The Farah Law Firm

Squatter’s Rights in Texas

Real Estate
Squatter's Rights MF

Due to the increases in home prices and rents the last few years, more and more people are turning to squatting to try to secure housing. While some squat because of a loss of income, many others are just scammers trying to get free housing. And without the proper knowledge, an unaware property owner could actually lose their property to a squatter. Fortunately, those owners can turn to The Farah Law Firm for help before losing their property.

 

What is a squatter?

The American Apartment Owners Association defines a squatter as an individual who inhabits a piece of land or property despite having no legal authority to do so. They often move into vacant, abandoned, or neglected properties and just begin using it as their residence. For most people, the term “squatter” may bring up an image of an otherwise homeless person breaking into a property and begin sleeping on the floor; however that is not always the case. For example, 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 to the property actually belongs to someone else.

At this point, it must be noted that not everyone who occupies property without permission is a squatter. For example, a person that at one point had a valid lease that has since expired and remains on the property is considered a “holdover tenant,” not a squatter. Likewise, a “trespasser” is different from a squatter in that a trespasser is only on the property for a limited time and does not claim the property is theirs. The deciding factor here is the intent of the individual.

The more frequent squatter we encounter comes from vacant rental properties that individuals can target online on websites, or in some circumstances, hijacked rental listings re-published for a below market rate in an attempt to take advantage of unsuspecting prospective tenants.  Some squatters may no have a written lease at all, others may have a valid lease signed by a non-owner, or worse, a forged lease purportedly signed by the rightful, which makes the process much more complicated potentially.

 

How can I get rid of a squatter if they are already on my property?

As of the writing of this article, Texas doesn’t have any specific laws regarding removing a squatter from a building or land. And forcible evictions, i.e. ‘self-help’ evictions, are illegal in Texas. As a property owner, the only option you have to get rid of an unwanted squatter is the judicial eviction process to get rid of the squatter and “All other occupants”

 

How could a property owner lose their property to a squatter?

Fortunately, Texas does not have statutory “Squatter’s rights” but without action, a squatter could try to implement a process called adverse possession. Using this process, a squatter could gain legal title to the property of another. While there are no federal laws governing squatter’s rights, each and every state has a legal process outlined by which property can be claimed by a squatter.

 

How can I get rid of a squatter if they are already on my property?

As of the writing of this article, Texas doesn’t have any specific laws regarding removing a squatter from a building or land. And forcible evictions, i.e. ‘self-help’ evictions, are illegal in Texas. As a property owner, the only option you have to get rid of an unwanted squatter is the judicial eviction process in the likely event that a police officer refrains from taking action. The difficulty begins with not knowing the name and identity of who you are evicting and what “All other occupants” or squatters may be in the property.   One of the strategies that we implement is by filing a criminal trespass complaint immediately and encourage the police department or sheriff to force the illegal occupant out.  Sometimes that may work out immediately if the squatter clearly has no reason to be there.  In that case, the police department will frequently give a criminal trespass warning, but more frequently, the police department will refer you to a real estate attorney that handles squatters.

 

How can I prevent squatters from entering my property?

No trespassing

Here are some steps that can help protect your property while it’s vacant:

  • Visit your property regularly. During these visits, make sure to collect all mail, clean up the yard, and do whatever you can to make the property appear occupied even when it’s not. This may help deter unwanted occupancy.
  • Avoid rental listing sites that do not identify prospect tenants and remember to watermark all listing photos to prevent a highjacked listing. 
  • Refrain from using “self access” electronic or mechanical lockboxes that make it easy for scammers to allow an unknown person to access the property without verification.  
  • Shut off all amenities not necessary for an unoccupied property (e.g. electricity, water, etc.). While you may not be able to cut off every utility, the idea is to make your property uninhabitable, discouraging squatters from occupying it.
  • Ensure that entry points are inaccessible. You don’t want a squatter to gain easy access to the property through a compromised entry point.
  • Consider taking your property’s security up a notch by investing in intruder alarms and security cameras and posting “No Trespassing” signs.
  • Ask your neighbors to be vigilant and report to you any suspicious activity.

 

Please see this article, where we breakdown the eviction process from start to finish.

Dealing with squatters and/or an adverse possession claims can be difficult to navigate, tiring and laborious. The attorneys at The Farah Law Firm are knowledgeable about the details of Texas laws regarding squatters and their rights. If you are facing this situation, be sure to contact us for help!

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