What is an Ejectment Action?

Underwood-Blog-Images-5-300x300Ejectment is an action brought by a party seeking to recover a possessory interest or claim of title in a piece of real property. Typically, an ejectment action arises when a titleholder to a piece of property has been wrongfully excluded or withheld from the property. Therefore, ejectment applies only to those cases where an individual actually has possessory title to the subject property.

Ejectment is a possessory action used to recover possession of land or a piece of real property to a plaintiff in possession who has been wrongfully ousted from the property by the defendant. (Fuller v. Fuller (1917) 176 Cal. 637, 638, 169 P. 369].) In simpler terms, ejectment allows a party to retake possession of real property that the party was wrongfully removed from.

A claim of ejectment is a common issue in disputes over the real property where the parties are seeking to establish who holds title to or an interest in the subject property. Specifically, under Code of Civil Procedure section 3375, an individual who is entitled to specific real property may recover by a judgment for its possession or an order requiring a defendant to deliver possession of the property. (CCP § 3375.) At Underwood Law Firm, our attorneys are more than familiar with ejectment actions and the requirements needed to prevail on an ejectment claim. 

What is Required to Prevail on an Ejectment Cause of Action?

In order for a plaintiff to prevail on a cause of action for ejectment, the plaintiff must show two things: (1) that the plaintiff holds legal title to the subject property, and (2) the defendant’s possession of the subject property is wrongful. (28 Cal. Jur. 3d Ejectment and Related Remedies § 40.) Therefore, the burden is on the plaintiff to show that they are entitled to recover possession in an ejectment action.

For example, “Julie” and “Shawn” are former romantic partners who jointly purchased a single-family home before they broke up. For liability purposes, Shawn and Julie agreed to only put Julie’s name on the title for the house. After they broke up, Julie stopped by the house one day to pick up her mail, only to find that Shawn had changed all the locks and put up a gate surrounding the property. Julie then called Shawn Julie, who exclaimed that the house was his and that Julie was not allowed on the property. If Julie were to file an ejectment action, she would need to show some proof that she contributed to the purchase of the house, making her a co-owner of the house, and Shawn’s exclusion of Julie from the house wrongfully. 

Who has the Right to Sue for an Ejectment?

Any owner of a piece of real property who has been wrongfully excluded from the property may bring forward an ejectment action. “Each tenant in common equally is entitled to share in possession of the entire property, and neither may exclude the other from any part of it. (Zaslow v. Kroenert (1946) 29 Cal.2d 541, 548.) Therefore, a tenant in common or a joint tenant is entitled to bring an action to recover damages when they have been wrongfully ousted from the property they co-own. (Id.) In short, a co-owner of a piece of property has a general right to possess the property, and therefore, a co-owner may not exclude another co-owner from the property because it impedes that right to possess.

For example, in the example above, because Julie and Shawn jointly contributed to the purchase of the house, Julie and Shawn both owned the house as tenants in common. Given that Julie was a co-owner of the house, it was wrongful for Shawn to change the locks of the house to exclude Julie from the property because she also has a right to possess the house. 

What is an Ouster?

Typically, an ejectment action arises when there has been an ouster. An ouster is “the wrongful dispossession or exclusion by one tenant of his cotenant or cotenants from the common property of which they are entitled to possession.” (Zaslow, 29 Cal.2d 541, 548.) “[O]uster must be proved by acts of an adverse character, such as claiming the whole for himself, denying the title of his companion, or refusing to permit him to enter.” (Id.)

In our example with Julie and Shawn, Shawn committed a wrongful ouster. By changing all the locks on the house and putting up a gate surrounding the house, Shawn was preventing Julie from entering the property in that she had an ownership interest. Shawn’s refusal to allow Julie onto the property, therefore, gives Julie the right to bring an ejectment action. However, changing the locks may not be sufficient to prove an ouster. Julie would need to show that Shawn had a clear, unequivocal intent to exclude Julie from the property. Proof of such intent can be shown through evidence that Shawn stated on the phone that the house no longer belonged to Julie and that she was not allowed on the property. 

How Can the Attorneys at Underwood Law Assist You?

Establishing a right to an ejectment action can prove to be a difficult task once in court. In most circumstances, a litigant must prove certain elements in order to prevail on an ejectment cause of action. For example, to establish a right to ejectment, a litigant must provide sufficient evidence to prove they have legal title to the subject property and that the defendant’s possession of the subject property is wrongful. It follows, then, that prevailing on a claim for ejectment can be a complex process.

As each case is unique, property owners would be well-served to seek experienced counsel familiar with the ins and outs of an ejectment action and the law surrounding it. At Underwood Law, our knowledgeable attorneys are here to help. If you are attempting to assert an ejectment claim, are worried about your ability to get an ejectment, or if you just have questions, please do not hesitate to contact our office.

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