Squatters’ Rights in California

Squatters’ Rights in California

Squatters create serious problems for landlords in California and elsewhere.  If you own rental property, it’s important for you to be able to identify squatters, understand how to prevent the problem, and know how to get rid of them when they refuse to leave the rental unit. 

Who is a Squatter?

A squatter is an individual occupying real property without paying rent or mortgage and without the owner’s consent.  Squatters usually target vacation rentals, properties without landlords nearby, abandoned homes and foreclosed properties. Their objective is to gain a possessory and/or ownership interest in the property without paying for it.  Squatters also include occupants who don’t realize they’ve entered somebody else’s property and those who had permission to live there at some point in time.

Squatter or Trespasser?

A trespasser is a person who enters and occupies someone’s property without their consent, without any intent to claim an ownership or possessory right to the property.    Trespassing is a crime under Penal Code section 602. To remove a trespasser from the property, the property owner simply needs to call the police. 

The term trespasser does not apply to renters who can’t afford rent, who may have broken their lease, or whose lease may have lapsed. These fall under the category of a squatter.  The person’s length of time residing at the premises also factors into the determination of whether that person is a squatter or trespasser.  If its longer than thirty days, the person would likely be considered a squatter. Once they can claim squatter residency, they have the right to be there under California law until they are evicted (see below).   Regaining possession of the property requires successful prosecution of an eviction (unlawful detainer) lawsuit instead of a criminal matter.

Squatters Rights

Squatters have two important rights – 1) to remain on the property until they are lawfully evicted and (2) to claim ownership of the property through “adverse possession”.  To establish the latter, the squatter would have to show:  continuous occupation of the property without permission from the owner for a period of 5 years.   Upon making that showing, he becomes the legal owner of the subject property. 

How to Get Rid of Squatters

The process of evicting a squatter is similar to evicting a traditional tenant.  It starts with service of a Notice to Vacate.  In California, the length of the notice varies, and there are a variety of choices that could apply to your situation.  After the notice period expired, the landlord would need to file an unlawful detainer action against the squatter.  The squatter would have five court days to respond.  If he fails to timely respond, the landlord can take his default judgment, which is then presented to the Sheriff along with a writ of execution. The sheriff would then forcibly remove the squatter and other occupants from the unit and restore possession of the unit back to the owner. 

The only other option is to enter into a cash for keys arrangement with the squatter.  A cash for keys squatter deal is an agreement in which the property owner offers the squatter a sum of money to vacate the property voluntarily.

The primary objective of a cash for keys transaction to avoid the time, expense, and uncertainty of an eviction lawsuit. In addition, squatters who are forced to leave through legal eviction proceedings may cause damage to the property in the process. A cash for keys deals eliminates that risk.  The major downside is that there is no guarantee that the squatter will honor the agreement and vacate the property voluntarily.

Please contact Lynx Legal with any questions regarding the above, or if you are ready to start an eviction case.  We can be reached at 888-441-2355 or  Our experienced eviction specialists are standing by to take your order and/or answer any inquiries you may have. 

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