Squatter's Rights

North Carolina Squatter’s Rights

December 30, 2023

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Squatters In North Carolina

Squatters – those mysterious figures who move into abandoned or vacant properties – have long been a subject of curiosity and confusion. Many people wonder—and fear—how squatters sometimes end up with legal ownership of the property they’ve occupied.  

Squatters’ rights exist in various forms across the United States, including North Carolina. The requirements for claiming these rights vary from state to state, making it essential to understand the specific laws in your area. The squatters rights North Carolina provides differ from those provided in other states. 

While you can feel comforted that it is notoriously difficult for a squatter to fulfill all the requirements necessary to make a successful legal claim to your property, it never hurts to be prepared. In this article, we’ll cover North Carolina squatters rights and explain how adverse possession works in this state. 

Overview 

  • Minimum Occupation Required: 20 consecutive years 
  • Property Taxes Required? No 
  • Color of Title Required? Optional; 7 years occupation sufficient 

Who Are Squatters? 

A squatter is someone who occupies someone else’s property without legal ownership or permission from the property owner. They often move into vacant, abandoned, or neglected properties. Squatters could squat temporarily (e.g., for a few weeks) or for years at a time, and they do not pay rent. 

While the term “squatter” probably summons a certain image in your mind, it’s important to note that not all squatters have nefarious intentions. A squatter could be someone who thought they legally owned a property that has been passed down in their family over many generations, only to find out years later that the title officially belongs to someone else. 

Who Isn’t a Squatter? 

Not everyone who occupies or enters a property without permission is a squatter. For instance, tenants with expired leases are not squatters. Rather, they are “holdover tenants,” or previous tenants who once had legal possession but no longer have the right to live in the property. Likewise, individuals who trespass on your property are also not squatters, as this is a criminal offense. Criminal trespassers are people who enter onto your private property but do not live there, while squatters actually occupy and live on the vacant property. 

What Are Squatter’s Rights /Adverse Possession? 

Squatter’s rights, also known as adverse possession, refer to the general legal principles that allow squatters to gain legal possession and ownership of a property through a long period of occupation, even without the owner’s permission. While squatter’s rights might seem antiquated today, the principles of adverse possession were established to reward the productive use of land and discourage neglect of properties.  

There is no federal property law governing squatter’s rights, but there are legal precedents for them in each state and laws governing some of the requirements to claim adverse possession. 

North Carolina Squatters Rights 

So, what are squatters rights in North Carolina and how does a squatter go about claiming adverse possession in this state? To make a successful adverse possession claim according to the squatters rights North Carolina provides, a squatter must meet one of the following requirements as per NCGS § 1-38, 1-39

  • Occupy a North Carolina property for at least 20 continuous years 
  • Occupy the property with color of title for at least seven continuous years 

“Color of title” refers to nontraditional ownership of a property, usually with an incorrect or invalid deed. Color of title is not required for a squatter to file a squatters rights NC claim, but it does reduce the minimum occupation time from 20 to seven years.  

Some states also require squatters to pay property taxes for the entire length of their occupation before claiming squatter’s rights. This is not the case in North Carolina—squatters can file a valid adverse possession claim without paying property taxes on the land they intend to claim, nor will doing so decrease the occupation time like having color of title does. However, evidence that the squatter is able to pay property taxes may strengthen their case and increase their chances of convincing the court that they should have ownership. 

Squatters must also meet five general requirements for an adverse possession claim: 

  1. Hostile/Adverse Possession—The squatter must not have a valid lease or rental agreement with the owner.  
  1. Actual Possession—The squatter must have actively lived in the property (actual possession) for a certain length of time.  
  1. Open and Notorious Possession—The squatter’s possession of the property is open and obvious to neighbors or anyone else. They aren’t living there “in secret” or trying to hide their presence from the legal owner. 
  1. Exclusive Possession—The squatter does not share possession of the property with anyone else. They prevent others from living there like an owner would.  
  1. Continuous Possession—The squatter must hold uninterrupted and continuous possession of the property (seven or 20 years of continuous possession in North Carolina) 

How Does a Squatter Claim Adverse Possession/ Squatters Rights in North Carolina? 

If a squatter has fulfilled both the requirements for squatters rights in North Carolina and the general squatter’s rights principles above, they can file an adverse possession claim or bring an action to “quiet title.” Quiet title is the legal action to determine the right of possession and ownership of a particular property. 

