North Carolina has always prided itself on welcoming new residents with open arms. Our vibrant culture, strong economy, and low taxes have made us an attractive destination for people from all over the country. However, the influx of new residents has highlighted our significant housing challenges. Our state’s housing issues are multifaceted and complex, but one relatively straightforward issue we can fix quickly are our state’s outdated and inefficient processes for removing unlawful occupants in North Carolinian homes.

The current process is laden with unusually burdensome administrative and judicial processes, further exacerbated by the aftershocks from the pandemic, which encourage the growing and unwelcome phenomenon of squatting — which is criminal trespassing. This crime plagues countless communities across our state. This is one of the issues contributing to a shortage of affordable housing and demands immediate legislative action.

Houses and apartments that should be accessible to responsible tenants are instead occupied by individuals who do not pay rent, thereby diminishing the housing supply. This phenomenon creates a vicious cycle where property owners lose vital rental income, leaving would-be tenants with fewer options. To make matters worse, the significant costs associated with removing these individuals get passed on to our North Carolinian renters, further hurting affordability. Simply put, to make housing more accessible and affordable, we must reform our eviction and squatting laws.

North Carolina’s broken eviction system does more than limit housing supply — it also undermines the safety of our communities. Delinquent tenants and squatters often engage in illegal activities, turning illegitimately occupied homes into hubs for crimes such as drug dealing and even human trafficking. These activities endanger our citizens and erode the sense of neighborly trust that residents value. A streamlined removal process can help mitigate these risks and restore safety to our communities.

Moreover, squatters and delinquent tenants can significantly harm property values. Squatters often neglect property maintenance and community standards, leading to declining neighborhood appeal. Property owners face the immediate financial loss of unpaid rent, the burden of costly repairs, homeowner association fines, and often, asset and neighborhood value depreciation. Quick and efficient resolution of residency issues is essential to maintaining the integrity and value of our neighborhoods.

Reforming our removal laws is also a matter of upholding property rights, which are the bedrock of a free society. Individuals should be entitled to protect their investments and ensure that their private property is not compromised by bureaucratic red tape and criminals taking advantage of the current system. Unfortunately, the current system undermines these rights, leaving property owners at the mercy of a lengthy and convoluted removal process that favors squatters over rightful owners.

When it comes to combating the squatting scourge, the stability of North Carolina’s economy and communities are at stake. Neither families nor businesses can lay down roots in neighborhoods terrorized by squatters. What’s more, the financial burden caused by unlawful residents often forces property owners to increase rent on law-abiding tenants, which disproportionately and unfairly harms those already fighting to afford rent and raise their families in communities of their choice.

It is clear that the squatting epidemic demands answers, which can be found in two bills  I have introduced: HB 1070 and HB 984. These bills meet our problems head-on by reforming the removal process with a common-sense approach. HB 984 empowers our men and women in law enforcement to remove squatters more easily, while HB 1070 seeks to address the root cause issues: a creaking legal system that is ill-equipped to handle this scourge. The legislature must act on these bills this session to protect property rights and ensure the availability of safe and affordable housing for all North Carolinians.

Reforming and strengthening our removal laws are apparent steps we can take to prevent further abuses and address the root causes of the problem. Such measures are essential to restoring the integrity of a system designed to protect both landlords and legitimate tenants.

North Carolina’s future depends on our ability to foster safe and stable communities to support our growing population. The time has come to work together to secure a better tomorrow for all who want to call North Carolina home.