Squatters' rights in North Carolina are addressed in the state's adverse possession laws. Adverse possession refers to the occupation of property belonging to another person without the owner's permission. If the squatter appears to be living on the property as a rightful occupant and fulfills every legal requirement of adverse possession, he may be able to eventually obtain title to the property as the legal owner. Matthew Fleishman, an attorney with Rosensteel Fleishman, PLLC, in Charlotte, North Carolina, writes that when the adverse possession law was enacted, the intent was to put land to good use.
Title Through Adverse Possession
North Carolina adverse possession laws require squatters to meet the strict requirements of the law:
- Twenty years of continuous possession
- Exclusive possession of the property, showing characteristics of a legal owner, such as residence and improvements
- Display possession hostile to the owner by living openly on the property without the owner's consent
If a squatter meets all of these conditions for the statutory period, in this case 20 years, then he may obtain legal ownership.
Seven Years of Adverse Possession
Squatters in North Carolina may obtain property in seven years through adverse possession when the possession is also combined with color of title. Color of title is addressed in North Carolina General Statute 1.38. When a property owner possesses color of title, this means that for some reason the title is invalid, such as the deed was not registered correctly or may even have been forged. To claim ownership through color of title, the squatter's seven-year possession must be continuous, obvious, exclusive and hostile to the owner's rights, just as with the general 20-year provision for adverse possession.
Squatting on State Property
Subject to the same requirements for private property – that possession be continuous, obvious, notorious and hostile – squatters on state-owned property must show that adverse possession has been continuous for 30 years. If the squatter also has color of title to the property, the uninterrupted occupation of state property must have lasted for 21 years, instead of seven.
North Carolina holds claim to the first adverse possession laws in the United States, enacted in 1715, according to Brian Gardiner in a paper published by the Indiana International and Comparative Law Review. Read his dissertation on the history of these laws in the U.S.
- Cornell University Law School Legal Information Institute: Color of Title
- Indiana University: Indiana International & Comparative Law Review: Squatters' Rights and Adverse Possession: A Search for Equitable Application of Property Laws
- North Carolina General Assembly: GS 1-35. Limitations, Real Property
- North Carolina General Assembly: GS 1-38. Seven Years' Possession under Color of Title
- North Carolina General Assembly: GS 1-40. Twenty Years Adverse Possession
- POB Online: Unmistakable Marks: Color of Title
- Rosensteel Fleishman: Adverse Possession - Squatting in North Carolina
- Rowan Free Press: Squatters Rights in Salisbury, N.C. -- Home of the Free Housing Movement