Be aware that there is a key distinction between a squatter and a trespasser. A trespasser is someone who knowingly accesses someone else’s property, even though the owner has made it apparent they aren’t welcome. A squatter is someone who resides on a property they don’t own and may or may not be aware that they are breaking any laws. Although it’s a subtle distinction, it changes the way the legal system treats them. Squatting is usually a civil matter, while trespassing is often a criminal offense.
After a certain amount of time has passed, the squatter may claim a right to the property they’re living on if the true owner has not evicted them. This is done through a process called adverse possession. According to North Carolina law, the squatter may reclaim the land through adverse possession after occupying it for at least 20 years. Plus, their occupation must satisfy the following conditions:
- Continuous: The squatter cannot leave for an extended period and then come back.
- Open and Notorious: The squatter’s occupation can’t be hidden, and it must be apparent to anyone visiting the property that someone else is living there.
- Hostile: The squatter must know they are living on someone else’s property without their consent and cannot have an existing lease or rental agreement.
- Exclusive: The squatter must live alone, not with a larger group.
- Actual: The squatter must physically occupy the property and show signs of improving and maintaining it.
Before the 20 years have passed and the squatter has a right to claim adverse possession, the rightful owner of the property may alert authorities and have them removed. However, to get rid of a squatter in North Carolina, you must go through a formal eviction process before the sheriff will come and forcibly remove them. Here are the steps you should take.
1. Try to Negotiate with the Squatter
First, you can try having a conversation with the squatter and see if they will agree to leave peacefully. Exercise caution when approaching them, but getting the squatter to leave of their own accord is usually the simplest option.
2. Contact the Authorities
If they refuse to leave on their own or you believe they could be dangerous, you should contact the sheriff’s office. They can often step in to remove the squatter if they are engaging in any illegal or dangerous behavior on the property or advise you on how to file for eviction.
3. Serve the Squatter a 10-day Notice to Quit
Before you can evict a squatter, you must serve them with notice to leave, the same way you would with any regular tenant. You can use a few different forms, but the most common is the 10-day notice to quit, which gives them ten days to pay rent or vacate the premises.
4. Secure a Writ of Possession
After ten days, you can file a complaint with the court to secure a writ of possession, allowing the sheriff to come in and forcibly remove the squatter. The court will issue a summons and let you state your case. Although the squatter is allowed to contest the eviction without a proper lease, the judge will likely rule in your favor.
5. Let the Sheriff Remove the Squatter
Once you’ve secured the writ of possession, you should sit back and let the sheriff handle it. Self-help evictions are illegal in North Carolina, and you can get into trouble if you try to forcibly remove the squatter on your own. So, if they refuse to leave peacefully, leave it up to the authorities.
Although dealing with a squatter in North Carolina can be a major hassle, you must follow the legal process and let law enforcement escort them off the property if needed. They still have certain rights you must respect to avoid facing any legal consequences yourself.