Texas Squatter’s Rights
January 3, 2024
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Squatters In Texas
Squatters – those mysterious figures who move into abandoned or vacant properties – have long been a subject of curiosity and confusion for property owners. Many people wonder—and fear—how squatters sometimes gain legal ownership of the property they’ve occupied.
Squatters’ rights exist in various forms across the United States, including Texas. 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 Texas provides differ from those provided by 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 squatters rights in Texas and explain how adverse possession works in this state.
- Minimum Occupation Required: 3-10 consecutive years
- Property Taxes Required? Optional
- Color of Title Required? Optional
Who Are Squatters?
A squatter is someone who occupies a 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, and they do not pay rent to the actual owner.
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 property. Likewise, trespassers are also not squatters, as trespassing is a criminal offense. 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 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.
Texas Squatters Rights
To successfully claim adverse possession in Texas, a squatter must meet one of the following requirements as per Tex. Prop. Code § 16.024-16.026:
- Occupy the property with color of title for at least three consecutive years.
- Occupy the property, have a recorded deed in their name, pay all property taxes, and cultivate the land for at least five consecutive years.
- Occupy the property and improve the land for at least ten consecutive years. (note: the land must be less than 160 acres, unless it is enclosed)
Note that the shorter the occupation time, the more difficult the requirements to make an adverse possession claim. Color of title is only required for adverse possession in Texas if a squatter wants to claim the land after three years of occupation. “Color of title” is a legal claim to a property without one or more of the proper documents, like an official deed.
Squatters must also meet five general requirements:
- 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 occupy the property exclusively and prevent others from living there like an owner would.
- Continuous Possession—The squatter must hold continuous and uninterrupted possession of the property (for three to ten consecutive years in Texas)
How Does a Squatter Claim Adverse Possession/ Squatters Rights in Texas?
If a squatter has fulfilled both the requirements for Texas squatters 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 in obtaining property ownership. There are many obstacles to winning an adverse possession case—for instance, Texas squatters would need to:
- Gather ample evidence for their claim (e.g., mail addressed to the property in their name, property taxes receipts, evidence that they’ve “beautified” the property, etc.)
- File a quiet title complaint with the court
- Attend a 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 adverse possession
- Receive a judgment for adverse possession to perfect the title
As you can see, a squatter has an enormous burden of proof when claiming ownership of your property. 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 Texas
In Texas, as in almost all other states, removing a squatter necessitates the full judicial 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 Texas eviction process for squatters:
- The owner must send a formal eviction notice, as per Texas eviction laws. In Texas, the default notice is a three-day notice to quit, but landlords can enforce a shorter or longer notice period if it is specified in the lease agreement.
- After the notice period has expired, the owner must file a complaint of forcible detainer with the Texas Justice of the Peace Court. Filing for immediate possession may expedite the eviction process.
- The court will issue a summons or “citation” to court, which must be served to the squatter by the sheriff or constable.
- 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 after five days have passed since the judgment. The writ gives the squatter final notice to leave.
- If the squatter does not move out within 24 hours after the writ is served, the sheriff will return to forcibly remove the squatter and restore legal possession to the owner.
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 Texas Property
Here are a few practical tips to prevent squatters from moving into your vacant property:
- 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 Texas squatters rights and be aware of any changes to Texas law on adverse possession.
- Contact a knowledgeable real estate attorney with any questions on Texas laws on squatters or adverse possession
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.