Tennessee Squatter’s Rights
January 3, 2024
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Squatters In Tennessee
Squatters – those mysterious figures who move into abandoned or vacant properties – have long been a subject of curiosity and confusion. Many people wonder—and fear—how squatters sometimes end up with legal ownership and legal title of the property they’ve occupied.
Squatters’ rights exist in various forms across the United States, including Tennessee. The requirements for claiming these rights vary from state to state, making it essential to understand the specific laws in your area. The squatters rights Tennessee provides differ from those provided in other states.
While you can feel comforted that it is notoriously difficult for a squatter to fulfill all the requirements necessary to make a successful legal claim to your property, it never hurts to be prepared. In this article, we’ll cover Tennessee squatter’s rights and explain how an adverse possession claim works in Tennessee.
- Minimum Occupation Required: 20 consecutive years
- Property Taxes Required? Yes
- Color of Title Required? Optional; 7 years occupation + color of title sufficient
Who Are Squatters?
A squatter is someone who occupies someone else’s property without legal ownership or permission from the property owner. They often move into vacant, abandoned, or neglected properties. Squatters could squat temporarily (e.g., for a few weeks) or for years at a time.
While the term “squatter” probably summons a certain image in your mind, it’s important to note that not all squatters have nefarious intentions. A squatter could be someone who thought they legally owned a property that has been passed down in their family over many generations, only to find out years later that the title officially belongs to someone else.
Who Isn’t a Squatter?
Not everyone who occupies or enters a property without permission is a squatter. For instance, tenants with expired leases are not squatters. Rather, they are “holdover tenants,” or previous tenants who no longer have the right to live in the rental property. Likewise, trespassers are also not squatters. Criminal trespassers are people who enter onto your private property but do not live there, while squatters actually occupy and live on the vacant property.
What Are Squatter’s Rights/Adverse Possession?
Squatter’s rights, also known as adverse possession, refer to the general legal principles that allow squatters to gain ownership of a property through a long period of possession, even without the owner’s permission. While squatter’s rights might seem antiquated today, the principles of adverse possession claims were established to reward the productive use of land and discourage neglect of properties.
There is no federal law governing squatter’s rights, but there are legal precedents for them in each state and laws governing some of the requirements to make an adverse possession claim.
Tennessee Squatters Rights
- Occupy the property and pay property taxes for at least 20 consecutive years.
- Occupy the property with color of title for at least seven consecutive years.
In Tennessee, either of the two pathways above will allow a squatter to make a valid claim to adverse possession. “Color of title” generally refers to unofficial ownership of a property, usually without an official deed or other necessary legal documents. In Tennessee, squatters are only required to have color of title if they want to claim adverse possession after only seven years of continuous occupation. Otherwise, the squatter will have to wait out the entire twenty-year occupation minimum—but note, however, that this option involves paying property taxes to gain legal possession as well.
Squatters must also meet five general requirements according to adverse possession laws:
- Hostile/Adverse Possession—The squatter must not have a valid lease or rental agreement with the owner.
- Actual Possession —The squatter must have actively lived in the property for a certain length of time.
- Open and Notorious Possession —The squatter’s possession of the property is open and obvious to neighbors or anyone else. They aren’t living there “in secret” or trying to hide their presence.
- Exclusive Possession —The squatter does not share possession of the property with anyone else. They prevent others from living there like an owner would.
- Continuous Possession —The squatter must hold continuous and uninterrupted possession of the property (for 20 consecutive years to gain squatter’s rights in Tennessee).
How Does a Squatter Claim Squatter’s Rights/ Adverse Possession in Tennessee?
If a squatter has fulfilled both the Tennessee requirements for squatter’s rights and the general squatter’s rights principles above, they can file a claim for adverse possession or bring an action to “quiet title.” Quiet title is the legal action to claim the right of possession and ownership of a particular property.
Note, however, that just because a squatter files a claim, this does not mean they will be successful. There are many obstacles to winning an adverse possession case—for instance, the squatter would need to:
- Gather ample evidence for their claim (e.g., mail addressed to the property in their name, property tax receipts, evidence that they’ve “beautified” the property, etc.)
- File a quiet title complaint with one of the Tennessee courts
- Attend a court hearing with the property owner in front of a judge, where they’ll present their case for adverse possession
- Successfully convince a judge that they have fulfilled all the state requirements for the adverse possession claim following all adverse possession laws
- Receive a judgment for adverse possession to perfect the title and become the legal owner
As you can see, a squatter has an enormous burden of proof when making an adverse possession claim in Tennessee and attempting to gain property ownership. It is a highly complex process that often requires the squatter to hire an attorney and to have lived in your property for many years. In all likelihood, a squatter situation you’re involved in won’t escalate to a successful action to quiet title.
How to Remove a Squatter in Tennessee
In Tennessee, as in almost all other states, removing a squatter necessitates the full eviction process. Treating the squatter like any other tenant ensures that any adverse possession claim they file is invalid. If you find out that a squatter is living in your property, you need to provide a proper eviction notice, file a formal eviction complaint in court, and attend (or get your attorney to attend) a hearing to lawfully remove the squatter.
Here is an overview of the Tennessee eviction process for squatters:
- The owner must send a formal eviction notice, as per Tennessee law on eviction. This is usually a 14-day notice to quit.
- After the notice period has expired, the owner must file a complaint of forcible detainer with the Tennessee Court of General Sessions or Circuit Court.
- The court will issue a summons to court, which must be served to the squatter by the sheriff of another authorized process server.
- The owner must attend a hearing to present evidence of lawful ownership of the property to the judge.
- Upon confirming ownership, the judge will issue a writ of possession, giving the squatter final notice to move out.
- If the squatter refuses move out, the sheriff will return to forcibly remove them.
Remember that police officers cannot remove squatters—you must call the sheriff, who has the appropriate jurisdiction to remove the squatter.
How to Prevent Squatters from Living in Your Vacant Tennessee Property
Here are a few practical tips to prevent squatters from moving into your vacant property and attempting to claim squatters rights in Tennessee:
- Regularly inspect your property.
- Make your property appear inhabited during vacancy periods.
- Install adequate lighting and security systems to deter unauthorized entry.
- Secure all doors, windows, and access points with sturdy locks and barriers.
- Post “No Trespassing” signs on the property.
- Encourage neighbors to report any suspicious activity.
- Consider hiring a property management company to oversee and maintain the property.
- If feasible, keep the property in use, even if temporarily, to discourage squatting.
- Develop a good relationship with local law enforcement and notify them of the property’s vacancy to increase patrols and response to trespassing.
- Educate yourself on squatters rights in Tennessee and be aware of any changes to Tennessee adverse possession law.
- Seek correct legal advice from a qualified real estate attorney when necessary.
Knowledge is indeed power when it comes to understanding the laws that regulate property possession and ownership. However, it’s worth noting that adverse possession laws are unlikely to come into play in most cases. Property neglect to the extent that a squatter could go unnoticed for the required period is rare, emphasizing the importance of vigilance and preventative measures in protecting property rights.
Innago does not provide legal advice. The content and materials provided in this article are for general informational purposes only and may not be the most up-to-date information.