In this article, we are going to give you an overview of the rights of a squatter in Texas, and give you more information on who they are.
Who is Considered a Squatter?
According to Texas laws, a squatter is somebody who is living on a land or in a building that is either unoccupied, abandoned, or foreclosed without the legal consent of the actual property owner.
Unfortunately, squatting is not only legal in the U.S, but it is also quite ordinary.
Is Squatting and Trespassing the Same?
Squatting and trespassing are not necessarily the same.
Squatting is a typically a civil issue, whereas trespassing is often viewed as a criminal offense.
That said, squatting can also become a criminal offense if you, as the property owner, decide that the person squatting on your property is unwelcome.
The following are three crucial things to bear in mind:
- Trespassers or squatters may provide falsified documents claiming that they have a right to the property.
- For a squatter to legally occupy a building or a piece of land, they must first fulfill certain requirements under the state law.
- Many squatters tend to be homeless people who wish to gain property ownership without paying the mortgage or rent.
A few exceptions do exist, though. Here they are:
- A person may be able to avoid a criminal charge if they take steps to improve the property. For example, they can remove debris or by plant flowers.
- A person may also be exempt from a criminal charge if they accessed the property due to an emergency.
- For a squatter to qualify for a legal claim, the law requires that the property isn’t in use for squatters.
Are Holdover Tenants Squatters?
A holdover tenant is a tenant that refuses to leave once their lease is over. Naturally, in such a situation, the tenant is still responsible to continue abiding by the terms of the existing lease or rental agreement.
As the property owner, if you choose to accept rent, then the tenant will continue to live in the property. And as such, you can end the tenancy when you so choose.
However, if you choose not to accept further rent payments and request the tenant to leave, but the tenant refuses, then you may apply for their forceful eviction from the property. In such a circumstance, the holdover tenant is considered a criminal trespasser and may not be able to make an adverse possession claim.
How Can a Squatter Gain Possession of a Property in Texas?
A squatter may be able to gain possession of a property by adverse possession. The following are the conditions that the occupation must fulfill.
1. The Occupation Must be Hostile.
“Hostile” doesn’t refer to anything violent or dangerous. In a legal sense, it takes three definitions.
- Awareness of Trespassing: This rule requires that the person trespassing know that they are indeed trespassing by using a property that isn’t theirs.
- Simple Occupation: Most states follow this rule. Here, “hostile” is defined as a mere land occupation. The person trespassing does not have to be aware that they are indeed trespassing.
- Good Faith Mistake: According to this rule, the squatter must make a good faith mistake by relying on an incorrect or invalid deed.
2. The Squatter Must Have Resided on the Property for a Continuous Period of Time.
In Texas, this period is 10 years. This time must not be interrupted. In other words, they cannot file for an adverse possession if they, for example, give up the property for a while and then return to claim it later.
3. The Claim Must be Exclusive.
The trespasser must share the property exclusively. They can’t share the possession with other squatters, strangers, or even the actual owner.
4. The Squatter Must not try to Hide the Fact that they are Living There.
In other words, there shouldn’t be any doubt that someone is living on the property. Even the actual property owner must be able to tell that there is a squatter living on their property. The squatter, on the other hand, must also not try to hide the fact that they are living there as well.
5. The Trespasser Must Physically Possess the Property.
The trespasser must physically possess the property and treat it as if it were their own. They can do this by by making improvements to the property, for example.
How do You Prevent Squatters from Entering the Property?
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to prevent someone from squatting on your property.
- Regularly inspect the property from time to time. If you don’t live nearby, have someone do it for you.
- Have the property secured. Lock all windows, doors and other entrances.
- If nobody is living in the property, then make sure to erect a “No Trespassing” sign.
- If you realize there are squatters living in your property, make sure to serve them with a written notice.
- Offer the squatters an option to rent the property from you by signing a lease and abiding by the terms.
- Ask for the sheriff’s help whenever seeking to remove squatters from your property. Self-help evictions are illegal in the state of Texas.
- Seek professional legal services whenever necessary.
How to Remove Squatters from Your Premises
Texas doesn’t have any specific laws regarding removing a squatter from a building or land. As a landowner, a judicial eviction process is the only option you have.
That said, there is a provision for legal disabled landowners. When the owner is below the legal age, is imprisoned, or is legally incompetent, then the continuous occupation period of 10 years may be extended to 25 years.
Dealing with squatters can be a difficult, unsettling and laborious process. If you find yourself dealing with a squatter problem, having the right partner beside you is key. McCaw Property Management understands the laws and can help you get your property back in no time.