Anyone who owns rental real estate in his or her individual name is taking a tremendous risk. Suppose your tenant, or one of the tenant's guests, gets hurt on your property and sues the owner of the property. That's you! And any judgment against you can be satisfied from other property you own, such as bank accounts, investments, and other real estate, even your home. While liability insurance is a good idea, it alone should not be relied upon for protection.
That's why I advise all of my clients who own rental real estate to form an Limited Liability Company (LLC) and transfer ownership of the property to the LLC. Assuming the LLC is managed properly, this technique will shelter all of your other assets in the event of lawsuit involving the property.
For maximum protection, each rental property should be owned by a separate LLC. For persons with more than 3 or 4 properties, it often makes sense to consider a Series LLC. A Series LLC is basically one LLC with several sub LLCs, which can reduce filing fees and administrative costs.
At present, Series LLCs cannot be formed under North Carolina law, but it is possible to have an LLC established in another state own property in North Carolina.
It is possible to establish an LLC without the benefit of legal counsel, but I strongly advise against it. All of the proper formalities must be followed in order for an LLC to function properly and provide the full protection available by law.