While somewhat uncommon, it is true that if someone lives on your land long enough, they can obtain rights to that land. Adverse possession, more commonly known as squatters’ rights, is the law in South Carolina. However, there are some nuances that must be taken into consideration to prove such a claim.
To prove a claim of adverse possession, it must be proven by clear and convincing evidence that the possession of the land was continuous, hostile, open, actual, notorious, and exclusive. In addition, it must be shown that all these elements are proved to exist for 10 years, according to § 15-670-210 of the South Carolina Code of Laws.
Let us break down what that means realistically. To prove continuous possession, it must be shown that possession of the land was consistently held for ten years. Hostile possession means that the possession of the land must be against the interest of the land’s titled owner. Open and notorious possession is one of the more difficult elements to prove, as the title owner must know that a person is living on the land and the owner does not attempt to remove that person from the land. This does not mean that the title owner must have seen the squatter, but that the title owner would have known of the squatter if ordinary diligence had been exercised. If a squatter is living on land they do not legally possess and the owner does not know, then it is hard to prove adverse possession. Actual possession simply means that the person must be living on the property. Exclusive possession requires that the squatter must not be cohabitating with the title owner or trying to adversely possess state lands.
As you can see, adverse possession is not easily established. These elements are hard to prove all at once for a period of ten years. That is not to say that adverse possession is never established, however. The most common ways that a person shows adverse possession is on a smaller scale, such as building a fence that is on the neighbor’s property. If no one objects to the intrusion for a period of ten years, then the extra property gained can now legally be claimed through adverse possession.