers and residents alike, and confidently understand the ins and outs of squatter’s rights in California.

What is a squatter?

A squatter is a person who resides in a property without having any legal rights to do so. Typically, they occupy abandoned or unoccupied buildings, land, or houses, and may make efforts to improve their living space. This behavior is referred to as squatter’s rights and is considered acceptable in some places if specific criteria are met.

However, it may be illegal in other locations and subject to legal action. Those accused of squatting usually face eviction proceedings. In certain instances, squatters can even gain ownership of the properties they occupy, depending on local laws about adverse possession.

Understanding the California Squatters Law (California Civil Code section 1007)

In California, the legal concept of squatter’s rights is defined by state law and varies from other states. Under California Civil Code section 1007, a squatter can establish legal possession of a property by occupying it openly and continuously for a period of five years without the owner’s permission.

This is known as adverse possession. However, it’s important to note that the squatter must have good faith belief that they have a right to the property, and the possession must be open and notorious, meaning that it’s done publicly and without attempts to hide it.

One well-known case that illustrates the importance of understanding squatters’ rights in California is the case of the “Bayview Squatters.” In 2014, a group of homeless individuals began squatting in a vacant, city-owned house in the Bayview neighborhood of San Francisco. The house had been vacant for years and was in disrepair. The squatters, who were mostly families with children, began fixing up the house and making it livable. They installed a kitchen, a bathroom, and even a garden.

The city initially tried to evict the squatters, but they were able to stay in the house for over a year due to a combination of legal challenges and community support. Eventually, the city agreed to sell the house to a community land trust, which would allow the squatters to stay in the house as tenants.

Whether you’re a landlord or a squatter, it’s important to have a clear understanding of California’s squatter’s rights. For landlords, understanding these rights can help them navigate lease agreements and eviction proceedings. For squatters, understanding their legal rights can help them avoid eviction and possibly even gain legal possession of a property.

How to identify a squatter and determine their rights

Squatting is the act of occupying a property without the permission of the rightful owner. It is important to understand how to identify a squatter and determine their rights before taking any action. Here are some steps to follow:

  1. Contact the local police station: The first step in identifying a squatter is to contact the local police station. They will be able to verify if there is an active case on this particular individual, thus helping you determine their true status.
  2. Research local laws and policies: Once you have verified that the individual is a squatter, it is essential to research their rights based on your local laws and policies. In California, squatters may have legal rights if certain criteria are met. For example, if they have been occupying the property for at least five years, pay property taxes, and maintain the property, they may be eligible for adverse possession.
  3. Grant legal safeguards: Squatting laws in California provide legal protection for both parties. Squatting rights in California give squatters the right to inhabit a property with permission from the landlord, while providing legal safeguards should a dispute arise.

It’s important to note that regardless of a squatter’s status, most courts grant them some protection from eviction. Landlords may have to pursue alternative measures if necessary, such as filing a lawsuit for eviction, seeking an order of possession, or pursuing a restraining order.

Why do squatters have rights?

As a property owner, it is essential to understand the legal rights you have regarding squatters. While squatting may be viewed by some as a social justice issue, it is important to remember that the presence of squatters on your property can have a significant impact on your livelihood and legal obligations.

In California, for example, a landlord’s rights are protected by the state’s anti-squatting laws. These laws make it illegal for individuals to occupy a property without the owner’s permission. Property owners also have the right to pursue legal action against squatters, including eviction and monetary damages.

While it is true that squatters may have some legal protections in certain cases, such as those related to adverse possession, it is important for landlords to understand that these protections do not negate their rights as property owners. Landlords must take appropriate steps to protect their property and follow proper legal procedures when dealing with squatters, but they should not be forced to tolerate illegal occupation of their property.

In conclusion, while the issue of squatters’ rights may be complicated, it is important for property owners to understand their rights and take necessary steps to protect their property. Laws are in place to safeguard the rights of property owners, and landlords should not hesitate to seek legal counsel if they encounter issues related to squatters on their property.

Protecting your property from squatters with a written lease or rental agreement

As a landlord or property owner, it’s essential to take proactive measures to safeguard your property from potential squatters. Unclaimed properties can pose a significant risk, as they are often targeted by squatters who seek to establish legal rights to the property.

To minimize this risk, it’s important to have any prospective tenant sign a lease or rental agreement prior to move-in. This agreement should clearly outline the terms of the tenancy, including the duration and rent payments.

By having a written agreement in place, you have evidence that the tenant has been invited to reside on the property, which strengthens your legal position in case of a dispute. Additionally, it’s important to conduct regular inspections of your property to ensure that no unauthorized individuals are living there.

By taking these steps, you can protect your property and ensure that it remains under your control at all times.

Strategies for evicting a squatter from your property

As a landlord or property owner, removing a squatter from your property can be a challenging process that requires a fair, yet firm approach.

The first step is to ensure that you have legal ownership of the property, as any doubts can strengthen the squatter’s claim.

Once you have established your rightful ownership, serve an eviction notice to the squatter outlining why they must vacate the premises (e.g., non-payment of rent or disturbance of your occupancy).

If the squatter does not comply, legal action may be necessary, but be aware that this can be expensive and time-consuming.

Throughout the process, it is important to remain calm and professional, avoiding letting emotions get the best of you. Remember that your property rights are important and take action to protect them.

Legal options available to landlords dealing with squatters in California

As a landlord in California, it’s important to understand your legal options when dealing with squatters. One of the first steps you can take is to send an initial notice to the squatter, warning them that they are occupying the property without permission and must vacate immediately. This can be a preliminary warning and may be effective in some cases.

However, if the squatter refuses to vacate, you may have to file a formal “unlawful detainer” case in court. This process can be time-consuming and expensive, but it is necessary to protect your property rights. It’s important to note that landlords in California have legal rights to protect their property and can pursue eviction of squatters through the court system.

Consulting with a qualified attorney who has specialized knowledge of landlord/tenant law in California is highly recommended to ensure that you are navigating these issues successfully and within the bounds of the law.


Squatting may be unfamiliar to some, but it is an issue that is increasingly affecting property owners. As the number of squatters continues to rise, it is crucial for property owners to understand the laws surrounding them and how to protect themselves from any negative consequences. One of the most important steps is to ensure that your tenancy contracts are comprehensive and enforceable. To achieve this, you may want to consider working with a reliable partner such as Primior Asset Management. With our assistance, you can effectively manage various property-related challenges, including dealing with squatters.

Understanding your rights and how to handle a squatter situation successfully will help you navigate this issue smoothly and without undue stress or financial loss. If you ever find yourself overwhelmed by the complexities of dealing with squatters, the experienced advisors at Primior Asset Management are available 24/7 to offer assistance. So don’t hesitate to give us a call and discover how we can help you manage your property effectively.

Johnney Y. Zhang

CEO, Primior Asset Management

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