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Squatter's Rights

South Carolina Squatter’s Rights

January 2, 2024

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Squatters in South Carolina

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

Squatters’ rights exist in various forms across the United States, including South 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 South Carolina provides are different from those provided in other states, as they are codified in the South Carolina code. 

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 South Carolina’s squatter’s rights and explain how a squatter can claim adverse possession in this state. 

Overview 

  • Minimum Occupation Required: 10 consecutive years 
  • Property Taxes Required? No 
  • Color of Title Required? Yes 

Who Are Squatters? 

A squatter is someone who occupies an abandoned or unoccupied 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 no longer have the right to live in the property. Likewise, trespassers are also not squatters. 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 ownership of a property through a long period of possession, even without the permission of the property owner. 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 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. 

South Carolina Squatters Rights 

What are squatters rights in South Carolina? 

To make a successful claim for adverse possession in South Carolina, a squatter must meet both of the following requirements as per South Carolina law (SC Stat. § 15-67-210): 

  • Occupy the property for at least ten continuous years 
  • Have color of title for at least ten continuous years 

Color of title refers to nontraditional ownership of a property, usually without an official deed to the property or other legal documents. Some states require squatters to have color of title before filing an adverse possession claim, while others allow squatters to obtain it through the adverse possession process. South Carolina falls in the former case—squatters must have color of title (and occupy the property) for at least ten consecutive years before filing a claim. 

Some states also require squatters to pay property taxes before filing for adverse possession. This is not the case in South Carolina—nor will having paid property taxes decrease the occupation minimum. Paying property taxes on the land may, however, strengthen a squatter’s legal case and increase their chances of convincing a court. 

Squatters must also meet five general requirements: 

  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 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.  
  1. Exclusive Possession—The squatter does not share possession of the property with anyone else. They prevent others from living there like a property owner would.  
  1. Continuous Possession—The squatter must hold uninterrupted and continuous possession of the property (for ten consecutive years in South Carolina). 

How Does a Squatter Claim Adverse Possession in South Carolina? 

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

Note, however, that just because a squatter files an adverse possession 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 adverse possession 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 you in front of a judge, where they’ll present their case for adverse possession or squatters rights 
  • Successfully convince a judge that they have fulfilled all the state requirements for an adverse possession claim and are the rightful owner 
  • Receive a judgment to prove adverse possession and perfect the title 

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 South Carolina 

In South Carolina, as in almost all other states, removing a squatter necessitates the full 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 South Carolina eviction process for squatters: 

  1. The owner must send a formal eviction notice, as per South Carolina eviction laws. In South Carolina, the possible eviction notices are: 
    • A five-day notice to pay or quit (for nonpayment) 
    • A 14-day notice to cure or quit (for lease violations or negligence in a way that materially affects health and safety) 
    • An immediate unconditional notice to quit (for illegal activity on the premises) 
  1. After the notice period has expired, the owner must file a complaint of forcible detainer with the South Carolina Circuit or Magistrate Court. 
  1. The court will issue a summons to court, also known as a Rule to Vacate or Show Cause, which must be served to the squatter by the sheriff of another authorized process server. 
  1. The owner must attend a hearing to present evidence of lawful ownership of the property to the judge. 
  1. Upon confirming ownership, the judge will issue a warrant/writ of ejectment, giving the squatter 24 hours to move out. 
  1. If the squatter refuses move out, the sheriff will return to forcibly remove them. 

The formal legal process for eviction is the only way to remove a squatter. Property owners cannot remove squatters by force, as this could be classified as assault. Also 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 South Carolina Property 

Here are a few practical tips to prevent squatters from moving into your vacant property: 

  • 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. 
  • Consider hiring a 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. 

Conclusion 

Knowledge is indeed power when it comes to understanding the laws that regulate property possession and ownership. 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. 

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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