Encroachment, or trespass, is an invasion of real property rights by another. It can be anything, such as a fence, a railroad, landscaping, a parking lot or building. When the owner of the property wants to stop it, they may file an action for a permanent injunction prohibiting the use. Real Estate attorneys frequently see actions for injunction resulting in cross-complaints to establish a right to use the property, such as by adverse possession. However, the decisions regarding the statutes of limitations in such cases vary somewhat unpredictably, due to there being two sets of statutes that may apply –one giving 3 years, the other 5. In a decision by the Third District Court of Appeals (covering 23 counties including Sacramento, Yolo, Placer & El Dorado, full list below*) that has not been agreed with by the Supreme Court or other Districts, the court ruled that enjoining a permanent encroachment should be characterized as an action to recover real property, applying the 5 year statute..
In Harrison v. Welch, buyers of a vacant lot brought an action against their neighbor to quiet title and to enjoin neighbor’s encroachment on their land. The neighbor, who had placed a woodshed and landscaping on the lot, filed a cross-complaint alleging adverse possession and prescriptive easement. The trial judge ruled that the Buyer was barred by the statute of limitations and that the neighbors had not established adverse possession or prescriptive easement. Nonetheless, the court engaged in an equitable “balancing of the hardships, giving both the plaintiff and the defendant some satisfaction. Both parties appealed.
The statute of limitations issues revolved around two sets of statutes covering different concepts – recovery of real property, vs. stopping an encroachment. The statutes are in two consecutive Chapters of the Code of Civil Procedure-