South Carolina Adverse Possession Rights

South Carolina Adverse Possession Rights

Imagine you own a large tract of land, and you discover someone has been using it for years without you even realizing it.  It may seem clear that you can get rid of them without much complication.  After all, we all know it’s wrong to take or borrow something without permission.  What about when a squatter starts living on a property you own? Surprisingly, the law occasionally allows the transfer property rights, even when there is no permission.

It may seem counterintuitive to say that a person can basically trespass on another’s land so long that it becomes their property. However, this can actually happen in rare situations. The law calls this ‘adverse possession rights,’ and for landowners (especially in rural areas), it can be a very important concept to remember.

What is Adverse Possession in South Carolina?

The concept of adverse possession rights dates back hundreds of years. The law generally favors those who make beneficial use of their property. If a parcel is left uninhabited and unused by the owner, and someone else essentially begins using it, the law prefers the owner who will put it to good use. Of course, it would be incredibly unfair to allow this type of unrestricted theft of property without more conditions. Fortunately, it’s still pretty hard to successfully take property through adverse possession.

Typical Adverse Possession Scenarios?

The majority of adverse possession fall into one of two types: vacant land and boundary disputes. In the case of vacant land, sometimes a squatter will move onto the land, build a cabin or make improvements to the land, or even begin to farm the land for profits.

In the case of a boundary dispute, sometimes neighbors get into a dispute over a boundary line. Perhaps a fence is built, but there is a dispute as to whether it is in the right place. This too can constitute adverse possession.  While there may be plenty of other ways that it could arise, it’s usually one of these two situations.

What is Required for Adverse Possession?

Section 15-67-210 of the South Carolina Code outlines the requirements. The trespasser who is using someone else’s property must do so in a specific manner. The law says that possession has to be:

  • Hostile. The law requires the trespasser to be using the property without the owner’s permission. Hostile doesn’t mean they have to be aggressive; it just means the owner cannot be permitting it (i.e. a lease, agreement, etc.)
  • Actual. There has to be actual physical control of some sort. It’s not enough to occasionally use land for hunting or camping. There must be an asserted physical control over the property.  Typically, this means buildings, farming, storage of personal property, or cultivating the land in some way.
  • Exclusive. No one else can be sharing the use. The trespasser must exclude others from using the property in the same way a true owner might.
  • Open & Notorious. If the trespasser is sneaking around and hiding their use or intentions, then there is no adverse possession. The law requires that the possession be such that any reasonable onlooker would assume the trespasser is the true owner.
  • For 10 Years. Under South Carolina law, the adverse possession must last for at least 10 years.
  • Continuous. Possession must be continuous for 10 years without interruption. So, if the trespasser uses the property for 9 years, leaves for a couple years, and comes back, then the clock starts over.

Boundary Disputes in South Carolina

While the general rules are pretty clear, it can get a bit more complicated when talking about boundary disputes. If a neighbor builds a fence across part of your yard, and you know he is stealing your land, but you don’t take actions to stop it, you could run the risk of forfeiting property. After 10 years, your neighbor could argue for adverse possession rights through ownership of the newly fenced parcel.

If you are involved in a boundary dispute or someone is using your land without your permission, contact Klok Law Firm LLC to discuss your situation. Sometimes a simple letter is enough to deter trespassers. In other situations, you may need to take immediate legal action. Either way, our office can help you decide.