So Land Action (our non-profit) organized a teach-in supporting Occupy Oakland to share our experiences and the experiences of others to provide information to develop the best possible strategies for establishing and defending occupations of all types.
Many people expressed an interest to defend foreclosures, reclaim foreclosures, establish new encampments, and establish new squats. All of these activities have legal ramifications and the following is what we covered in the property law teach in.
Disclaimer: This legal essay is not all inclusive nor do I make any assurance to it's accuracy as I am not an attorney. All the law cited in this post is California law as it pertains to Alameda County unless stated otherwise. Laws may vary from state to state, and their enforcement may vary depending on the city you are in.
There are three areas of the law that pertain to occupying land; adverse possession (best case scenario), criminal trespass (worst case scenario), and civil trespass (second best scenario).
1. Adverse Possession
First, there are the laws pertaining to adverse possession in which the occupier of land claims ownership of the land until proven otherwise. The most basic claim is title by occupancy pursuant to Civil Code Section 1006 where the occupier of land is the presumptive owner. This law is very simple so I will quote it in it's entirety:
"Civil Code Section 1006. Occupancy for any period confers a title sufficient against all except the state and those who have title by prescription, accession, transfer, will, or succession; but the title conferred by occupancy is not a sufficient interest in real property to enable theoccupant or the occupant's privies to commence or maintain an actionto quiet title, unless the occupancy has ripened into title by prescription."
Of course simply because you occupy a property for a short time it doesn't mean you own the property against someone who can prove they are the true owner. Civil Code Section 1006 does provide you the protection, in certain circumstances, requiring the property owner to prove they own the property in court before an eviction can occur. In some cases, especially foreclosures, the bank may have a difficult time proving they own the property because often the paperwork has changed many hands and has been done poorly. If the owner can't prove they own the property an eviction cannot occur. (at least in theory)