Squatters Rights in South Carolina

By PropertyClub Team
Dec 17th 2023
If you discover an unwanted guest living on your South Carolina property and want to get them to leave, following the proper protocols to evict them is essential. These individuals are known as squatters and have certain rights you must respect, even if they are illegally on your property. Here's what you should know about squatters' rights in South Carolina.

hash-markSquatting vs. Trespassing in South Carolina

It is important to first acknowledge the difference between squatting and trespassing. Although they are often confused, squatting and trespassing are two separate concepts treated differently under the law. A squatter is a person who discovers a property they don't own and takes up residence without the owner's permission. A trespasser is a person who knowingly accesses someone else's property, even though it's been made apparent they are not welcome.

A squatter may become a trespasser, but the distinction is that the former may or may not know they are violating someone else's property rights. Therefore, trespassing is treated as a criminal offense, while squatting is a civil matter.

hash-markHow Do Squatters Claim Adverse Possession in South Carolina

Squatters also can eventually take ownership of the property they're occupying through a process called adverse possession. They don't have to pay or get permission from the rightful owner. If they are not removed from the property within a certain amount of time and they satisfy a few other conditions, the squatter can legally claim ownership through adverse possession.

South Carolina requires a squatter to live on the property for at least ten years before they have the right to claim adverse possession. They must also show that they've made improvements to the property and treated the same as if they were the true owner. Their occupation must also satisfy the following conditions:

  • Continuous: The squatter can't leave for an extended period and then come back.
  • Hostile: The true owner has not given the squatter permission to occupy the property.
  • Actual: The squatter must be physically present during the occupation of the property.
  • Exclusive: The squatter must live alone.
  • Open and Notorious: The occupation must be apparent to anyone visiting the property. If the squatter's residence is somehow hidden or concealed, they may be disqualified from claiming adverse possession.

But as long as they meet the legal criteria, the squatter may claim adverse possession after ten years of continuous occupation.

hash-markHow to Evict a Squatter in South Carolina

You have options if you discover a squatter on your property and want to get rid of them before they can claim adverse possession. However, it's important to proceed with caution and use the legal system if necessary. Take these steps to evict a squatter in South Carolina.

1. Negotiate with the Squatter

If you feel comfortable approaching the squatter, you can speak to them directly and ask them to leave peacefully. You could even offer them money to leave if you'd like to avoid the eviction process. This is often the simplest route to take, but use caution and don't risk it if you feel like they may be dangerous.

2. Contact the Authorities

The next step would be to call the police and alert them to the situation. They may be able to reason with the squatter and get them to leave peacefully. They can also provide advice on the eviction process and may be able to expedite the removal if the squatter is engaging in any illegal or threatening behavior.

3. Serve Them with An Eviction Notice

In the absence of any dangerous activity, the only way to forcibly remove the squatter from your property is to evict them. You can start the process by serving them an eviction notice. There are no specific laws regarding the eviction of squatters in South Carolina, but you can use either a 5-day notice to pay rent or a 7-day notice to quit.  

4. Take them to Court

If the squatter still refuses to leave, you can request a Rule or Order to Show Cause, which will trigger a hearing before a judge. During the hearing, you will be allowed to present any evidence that you are the rightful owner of the property and that you want the squatter removed. Without a lease in place, the judge will likely approve the eviction.

5. Have the Sheriff Evict Them

After winning an eviction case in court, you can apply for a writ of ejectment, which gives the squatter 24 hours to vacate the premises. If they do not leave the property, the sheriff will set up a time to come and forcibly evict them.

hash-markSouth Carolina Squatters Rights Bottom Line

Although dealing with a squatter on your property can be a major inconvenience, it's wise to handle the situation delicately and take the necessary steps to get rid of them the right way. Self-help evictions are illegal in South Carolina, and you may get into trouble if you try to forcibly remove the squatter on your own.