Ownership, Possession and the Unlawful Detainer Process (Eviction)

By Jennifer Felten

The difference between ownership and possession came into sharp focus for a woman in Nashville last month when she bought her first home.  After taking title to the property she was shocked to find that the seller was still in the property refusing to leave.

The fact is that most people think of possession and ownership as being one and the same concepts and use them interchangeably. Ownership and possession connote the same property classification in our minds. Legally, however, they are two different things.

When an individual has legal rights over a property, he is said to own it. Ownership is a right that grants a thing or an object to a person in such a manner that the thing is said to belong to that person. If a person owns something in the eyes of the law, the thing belongs to him to the exclusion of others.

The physical control over a thing provides one a possession of that thing. For example, the house that a person lives in with his family is said to be under his possession. Possession does not automatically imply ownership, as many people have temporary possession of things. This is true for most situations in our lives, except when we are talking about objects and valuables that we have actually personally purchased.

For the poor new homeowner in Nashville, the stark reality that she owns this home but does not possess it has come into focus.  “It’s been a nightmare,” the new homeowner told the press. “The seller has essentially pirated my house.”

The seller disagrees and told that press that he believes he has “every right to still be there.”

As a result, the new homeowner has had to initiate a legal action to evict the seller.  The action, known in California as an unlawful detainer, refers to a lawsuit to remove an occupant of a dwelling, apartment, building, or unit thereof who “unlawfully holds and keeps the possession of any real property … or continues in possession” upon notice to vacate by property owner, expiration or termination of a lease or agreement-or with no agreement at all, and no longer retains the legal right to be in possession of that property (CCP § 1160-1161).

If the new owner wins her case, the seller will be ordered by the court to move out.  If the seller fails to do so after that the sheriff will physically remove him from the property.



Jennifer Felten

Jennifer Felten, Esq., Relaw Ms. Felten specializes in representing both individuals and legal entities, providing representation and guidance on a variety of real estate related matters.  Relaw APC 699 Hampshire Road, Suite 105 Westlake Village, CA  91361 US Phone: (805) 265-1031 or email her at: jennifer@relawapc.com

Upcoming Speaking Events for Ms. Felten:

July 23, 2016 – Business Principles, Practices & Law – Escrow Training Institute

To find out more about this class and/or to register please go to Escrow Training Institute’s website at:


For inquiries or questions about any of these events, please email info@relawapc.com.


One Response to Ownership, Possession and the Unlawful Detainer Process (Eviction)

  1. William "Bill" Hicks July 14, 2016 at 8:43 am

    The question belays the answer, but how long does it take to remove this squatter?


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