Earlier this year, a homeowner in Queens, New York, was arrested after changing the locks on her $1 million dollar home to keep squatters out.

In New York, it is illegal to turn off utilities, change locks, or remove the belongings of someone who claims to be a tenant, according to a report by Fox News. Not only was this squatter residing in the home, but he was renting out rooms in the home as well.

The story made national news and sparked interest among North Carolina lawmakers to ensure the rights of private property owners were protected in the Tar Heel State.

“The biggest driving thing, we’re seeing as a whole in our nation is this drive towards emotional law,” Rep. Jeff Zenger, one of the co-sponsors of HB966 and HB984, told the Carolina Journal. “In other words, it doesn’t really matter what the law is if I have an emotional argument; if I’m emotional about it, then that must be what we have to do. It is ridiculous.”

On May 1, multiple bills were filed addressing property rights: HB 966 Expedited Removal of Unauthorized Persons was filed along with HB984 Removal of Squatters from Private Property. The North Carolina Senate also has a companion bill to HB 966 in SB 886. 

“One of the things this country is built on, and our economy was built on, was property rights,” said Zenger. “That’s what was great and new about America because when people came here, they could own property. They didn’t have to be a lord or an earl or born in the right family. They could own property; so property rights are a big part of what built this nation. Now we’re just saying, ‘Well, you know, but if somebody moves in, they got rights now to be on your property.’ No, they have the right to leave or enter into a lease or purchase agreement. But they don’t have a right to take it over.”

Though the two House bills appear identical at first glance, they have subtle, yet critical differences. 

The language in HB 966 specifies that the text applies to “residential” dwellings, while HB 984 includes property “In connection” or “appurtenant” to a residential dwelling (possibly referring to ‘granny flats’ or similar spaces). In addition, HB 984 also targets property not intended for public accommodation “at the time” the unauthorized person entered. 

House Bill 966 further specifies the sheriff’s office should handle these complaints, whereas House Bill 984 allows for the possibility of local police departments handling them.

Another distinction between the texts exists in that HB984 labels the complaint regarding “private real property,” while HB 966 uses the term “residential real property.”

“What the one bill says is two things: one, you have to have a written agreement,” explained Zenger in reference to HB966.”If you don’t have a written agreement, you have zero right to be there. And then it gives the sheriff the ability to move you out. So what’s been happening around the country is, ‘Well, because they’re there, we’re going to go ahead and transfer all these rights to them have like they have a lease.’  Well, they don’t have a lease. So that is really the crux of it. We’re seeing this everywhere.”

HB 966 explicitly states that a person without a written lease agreement has no legal right to occupy the property. 

“All contracts to sell or convey any lands, tenements, or hereditaments, or any interest in or concerning them …shall be void unless said contract, or some memorandum or note thereof, be put in writing and signed by the party to be charged therewith or by some other person by him thereto lawfully authorized,” reads the draft text of HB 966.

HB984  has similar language, but with subtle differences concerning how and by whom the request to remove unauthorized persons is handled.  

“A property owner or authorized agent of the property owner may request from a law enforcement agency with jurisdiction over where the private property is located the removal of a person or persons unlawfully occupying the property…” reads the draft text of  HB 984

HB 984 also does not include a clause requiring a written contract.

Senators Moffitt and Hanig, two of the primary sponsors for SB 886, did not respond to the Carolina Journal’s request for comment.