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PC 647(e) Illegal Squatting Law, Punishment, & Defense. Criminal Defense Lawyers Explain Penal Code 647(e) Law

Information on the crime of illegal squatting, including information on the punishment for illegal squatting, is found in the California penal code at section 647e.

Note: Illegal squatting crimes are classified as “disorderly conduct” crimes. Disorderly conduct crimes are a broad classification of crimes that prohibit certain conduct in public, but where that conduct is not necessarily directed against a named victim (i.e., loitering near a toilet to commit a lewd act, prostitution, lewd conduct in public, etc., are all classified as “disorderly conduct” crimes).

Squatting Defined: Squatting is defined as the illegal occupation of an uninhabited building or piece of land for the purpose of taking up residence of the uninhabited building or land.

PC 647(e) Law

California law defines squatting as anyone “who lodges in any building, structure, vehicle, or place, whether public or private, without the permission of the owner of person entitled to the possession or control of it” (PC 647(e)).

Note: Squatting is a crime in California, but a trespasser who unlawfully lodges in a private building or residence without permission (i.e., a “squatter”) might develop “squatter’s rights” with the passage of time. This happens by a legal doctrine known as “adverse possession.” Whether squatters are trespassers committing illegal squatting per PC 647(e), or “tenants” with rights to the same premises as adverse possessors, is beyond the scope of this article.

A squatter may be labeled as such even if he or she initially has permission to enter the land or building, but then that permission is later withdrawn and the “tenant” refuses to leave the land or building. This is common with “holdover” tenants, or tenants who initially occupy a residence or building with permission, but then that permission ends with the end of a lease or a sale of the property to an owner that moves to dislodge the tenant through an unlawful detainer.

PC 647(e) Punishment

Illegal squatting is classified as a misdemeanor (PC 647(e)). Conviction of misdemeanor illegal squatting may result in a jail sentence of up to six (6) months.

Probation Sentence: A probation sentence is a period of supervision, as opposed to a jail sentence. A probation sentence is common after a conviction for illegal squatting, so long as the defendant has not criminal history, and there is no damage to the land or building that the defendant unlawfully occupied (i.e., vandalism of property).

Work Release: Work release is a type of manual labor, which usually involves collecting garbage near jails and highways, and which is ordered against a defendant when the defendant can perform the manual labor.  Work release is a common alternative to a jail sentence in PC 647(e) cases.

Example: David is found guilty of illegal squatting. He is ordered to serve ten (10) days of jail as a punishment (along with other punishments). However, the sentencing judge allows David to serve those ten (10) days on work release, as opposed to serving those ten (10) days in a county jail.

Criminal Protective Order: A criminal protective order, or “CPO,” will usually be issued against the defendant after an illegal squatting conviction. The CPO is intended to stop the defendant from reentering the premises where he or she illegally squatted. For more information, see CPO.

Other Penalties: Additional penalties for illegal squatting include court fines and fees, restitution to victim of lost value of property, possible negative consequences with immigration, professional licensing, and military service, civil lawsuits for repossession of the premises (unlawful detainers) or money damages, and more.

PC 647(e) Defenses

Illegal squatting cases vary from case to case. This means there is no single defense to a PC 647(e) allegation that necessarily works best for every case.

With this mind, there are common defenses that tend to be incorporated in PC 647(e) cases. These include statute of limitations that prevents the district attorney from charging the defendant after a year from the date of alleged offense, reasonable mistake of fact as to the consent of the owner of the premises, insanity, necessity, and adverse possession (civil remedy that might allow “squatter’s rights” in some cases), and more.

“No Contest” Plea: A “no contest” plea in criminal court (as opposed to a “guilty” plea), is not a defense to an illegal squatting violation, but it is mentioned here because a “no contest” plea will help the defendant defend against any subsequent civil lawsuit related to his or her illegal squatting conviction. This is because a “no contest” plea in a misdemeanor PC 647(e) case cannot be used to prove liability in any subsequent civil proceeding (civil lawsuit for damages). For more information, see “No Contest” Plea v. “Guilty” Plea.

Judicial Diversion: Judicial Diversion is legal process whereby the defendant avoids a criminal conviction if he agrees to follow certain conditions (i.e., remain free from new criminal convictions during the diversion period, pay a fee, pay restitution, etc.). When the defendant enters judicial diversion, he or she “diverts” from the criminal prosecution process.

Judicial diversion is not a true defense in the sense that the defendant is acquitted (found “not guilty”), or the criminal charges are dismissed, but it is mentioned here because it is a defense-like process that can avoid the harsh direct and indirect consequences of a criminal conviction. Judicial diversion is allowed in PC 647(e) cases, but it is not guaranteed. For more information, see Judicial Diversion.

Post-Conviction Remedies: A person convicted of illegal squatting pursuant to penal code 647(e) might have certain post-conviction remedies depending on circumstances of his or her conviction. These possible post-conviction remedies include withdrawing a guilty plea (or “no contest” plea), appeal the misdemeanor conviction, terminate a probation sentence, terminate a criminal protective order, expunge the criminal conviction (PC 1203.4), and more.

For more information on the crime of illegal squatting, or California PC 647(e) [Disorderly Conduct Crimes], contact our highly ranked criminal defense lawyers today for a free consultation.

Our team of highly experienced criminal defense attorneys, including winning trial attorneys, has successfully represented hundreds of criminal defendants charged with every type of misdemeanor and felony crime in the IE, including defense in the cities and courts of Redlands, Fontana, Grand Terrace, Riverside, San Bernardino, Chino, Victorville, Yucaipa, Rialto, and more. Call today!


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PC 647(e) Illegal Squatting Law, Punishment, & Defense


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