Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Adverse Possession of Lancaster, Palmdale California Land

We ran across this issue as we were trying to sell a property where the owner lived overseas outside the Antelope Valley area. We were attempting to drive by the property and we found an illegal dwelling and a man with a gun defending the property. Now this doesn’t occur everyday, but in parts of the Antelope Valley surrounding the cities of Lancaster and Palmdale, Ca. there is a lot of vacant land with little access or only a dirt road. Now the squatter was on the property but had taken physical possession. He appeared to have been living on the property for some time and making a home of his own, but didn’t complete all the factors of adversely possessing the property. You can acquire a property by adverse possession including a house or vacant land in California, but the action will take at least five years.

The process to make a claim of adverse possession in California by a claimant (the party seeking to gain title to the property) they must successfully demonstrate the following. 1. Possession under a claim of right or color of title, which means ownership of property by a person in possession, without being regular( so not the documented registered owner), Color of title is where the claimed owner has some piece of paper claiming to transfer title to him or herself. This can be done writing a document saying you are the owner. 2. Actual, open, notorious occupation (protected by a substantial enclosure such as a fence, barrier or wall and usually cultivated or improved. 3. Claimant is adverse and in hostile possession. 4. Continuous possession for a period of five years. 5. Payment of all taxes assessed against the property during the five-year period. Most people think you just have to pay the taxes, but in order to fully take the property and defend it in court then you need to have all of the above.

It could be easier to acquire this type of property at a tax sale then doing all of the above unless it is a house where the time and value is more in your favor. Adverse possession of tens or hundreds of acres of land could be more difficult to fence if you are challenged in court. You may have to do more research to find out what is open and notorious in adverse possession of vacant land. We have ran across potential properties that can be taken by adverse possession as the property owner has given up and no longer intends to pay the property taxes, so the other parts of adverse possession can be undertaken.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Illegal Dwellings and Debris Removal has been Stepped Up for Land Owners in Antelope Valley

The mayor of Los Angeles County Michael Antonovich has been on the LA County board of Supervisors for thirty one years. He has organized a Nuisance Abatement Team (NATS) since 2006. The team under city permit and building codes has removed a number of illegal dwellings and the biggest target area has been in Antelope Valley. The NATS group has forced homeowners of makeshift homes to dismantle them, face fines or go to jail. One notorious illegal dwelling was “Phonehenge” (a take off of Stonehenge). It was not sufficiently dismantled by the property owner who was then prosecuted and sent to jail after a dozen other prior misdemeanor convictions.

The Dept of Public Works handles smaller issues from potholes, downed trees, and uncollected trash, bulky item pick up and graffiti issues. Recently, the department has been reduced by approximately a half a million dollars so many areas have are now overlooked.

Illegal dwelling will not fall under Public Works issues as that is now a NATS target. They also enforce dumping on property. Lots of debris is dumped on vacant land parcels in the valley. Instead of residents going to the dump and paying to have the county recycle and bury their unwanted goods, they unload it on vacant unused land parcels. Often several to hundreds of tires have been found on unsuspecting land owners. It costs nine to fifteen dollars or more to recycle a tire. Some unscrupulous tire installers don’t like to transport and pay that fee even though they charge the customer. So when they get a sufficient load they hall it and dump it out of site behind a hill in the valley.
Code Enforcement
Each city (Lancaster, Palmdale, Ca.) and the LA County have several ordinances that are designed to maintain a healthy, safe and clean environment. They carry out land use policy and preserve the quality of life standards for residents and businesses.

The Uniform Building Codes, Housing maintenance codes, various health and safety codes are the codes that target illegal dwellings and dumping. Part of the illegal dwelling issues and weed abatement is the prevention of fires. Every summer fires seriously impact Los Angles County costing local government and businesses, insurance companies and home owners millions annually.
If a City or County staff member observes that code violation exists then typically a general notice of violation is issued to the owner/tenant to correct the code violation in a timely manner. The City may also issue citations or take court action if the situation poses a significant risk to the community or if the individual has ignored the notice of violation.
In most cases, the individual responsible for the code violation is given the opportunity to voluntarily correct the situation and comply with current codes without a penalty. If the correction is not made, then the individual may be subject to fines and civil injunctions or other penalties. In many cases the code violator is not the property owner so the property owner initially gets a notice in the mail. If the violation is not taken care of in a timely manner then the city or county will remove the debris. In such a case a lien will be recorded for the expense to remove the debris. If LA County clears the debris then it will likely cost much much more then if you do it. It is the land owner’s responsibility to ensure their property meets the codes set out by the city and county. We recommend you take any notice seriously.