By: Joann Deutch, Attorney

(818) 753-9922

Can You Win a Claim for Adverse Possession?
Most lawyers don’t know that in modern cities, including Los Angeles, you’re unlikely to win a legal battle over that foot or few inches of your property that your neighbor’s fence or row of trees take up. Here the rule is that you have to have had the property officially surveyed and you have to have paid taxes on the property that you want to claim under the theory of Adverse Possession for 21 years. By the way the 21 years can be “tacked’ back to include prior owners.

This however does not solve the entire problem. Your neighbor is saying your fence is on their property. They want you to tear it down and build a new one on your property. Or worse, they are claiming that your row of trees is on their property and they want you to pay, to rip it down. And here you thought you were just being a good neighbor by trimming them and keeping every nice and neat. The people who owned the house before you put up the trees or the fence. No one pulled a permit for the fence, and you can’t tell who put them in. What do you do?

You need to hustle to your curbstone.   Look at the lip, near the street. You should see a small piece of metal the size of a small coin. It will have a nail of some sort through the middle. That is your Survey Button. Sometimes the metal has vanished and all you can see is a roundish dent in the cement on your curbstone. Your Survey Button marks the end of your property. You need to jump with in with, “Not my tree - Not my fence. It’s on your property, you take care of it”. Wag your finger at the Survey Button like you mean it. The next thing you do is call both your homeowners insurance, and your Title Company. 
Title Insurance policies are very important. You buy them when you buy your house. BUT they are not all the same. There are CLTA [California Land Title Association] and ALTA [American Land Title Association] policies The CLTA title insurance coverage remains in place until you sell your house. The ALTA is a lender's policy which only lasts while you have a loan balance outstanding on your mortgage.
It’s always better to be prepared for the worst. A lawsuit ? Just what you needed. The claims would be called “Quiet Title” actions. A court will be asked to establish a party’s title to property for things like:
Boundary disputes
Surveying errors
Adverse possession Fraudulent conveyances
Tax taking matters

The good news is the Title Insurance Company pays for the lawyers who will defend you. [You can ask if they will pay your favorite lawyer to represent you]. And they pay for the loss of value to your property if you have to give up some of your yard, etc.

When a lawyer talks about Adverse Possession, we are talking about who’s going to be able to legally snatch some of your property. Sure you bought your house, and you may think you own it. The question is do you own it all or does someone else own part of it? You say to yourself,  “That’s not possible”. Surprise !

Adverse Possession comes into play every time you build a fence, or plant a row of trees along your property line. Most people don’t get property surveys to help them locate their property lines when they make these changes. Surveys are pretty expensive. There might be a big walnut tree on the property line. Do you put the fence in front or behind the tree? Even more common is when you move into a house and don’t know who put that fence up, or when that tree was planted. 

hose fence is it? Whose property is it on, and who has to pay to fix it? Whose tree is it? If the roots are spreading, who has to pay to get them cut back? 3 inches of your garage is on your neighbor’s property. You got trouble in paradise.

The concept of Adverse Possession is something every lawyer had to study in law school. It’s an old English concept. If for an uninterrupted 21 years a person [or people] have claimed and used property, they get title to that land. In California the concept was applied as far back as the original Spanish Land Grants and the big ranchos. You’ve probably heard of the term “squatter’s rights”. You’re on the right track.