South Carolina Squatter Laws

South Carolina squatter laws allow a squatter to make an adverse possession claim if they have lived on and maintained property for ten years.
Written by Payton Ternus
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff
Updated on Jul 07, 2022
It’s important to understand squatting laws in
South Carolina
if you own property there. Squatters in South Carolina have the right to make an adverse possession claim on a property if they have lived there for at least ten years and made improvements to the property throughout that period.
There is a stigma around squatting in the U.S.—but did you know that in many cases it is legal? This could be good news if you do not have stable housing, but it could be a constant worry for any property owners with unoccupied buildings.
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Who’s considered a squatter in South Carolina?

In the state of South Carolina, living in an abandoned, foreclosed, or unoccupied property without permission from the property owner is referred to as squatting.
Beginning in the 1850s, the U.S. government defined the rights of squatters by passing laws. The difference between squatting and criminal acts, like trespassing, was made clear by these laws.

Squatting vs. trespassing vs. holdover tenants

How can you tell the difference between squatting and trespassing? It’s actually fairly simple: the difference is found in whether or not the property was vacant and if the owner of the property made it clear that squatters are not welcome at the property.
Someone is trespassing in your home if they settle in as a resident without your express permission while you are also living there.
If you have made it clear that squatters are not welcome at your property through posting signs and written or verbal warnings, then anyone attempting to squat there can be charged with trespassing. However, it may not be trespassing if the property is empty and the squatter has no way of knowing they are not welcome there.
Are holdover tenants considered to be squatters? If a tenant stays in a property after their leasing agreement is up, they could be considered trespassers. If they keep paying rent and the landlord allows it, then they become tenants at will.

Adverse possession laws in South Carolina 

Adverse possession laws in South Carolina allow individuals to claim another’s property in cases of squatting. To have a legal basis for this kind of claim, the squatter must have lived at the property for at least ten years, made improvements to the property, and satisfied the requirements listed below. However, South Carolina law does not require the squatter to
pay property taxes

Hostile possession

The title sounds harsher than the reality—hostile possession refers to a squatter living at a property without the property owner’s permission. Trespassing is categorized as hostile possession, but cases of “good faith” or “simple” occupation when the individual isn’t aware their actions are unlawful are also considered to fall in this group.

Active possession

A squatter must have active control over the property they inhabit to meet the adverse possession claim requirements. They must be living on the property, make improvements to the property, and protect it with an enclosure.

Open and notorious possession

Squatters can only make an adverse possession claim if they have been living at a property openly. If they have been hiding away, their claim will not be validated. It must be apparent that they are living there to have grounds for the claim.

Exclusive possession

A group of strangers can all squat on the same property and live together. Adverse possession claims will not be recognized in these situations in South Carolina—the squatter making the claim must be the only one living at the property for ten years.

Continuous possession

Continuous possession is crucial to making an adverse possession claim. A squatter has to be in continuous possession of the property for at least ten years, and they must make improvements to the property.
This ten-year period can make it harder for adverse possession claims to be recognized by the law.
Key Takeaway Making an adverse possession claim in South Carolina requires ten years of continuous residence paired with improvements made to the property.

Does South Carolina honor color of title claims?

There are some U.S. states that honor “color of title” claims, which means squatters are not required to have all of the correct paperwork to make their adverse possession claim. South Carolina is included among these states.

How to protect yourself from squatters

South Carolina offers some legal protection for squatters, but you can cover both yourself and any property you own from unforeseen legal battles with squatters using these tips:
  • Install alarms and locks: Locks and a decent security system can deter unlawful entry if you do not live at a property full-time.
  • Pay property taxes on time: You can prevent other people from claiming your property by paying your property taxes.
  • Post “no trespassing” signs: Making it clear that squatters are not welcome on your property can derail potential adverse possession claims.
  • Visit your properties often: It’s much easier for squatters to settle in if there’s no one else at home.
If you do find squatters at a property you own, there are a few steps you can take. You can advise them you are the property owner and ask them to leave, offer to rent out your property to them and let them stay, contact local law enforcement, or file an unlawful detainer suit to have them removed from your property.
Use caution—some actions could land you in legal hot water. Don’t threaten the squatters or turn off any utilities on the property. You can safely have squatters removed through the correct legal channels.

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