Note, however, that just because a squatter files a claim, this does not mean they will be successful. There are many obstacles to winning an adverse possession case—for instance, the squatter would need to: 

  • Gather ample evidence for their claim (e.g., mail addressed to the property in their name, property tax receipts, evidence that they’ve “beautified” the property, etc.) 
  • File a quiet title complaint with the court 
  • Attend a hearing with the property owner in front of a judge, where they’ll present their case for adverse possession and provide any correct legal documents 
  • Successfully convince a judge that they have fulfilled all the state requirements for adverse possession/ squatter’s rights in North Carolina 
  • Receive a judgment for adverse possession to receive legal title and become the property owner 

As you can see, a squatter has an enormous burden of proof when claiming ownership of your property. It is a highly complex process that often requires the squatter to hire an attorney and to have lived in your property for many years. In all likelihood, a squatter situation you’re involved in won’t escalate to a successful action to quiet title. 

How to Remove a Squatter in North Carolina 

In North Carolina, as in almost all other states, removing a squatter necessitates the full judicial eviction process. Treating the squatter like any other tenant ensures that any adverse possession claim they file is invalid. If you find out that a squatter is living in your property, you need to provide proper notice, file a formal eviction complaint in court, and attend (or get your attorney to attend) a hearing to lawfully remove the squatter. 

Here is an overview of the North Carolina eviction process for squatters: 

  1. To begin eviction proceedings, property owners must serve the squatter a formal eviction notice according to North Carolina laws. Possible eviction notices in North Carolina include:  
    • A ten-day pay-or-quit notice for rent nonpayment 
    • A notice period of your choosing for lease violations, property damage, or illegal activity on the premises. North Carolina law does not specify the notice periods for these actions, so you can choose whichever period works best for you.  
    1. Following the notice period, the owner must file a complaint for eviction in addition to other legal paperwork with the North Carolina District or Superior Court. 
    1. The court will issue a summons, to be served to the squatter by certified mail or by hiring the sheriff to serve it. 
    1. Both parties will attend a court hearing to present evidence of lawful ownership (the landowner’s lawyer or manager from a property management company can attend in lieu of the landowner). 
    1. Upon confirming ownership of the property owner, the court will issue a writ of possession after ten days have passed since the judgment. Once served, the writ gives the squatter up to five days to move out (in the case of illegal activity, the squatter will be removed immediately). 
    1. If the squatter does not vacate the property within the period listed on the writ, the sheriff will return to the property to forcibly remove them.  

    Remember that police officers cannot remove squatters—you must call the sheriff, who has the appropriate jurisdiction to remove the squatter. 

    How to Prevent Squatters from Living in Your Vacant North Carolina Property 

    Here are a few practical tips to prevent squatters from moving into your vacant property and attempting to claim squatters rights in North Carolina. 

    • Regularly inspect your property. 
    • Make your property appear inhabited during vacancy periods. 
    • Install adequate lighting and security systems to deter unauthorized entry. 
    • Secure all doors, windows, and access points with sturdy locks and barriers. 
    • Post “No Trespassing” signs on the property. 
    • Encourage neighbors to report any suspicious activity to the property manager. 
    • Consider hiring an experienced property management company to oversee and maintain the property. 
    • If feasible, keep the property in use, even if temporarily, to discourage squatting. 
    • Develop a good relationship with local law enforcement and notify them of the property’s vacancy to increase patrols and response to trespassing. 
    • Educate yourself on the squatters rights NC provides and be aware of any changes to them. 
    • Know the steps of the eviction process. 

    Conclusion 

    Knowledge is indeed power when it comes to understanding the laws that regulate property possession, ownership, and squatters rights in North Carolina. However, it’s worth noting that adverse possession laws are unlikely to come into play in most cases. Property neglect to the extent that a squatter could go unnoticed for the required period is rare, emphasizing the importance of vigilance and preventative measures in protecting property rights. However, now that you understand squatter’s rights in North Carolina and the appropriate legal proceedings to restore property ownership to the actual owner, you can feel comforted that you are prepared should a squatter dispute ever arise. 

    Innago does not provide legal advice. The content and materials provided in this article are for general informational purposes only and may not be the most up-to-date information. 

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