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Court Keeps it Difficult to Take Property By Adverse Possession

Negotiating Transactions, Neighbor Issues, and Real Estate Law by Peter N. Brewer, Esq.

Recently there has been a lot of interest in adverse possession claims from the firm’s clients.  From a television interview with one of our attorneys to a tentative verdict in favor of our client denying another party’s attempt to adversely possess property, more and more people have been encountering this issue.  In a recent appellate decision the court went out of its way to stop a claimant from adversely possessing a parcel of land.  In Aguayo v. Amaro, the court held that the claimants attempting to adversely possess property could not become the rightful owner due to their wrongful acts.

The Aguayos are a couple that makes their living by adversely possessing property.  In Aguayo, the Aguayos attempted to adversely possess property from a couple who were its prior owners, the Infantes, the last of whom passed away in 1993.  Although the Infantes did not have a will, their heirs did not initiate probate proceedings until long after they had passed away.  Prior to the probate proceedings, the Aguayos moved onto and began occupying the property.  In addition, they recorded a quitclaim deed from someone with no interest in the property to themselves.  As a result, starting in 1999, the county tax assessor began sending property tax bills to the Aguayos, who paid six years of back taxes as well as the next six years of taxes as they became due.  After meeting all of the requirements for adverse possession, the Aguayos filed a lawsuit to quiet title to the property.  At trial, the court held that although Aguayos met all such requirements, they were barred from prevailing because they acted in bad faith by intentionally recording a deed to divert the property tax bills from the true owners to themselves.

On appeal, the court upheld the trial’s court ruling.  The appellate court noted that there are two ways to adversely possess a property, either by claiming a right to a property through a defective deed or other written instrument or by following the statutory provisions that allow for a deliberate trespass against the property.  While the court acknowledged that the second method seemingly required a wrongful act, trespass, that requirement did not mean every act of wrongdoing would be allowed.  Here, while the intentional trespass by the Aguayos was acceptable for adverse possession, their act of recording a quitclaim deed to redirect the mailing of tax statements was wrongful.  This was the case even though a quitclaim deed does not necessarily transfer title and the original owners had not paid their taxes for twelve years.  The trial court found that, notwithstanding the Aguayos’ wrongful act, they may have acted in good faith.  Essentially, both the appellate court and the trial court advanced every conceivable argument, even contradictory ones, to deny the property to the Aguayos.

Takeaway – While California law allows for adverse possession of property, it is an extremely difficult proposition and one upon which the court system heavily frowns.  Here, the Aquayos seemed to have made sound legal arguments that the court refused to accept because of its strong opposition to allowing the Aquayos to acquire the property.  Even when it led the Court to contradictory holdings, the Court chose to permit the defendants, who had not been to the property in years and had not paid property taxes in more than a decade, to retain the property.

If you are encountering anyone one trying to adversely possess your property give us a call at (650) 327 -2900 x 10 or visit us on the web at Let us advocate for you!

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