Under the Texas squatters’ law, a squatter can gain legal rights to your property through an adverse possession claim. As a property owner, it’s important to have a working knowledge of the Texas landlord-tenant law and the squatter’s law so that you can protect your property and avoid losing it to a squatter.
In this post, we’ll cover the basics of the Texas squatters’ law and the rights they have, as well as who is considered a squatter and how they can end up in possession of your property. Keep reading to learn more:
Who does the state of Texas consider to be a squatter?
A squatter is someone who occupies a property that they don’t have any legal rights to. In most cases, the property is usually abandoned, unoccupied, or foreclosed upon. A squatter doesn’t pay rent either.
Is there a difference between a squatter and a trespasser?
Yes, there is a subtle difference between the two. Whereas trespassing is a felony, squatting is usually viewed as a civil matter. Squatting only becomes trespassing once the actual property owner has filed for the squatter’s removal with the relevant authorities.
Does a holdover tenant automatically become a trespasser?
Yes. If you no longer want to continue renting your property to your tenant and have asked them to leave but they have refused to do so, they become a trespasser in the eyes of the law. In this case, you’ll need to file an unlawful detainer lawsuit to have them evicted.
However, if you decide to continue accepting further rent payments from them, the existing terms of their lease agreement will continue. At that point, they will be able to stay in the property until you decide otherwise.
What is an adverse possession claim?
An adverse possession claim is a principal in law that grants legal ownership to a squatter given they meet several requirements. In Texas, a squatter must meet 5 distinct requirements in order to make an adverse possession claim. (More details on this later).
What is the squatter’s law in Texas?
Squatters in Texas have certain basic rights. The law gives them rights to the property even if they don’t legally own it. As long as the squatter isn’t served an eviction notice, they are legally allowed to live on the property and over time could gain legal ownership rights over the property.
It isn’t uncommon for a landlord to spend months or years trying to remove squatters from their property. That’s why preventing the problem from happening in the first place is key to maintaining ownership over your property. For a squatter to make an adverse possession claim, they must first meet 5 distinct criteria. They must:
1. Make a hostile claim.
In a legal sense, ‘hostile’ takes on three different definitions. The first definition (Simple Occupation) defines ‘hostile’ as a mere occupation of the land. Under this definition, the squatter does not have to know that they occupying someone else’s property.
The second definition (Awareness of Trespassing) is the exact opposite of the first definition. It requires that the squatter knows that they are occupying someone else’s property. The last definition (Good Faith Mistake) makes the assumption that the squatter is relying on an incorrect deed to occupy the land.
2. Treat the property like their own.
Besides just occupying the property and making a hostile claim to it, a squatter must treat the property like their own. They can accomplish this in several ways. For example, beautifying the property by landscaping or conducting other home improvement projects counts as treating the property like their own.
3. Live there continuously for at least 10 years.
A squatter making an adverse possession claim must have lived in the property continuously for at least 10 years. They cannot leave or abandon the property for weeks or months at a time and still make an adverse possession claim.
4. Possess the land or building exclusively.
The squatter must occupy the property by themselves. Occupying the property with other people (tenants, strangers, or even the owners) will invalidate their adverse possession claim.
5. Make it obvious to the general public that they are living there.
A squatter’s occupation must be obvious even to the actual owner investigating the matter. A squatter trying to hide the fact they are living there would invalidate their adverse possession claim.
Color of title
Color of title is a legal term that refers to a person’s irregular possession of a property. The person may not have one or more of the documents properly registered.
In the state of Texas, a squatter making an adverse possession claim needs to be able to claim color of title for at least 3 years of the required 10 that they live on the property.
However, if the squatter has made some efforts to improve or beautify the property, has paid property taxes, and has color of title, they’ll only need to occupy the property for 5 years before they can make their claim.
Do squatters need to pay property taxes?
Yes. In order to make a legal adverse possession claim, squatters need to taxes for the property they’re living on.
How to prevent squatters from entering your Texas property
Prevention is better than cure – this old adage rings true in this regard. Preventing a squatter from living on your property is much easier than trying to get rid of them once they’re there. To prevent squatters from living on your property, you should do the following:
- Regularly inspect the property.
- Pay your property taxes when they are due.
- Place “No Trespassing’ signs all over the property if it is not occupied.
- Begin the eviction procedure as soon as you realize a squatter is present.
- Seek professional legal services.
- Hire a reputable property management company.
How do I evict a squatter in Texas?
If it’s too late for you to prevent squatters from living on your property, there are several steps you can take to remove them.
- Serve a 3-Days’ eviction notice to the squatter. This notice gives the squatter three days to either pay all due rent for living on the property or leave. If the squatter doesn’t take either option, you can go to court and file for their eviction. In most cases, the court will rule in your favor as the squatter will have no meaningful defense against their eviction.
- Serve the sheriff with a Writ of Restitution. Even with a successful judgment in court, only a law enforcement officer can remove a squatter from your property. Trying to remove them from the property by yourself can land you a lawsuit.
At Bigham & Associates, we can help take care of your property on your behalf. We have helped residential property owners in Austin achieve peace of mind since 1987. This includes preventing squatters by conducting regular inspections and filling your property vacancies. Contact us today to get started with our services!