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North Carolina Adverse Possession Laws

The legal doctrine known as "adverse possession" allows trespassers who openly inhabit and improve an otherwise abandoned piece of property to gain title to that property after certain conditions are met. For instance, North Carolina's adverse possession laws require an individual to occupy an otherwise neglected property publicly for at least 20 years, or seven years with "color of title" (meaning he or she has reason to believe they have the right to possess the property).

The following chart lists the main provisions of North Carolina adverse possession laws, and in-depth information follows.

Code Section 1-38, et seq.; 1-17
Time Period Required for Occupation 20 yrs.and Color of Title: 7 yrs.
Time for Landowner to Challenge/Effect of Landowner's Disability After disability lifted: 3 yrs.
Improvements -
Payment of Taxes -
Title from Tax Assessor -

Justifications for Adverse Possession

One of the biggest justifications for adverse possession is that it gives title to the person who gives a beneficial use to the land. Rather than let the land go unused by the actual owner, the adverse possessor usually makes improvements to the land and doesn't let it sit around wasted.

Requirements for Adverse Possession in North Carolina

Every state has its own specifics for adverse possession, and North Carolina is no exception. The basic requirements for every adverse possession claim are open and notorious use, hostile claim, exclusive use, continuous use, using for the statutorily defined time period, and sometimes having "color of title"

Open and Notorious Use

North Carolina requires that trespassers use the land openly and publicly in order to make a claim. This gives the actual owner the opportunity to see the trespassers use, and tell the trespasser to leave if the owner is actually using the land.

Hostile Use

"Hostile" does not mean that there is any aggression between the trespasser and the actual owner. It means that the trespasser's use of the land has to be incompatible with the actual owner's use and ownership of the land. Generally, this must mean that the owner has not given the adverse possessor permission to use the land.

Exclusive Use

Just like actual ownership, the adverse possessor has to use the land exclusively in order to make a claim for the land. If the adverse possession claimant is only one of many people who use the land, they probably don't have a strong claim.

Continuous Use

The adverse possessor must use the land continuously, and not intermittently. This doesn't mean that they have to be on the land constantly, just that they have to use the land continuously like an actual owner would.

For the Statutory Period

North Carolina's statutory period for adverse possession is twenty years. This means that the adverse possessor must fulfill the above requirements for twenty years before they have a valid claim for adverse possession. If the adverse possessor has "color of title", the statutory period is seven years.

Color of Title

Color of title means that the adverse possessor has a document or reason to believe that the land is legally theirs. This is not a requirement in North Carolina, but will reduce the statutory period from twenty years to seven years.

If you would like to know more about adverse possession law in North Carolina, there are many attorneys throughout the state with real estate experience who may be able to help. In addition to advising you about the current adverse possession requirements, they may also be able to help you make a claim for adverse possession, or defend against a trespasser who wants to take title to your land.

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