In recent months, the issue of squatting has taken main stage, causing significant concern for property owners across North Carolina, particularly those who own vacation homes or properties that remain vacant for parts of the year. The issue has become so bad in other areas of the country that an illegal immigrant TikToker went viral telling others how to “invade” American homes and invoke squatter’s rights. That won’t happen in North Carolina; I’ll make sure of it.

Squatting is a serious threat to property owners that can result in significant financial losses and prolonged legal battles. Florida recently took legislative action to curb squatting in their state; it’s time for North Carolina to reexamine our own laws and enforcement practices to fight against the practice of squatting.

In the context of North Carolina law, squatting is known as a form of “adverse possession.” Specifically, we look to NC General Statute § 1-40, which requires a squatter to possess a property “adversely” for a continuous period of 20 years to claim ownership.

This law is meant to provide clear, albeit long-term, pathways for property claims, balancing historical possession with rightful ownership. However, the actual enforcement of this statute becomes complicated — as squatters take steps to create fraudulent lease agreements or make claims that they’ve resided in the stolen property for longer than they really have. This often leaves many property owners without immediate protections against squatters.

Property owners in North Carolina’s seasonal vacation destinations — the mountains and the beach — are most likely to encounter these issues, as these properties often stand vacant during off-season months, becoming prime targets for squatters. Once squatters establish residency, the legal process to evict them, even if they do not meet the stringent requirements for adverse possession, can be lengthy and fraught with legal hurdles. Law enforcement often views these cases as civil matters, leading to delays in addressing property owners’ complaints as they work their way through the court system.

As the General Assembly goes back into session this week, I’m personally committed to exploring all available legislative solutions to address these issues and strengthen North Carolina’s anti-squatting laws, including:

  1. Streamlining the eviction process: Accelerating the timeline to evict squatters would reduce the burden on property owners and law enforcement personnel.
  2. Enhancing penalties and refine the definition: Creating stricter penalties and clarifying definitions for squatting would help deter the practice and aid law enforcement in taking decisive action.
  3. Collaborating with law enforcement and the courts: Developing educational materials in consultation with the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) will help guide property owners and local law enforcement with the information and resources needed to ensure quick response to squatting reports. Regular patrols and checks can be instituted in areas known for seasonal vacancies.

Current law provides North Carolina property owners with solid protections, but there’s more we can do to educate the public, provide immediate solutions, and support law enforcement efforts to protect the property rights for lawful owners — to help keep everyone safe.