NC bills target squatters. Why some real estate agents say a crackdown is needed

It can take time to evict people living in a home illegally, Leigh Brown says, and those delays can lead to ruin. Just ask one of her clients whose house was flooded by someone who was not supposed to be living there, she said.

Brown, a real estate broker who served as the 2023 president of the North Carolina Realtors, said squatters in North Carolina should not have the same rights as tenants, and the law should be changed to protect property owners from squatters.

She said she’s had, and seen, houses damaged by people who were given advance notice to leave a property.

“There was one man who, in the process of being evicted, peed in every piece of ductwork,” Brown said. “The damage can be thousands and thousands of dollars in a short amount of time.”

Though that case pertained to a spiteful homeowner facing foreclosure, others have involved cases of “squatting,” she said. To Brown, these incidents with homeowners and tenants go to show that the same protections should not be given to squatters — a person occupying a property without the owner’s consent.

New legislation

Realtors anticipate bills moving through the state legislature would help property owners in removing squatters with the help of law enforcement.

Republican Rep. Steve Tyson said his bill, House Bill 966, is not meant to remove people who are lawfully in a residence, but to “remove trespassers who have watched videos and understand the weakness of [the] system.”

“Given the world we live in today, with internet training via YouTube, TikTok, Facebook and all kinds of other platforms,” Tyson, a Realtor and general contractor from Craven County, told lawmakers in a committee hearing, “unscrupulous people are using these platforms to train people on how to take over, hijack people’s property.”

The bill establishes an “expedited proceeding” for the removal of “an unauthorized person” who “has unlawfully entered” a home and ignored demands to leave. It also increases punishment for “willful and wanton damage to the residential real property of another.”

Amy Hedgecock, a Realtor and property manager for nearly 20 years, said squatters can be volatile and pose a serious risk to property owners. Hedgecock is the owner of Fowler & Fowler, Realtors in High Point, and a former president of the NC Realtors.

Her main concern is the safety of real estate agents and property owners.

“Someone’s going to get killed,” Hedgecock said. “We need to go ahead and address this legally to prevent those sorts of [things from] happening.”

Hedgecock said she understands times can be tough economically for many, but breaking into someone’s property is not the answer.

Both Hedgecock and Brown are hopeful the bills under consideration will eliminate any grace period for criminals trespassing on someone’s property.

Brown, a Republican who ran for Congress this year and lost, said she wants legislators who are opposing the bills to reconsider their position and understand property owners’ perspectives.

“We are not asking that they get involved in tenant-landlord disputes,” Brown said. “We are asking that criminals be removed.”

At a committee meeting last Wednesday, some Democratic lawmakers brought up their concerns about “potential dangers” for law enforcement.

“You’re putting a huge burden on law enforcement,” Democratic Rep. Marcia Morey of Durham said.

Realtors said many in law enforcement understand the risks that come with their job and work to keep people safe.

Brown said she wants lawmakers to do what’s best for property owners in North Carolina, while stopping criminal behavior in its tracks.

“I and many other Realtors have been telling our clients and our connections that if you’re going out of town for any extended period of time, please have a neighbor watch your house,” Brown said.

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