Property Management Blog

Squatting Laws in North Carolina - An Overview

KRS Holdings - Wednesday, May 25, 2022

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In North Carolina, Squatters’ Rights are a form of Adverse Possession. 

This means that a squatter can adversely own your property as long as they meet all the requirements under Adverse Possession laws. 

More often than not, squatters target homes that are unoccupied, abandoned, or foreclosed. 

Therefore, if you have a vacation or summer home, your property could be at risk of getting occupied by squatters. 

Investment rental properties that experience long vacancy periods could also be at risk. 

As a property owner, it’s important that you familiarize yourself with North Carolina squatting laws in order to better protect your investment. 

The following is a basic overview of the squatting laws in North Carolina. 

What rights do squatters have in North Carolina? Here's a guide 

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To take legal possession of your property adversely, a squatter must meet certain requirements.

Firstly, the squatter must reside there for at least 20 years of continuous occupation. 

The only exception to the 20 years requirement is if the squatter has Color of Title. In which case, the period of continuous occupation will be reduced to 7 years. 

Color of Title means claim to a title that appears to be legally valid but is defective. In other words, the owner may be missing one or more of the required documents required for proper legal ownership. The owner may be missing a registration, for instance. 

But either way, the period of occupation (either 7 or 20) must be continuous. ‘Continuous’ means that the squatter must have occupied the unit uninterrupted for that period. They must not have left and then returned to it later. 

The squatter must demonstrate ‘actual possession.’

Under the ‘Actual Possession’ doctrine, a trespasser must physically possess the property they want to own through adverse means. A squatter may be able to prove that by documenting upkeep efforts. 

A good example of an upkeep effort is landscaping. The squatter may add fencing or plant trees, and this can help strengthen their case against you, the actual owner. (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 1-38(b)(1)).

The squatting must be obvious to anyone. 

A squatter seeking to own a property adversely must make their occupation obvious to anyone around. Even the actual property owner should be able to tell that there is indeed someone squatting there if they come back to their property. 

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In other words, the squatter must not try to hide the fact that they are living on the property. 

The occupation must be exclusive. 

North Carolina Adverse Possession laws also require that the squatter be the only one possessing the property. 

If they share the occupation with other squatters, their claim will be dismissed. 

The claim must be hostile. 

Unlike the typical meaning, “hostile” takes on three different definitions under Adverse Possession Laws. 

The first definition is “Simple Occupation.” Most states go by this definition. It defines “hostile” as mere property occupation. 

The squatter may or may not know that they are living on someone else’s property. 

The other definition is “Awareness of Trespassing.” Here, the squatter must be aware that their occupation amounts to trespassing. 

Lastly, “hostile” can be defined as a “Good Faith Mistake.” This assumes that the trespasser has made an innocent mistake in occupying the property. The squatter may have, for instance, relied on an incorrect deed. 

Frequently Asked Questions about NC Squatters Rights

Is squatting trespassing? 

Not necessarily. Whereas trespassing is a felony, squatting is normally civil in nature. 

That said, squatting can become trespassing if the owner makes it clear that a squatter is no longer welcome. 

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Is payment of property taxes a requirement for Adverse Possession? 

In some states, squatters need to have been paying taxes for the statutory period in order to make an adverse possession claim. 

This is, however, not the case in the state of North Carolina. 

How can you protect your North Carolina property against squatters? 

There are various ways in which you can protect your property against squatters. The following are a couple of ways. 

  • Inspect your property on a routine basis. 
  • Ask a neighbor to keep watch over your property if you’re going to be away for an extended period of time. 
  • Secure all entrances to the property. This should include doors and windows. 
  • Put up “No Trespassing” signs on the property to dissuade potential intruders. 
  • Hire a qualified property management company to help you keep your property rented.  

But should you find a squatter already living on your property, make sure to act professionally. 

Specifically, understand what you can and can’t do. You could, for instance, offer to rent the property to them, if you want. 

Another option would be to evict them through the judicial eviction process. 

Please note that it’d be unlawful for you to ‘self-evict’ them. The following are examples of ‘self-help eviction’ tactics:

  • Removing their belongings from the property. 
  • Cutting off amenities that they were previously using. 
  • Locking them out of the property. 

These are all illegal ways of removing a squatter or tenant from the unit they are occupying. They could sue you for damages. 

How can you get rid of a squatter in North Carolina? 

No special laws exist in North Carolina for removing a squatter. As a landlord, you must go through the state’s judicial eviction process in order to have a squatter evicted from your property. 

The Bottom Line

KRS Property Management is well-versed in North Carolina laws. 

In addition, as a full-service property management company, we can also help manage your Virginia Beach rental property reliably and professionally. 

We'll keep your property rented year-round to responsible tenants.

Our goal is to generate the results you deserve! You can get in touch with us by dialing (757) 986-0526.