Nothing comes for free, but with a lot of time and some perseverance, you could own a piece of property that once belonged to someone else. This concept of taking over a property until you eventually become the rightful owner of it is called adverse possession. Some people refer to this as “squatter’s rights” although that has no legal definition. To validly adversely possess a property you must openly, obviously, and actually be on the land treating it as your own, as well as exclusively and continuously for as many years as is required by state law. In South Carolina, the time period is 10 years.
South Carolina used dredge to fill in part of the Savannah River, attaching to its shore or affecting the Barnwell Islands and Oyster Bed Islands. Since Georgia knew about this, but didn’t do anything, the Supreme Court decided the island belonged to South Carolina, even though a treaty from the 1700s gave all the islands in the river to Georgia.
The following table outlines the main parts of South Carolina’s adverse possession laws.
|Code Section||South Carolina Code Title 15: Civil Remedies & Procedures, Chapter 67: Recovery of Real Property, Article 3: Possession & Adverse Possession|
|Time Period Required for Occupation||A person must occupy the property for 10 years to be able to claim ownership by adverse possession. A person may have a title that they believe is valid to the property, but it turns out it isn’t. As long as he or she openly occupies the property for 10 years with this invalid title, then he or she will have adversely possessed the property. This is called adverse possession under “color of title.”|
|Time for Landowner to Challenge and the Effect of Landowner's Disability||Unlike some states, which explicitly provide in their statutes for reasons the rightful owner may have been unable to defend their rights, South Carolina’s statutes are silent. If the landowner is a minor or has mental disabilities that prevent him or her from using the property or kicking off the trespasser, the South Carolina courts would have to review the common law, or older cases, to determine the outcome.|
|Improvements||One way to come into possession of the land is to make improvements on the property. When a person has a written document or court decree, the person is deemed to possess and occupy the land when it’s been cultivated, improved, fenced in, used for fuel or timber or animal husbandry, farmed, etc.
However, when a person adversely possesses a property with no “color of title” or no written instrument or court decree, then only the actual premises occupied (such as the home that was built and the surrounding area). The farmed or improved area wouldn’t be included in this case.
|Adjoining Landowner Adverse Possession||It’s possible for a neighbor to build a driveway, patio, or sidewalk that encroaches onto a neighbor’s land. Ten years later, that driveway and the land beneath it, if exclusively used by the neighbor who built it, belongs to the neighbor now.
To avoid losing land, even small amounts, in this way, you’ll want to create a written document showing that you are granting temporary possession to use the land that can be revoked at any time. You may have other options, including preventing the improvement at all. Although, in South Carolina, property owners can ask the court for a license to enter a neighbor’s property if it’s the only way to access part of their property to improve, repair, or maintain it.
|Landlord-Tenant Relationship||When the landowner and the adverse possessor previously had a landlord-tenant relationship, the 10-year time period doesn’t begin until the lease expired or when the tenant first refused to pay rent if there was no written lease.|
Whether you’re trying to adversely possess the land you’re living on or you’re concerned a trespasser may be acquiring rights to your land, you should speak with an experienced South Carolina real estate lawyer to help evaluate the situation and determine what your options are.
Note: State laws change regularly, so it’s best to verify any laws you’re researching by conducting your own legal research or contacting a South Carolina attorney.
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