PROPERTY MANAGEMENT BLOG

Squatting Laws in North Carolina - An Overview

System - Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Squatting is quite commonplace in many places around the country. North Carolina squatters, like those in many other states, have rights. They may be able to own property after a successful adverse possession claim. To make the claim, squatters must meet several requirements. 

As a property owner, understanding the rights squatters have in North Carolina can help you avoid problems down the line. This is especially true if your home is unoccupied. 

The following is everything you need to know when it comes to squatter's rights in North Carolina. 

Who is Considered a Squatter? 

A squatter is a person who moves into an unoccupied building and starts living there without permission. Squatters usually occupy buildings and parcels of lands that are abandoned. 

Since a squatter is under no contractual agreement with the property owner, they have no obligation to pay rent. 

Who is Considered a Trespasser? 

Trespassing is a criminal offense. Usually, trespassers gain entry into another person’s home by breaking in. In other words, trespassing generally involves some form of forceful entry. If authorities determine the act of trespassing was committed, the trespasser will get arrested. 

Squatting, on the other hand, is civil in nature. Squatters usually access a home through an already broken window or an unlocked entrance. A squatter may still get arrested or evicted if they fail to meet the requirements for adverse possession. 

What is Adverse Possession? 

Adverse possession is a legal doctrine that allows a person to claim ownership rights to a building or land. Through adverse possession, a squatter may be able to gain ownership of hundreds of acres or even just a few feet of property. 

The following are the requirements for adverse possession in the state of North Carolina

Actual Possession

The squatter must be physically present on the property. They must also treat it just like the real owner would. One way to document actual possession is through beautification efforts. 

Continuous Possession

A squatter must also occupy a property for an uninterrupted period of time. It takes 20 years of continuous occupation, in North Carolina, for squatters to make an adverse possession claim. “Continuous” or “uninterrupted” means that the squatter cannot give up the use of the property, then return to it later. 

Exclusive Possession

The squatter must be the only one possessing the property. Sharing it with others would invalidate their claim on the property. 

Open & Notorious

A squatter must occupy the property in a manner that is open and obvious. Occupying it selectively or making efforts to remain undetected would make their adverse possession claim unsuccessful. 

Hostile Claim

In property law, “hostile” takes a different definition other than violence or danger. Specifically, it takes on three definitions:

  • “Simple Occupation”, is the definition most states follow. It defines “hostile” as mere land possession. 
  • “Awareness of Trespassing,” is where the trespasser needs to know that their use of the property was considered trespassing. 
  • “Good Faith Mistake,” is a definition that only a handful of states follow. The squatter is assumed to have made an innocent mistake when they occupied the property. They may be relying on an incorrect or invalid deed. 

Is Color of Title a Requirement for Adverse Possession? 

“Color of title’ means that ownership of a property isn’t regular. In other words, it could mean that the person may be missing at least one of the required memorials, documents, or registrations. 

Some states make "color of title" a requirement while others don’t. North Carolina belongs to the latter group of states. Whereas having a color of title can strengthen an adverse possession case, it isn’t a requirement to make a claim. 

Is Payment of Taxes a Requirement for Adverse Possession in North Carolina? 

In some states, squatters must be paying property taxes for the entire time they have been occupying the property to make an adverse possession claim. But similar to color of title, payment of taxes isn’t a requirement in North Carolina. 

How Can You Remove Squatters from Your North Carolina Property? 

No special laws in North Carolina exist for removing squatters from a property. Therefore, as a property owner, you must go through the tenant eviction process to have a squatter removed from your property. 

In North Carolina, the first step in a tenant eviction process begins with serving an eviction notice. Perhaps the most suitable notice to use on a squatter is the 10-Day Notice to Quit. It’ll give the squatter a maximum of ten days to either pay all due rent or get evicted. 

Some squatters may try to fight against their eviction in order to buy more time on the property. But generally speaking, without any legal paperwork allowing them to be on the property, they have no reason to be on the property. 

Once a judgment has been made in your favor, you’ll need to request the court for a Writ of Possession. The Writ of Possession will give the sheriff authority to forcefully evict the squatter from your premises. 

Please note that you cannot use self-help measures like changing locks or shutting off the utilities as these tactics are all illegal. The squatter can even sue you for damages if you’re found to have used them. 

Summary

It’s important as a North Carolina landlord to understand squatter's rights. You should also remain informed on landlord-tenant laws, the legal eviction process, leasing laws, and security deposit laws

If you would like help managing your rental properties or staying on top of changing laws, contact the trusted team at Weichert Realtors | Mark Thomas Properties Property Management today!


Disclaimer: This content is only meant to be informational. For expert legal advice, kindly consider hiring a qualified attorney or an experienced property management company.