Squatters Rights - Texas
The definition of squatting is when an individual occupies a property that is vacant or abandoned. They move in and settle into the home to eventually own the property. Their motive may be as innocent as a homeless person seeking shelter to more incendiary motives of planning to gain legal ownership.
They do this without the owner's permission, and though it sounds morally wrong, it is not always illegal.
What Is a Squatter House?
A squatter may move into an empty, unoccupied, and abandoned house that is not in use. Then, after an extended period, provided they are not served an eviction notice, they can claim the home as their own. We will get into how they claim ownership of the house later in the article.
Squatting is not considered an act of trespassing which is a criminal offense. A squatter takes up residence in a property and lives there as if they were the owner. Surprisingly, this is not a criminal offense and is instead a civil matter.
What Happens to Abandoned Houses in Texas?
There are various reasons why a house becomes abandoned.
- Rising Costs. Renovations and repairs become too costly.
- Death. The death of the owner who has no heirs or left no will.
- Unable to Sell. The owner cannot sell the property and so instead abandons it.
Although it is not illegal to abandon a house, if there are liens and taxes attached to the property, and the owner is still liable to pay those.
Property law classifies properties as abandoned:
- Following Termination of a Lease
- When Foreclosure Occurs
- Eviction of a Tenant
Texas Abandoned Property Law
According to the Texas Property Code, owners abandoned the property if the following is true:
- The Owner's Location or Existence is Unknown. Officials made all reasonable attempts to locate the owner of the property.
- There Is No Ownership Claim on the Property. According to the records of the property, nobody asserted an ownership claim.
- No Individual Has Exercised an Act of Ownership. Property records will show if anyone has exercised their right to ownership.
How Squatters Claim Abandoned Property in Texas
Once a squatter moves into an abandoned property, they have certain rights. First, they can live on the property and apply for adverse possession if you do not serve a notice to evict, as detailed below.
How Squatters File for Abandoned Property Rights in Texas
Squatters can apply for abandoned property rights or adverse possession if they comply with the following:
- A Hostile Claim. There are three aspects to a hostile claim.
- Simple Occupation. The squatter did not know they were on someone's property.
- Awareness of Trespassing. The squatter has full knowledge that they are on another's property.
- Good Faith Mistake. They believe they have a right to the property.
- Simple Occupation. The squatter did not know they were on someone's property.
- Treat the Property as Their Own. Making home improvements to the property and landscaping the gardens would count as treating it as their own.
- Live There Continuously. The squatter must live in the property continuously for ten years. They cannot leave the property, live somewhere else for weeks or months, and return.
- Exclusivity. If the squatter occupies the property with others, family, or strangers, it will invalidate their adverse possession claim.
- Be Obvious. Squatters must not hide the fact that they live on the property.
Squatting Laws in Texas
Texas does have laws when it comes to squatting. Here are some of them.
Color of Title
The definition of color of title is ownership of a property by possession. Squatters take possession by living in the abandoned house. It is not regular ownership, meaning the individual does not have the correct documents to show possession.
In Texas, a squatter must legally claim color of title for at least three years before moving the claim to adverse possession.
Texas Adverse Possession Law
Adverse possession goes back centuries. It derived from a law where a farmer could take possession of unoccupied land. Then, if they used the land and it became productive, they could claim ownership after several years.
Today, it means that if someone enters an unoccupied house, they can legally own it if they meet specific criteria. In Texas, that criteria will involve five precise requirements, which we detail later in the article.
Laws on Kicking Someone Out of Your House in Texas
You cannot forcibly remove a squatter from your property, no matter how much you may want to. Instead, follow the correct eviction process.
- Notice to Vacate. The landlord gives three days' notice to leave in writing.
- File an Eviction Suit. There is now a 10-day wait before the hearing.
- Judgment. After the judge's decision, the parties have five days to appeal.
- Appeal. If the tenant appeals, the hearing takes place eight days later.
- Writ of Possession. Following a final judgment, the tenant has 24 hours to remove their possessions.
Texas Property Encroachment Laws
The definition of encroachment is the illegal intrusion onto a property with or without obstruction.
If a squatter comes onto your land, upgrades it, pays property taxes, and no one stops them or complains, they can eventually take possession of it.
Squatters Rights in Texas - Property Line
Squatting does not only refer to taking ownership of a house. For example, your neighbor could be squatting on your property if they use land over the property line. Over the years, the property line may become blurred. Fences may move, and the line is no longer clearly defined.
If your neighbor uses the land historically but does not pay property taxes, it becomes known as prescriptive easement or right to use.
If they claim prescriptive easement, they can continue to use the portion of land but do not need to acquire the title.
The same applies to a homeless squatter who can claim prescriptive easement if they have been squatting on a section of land and it went unchallenged for a minimum of 10 years.
Squatters Rights Regarding Raw Land in Texas
Raw land is still in its natural state and has had no improvements made to it. If a squatter accesses the land, for example living in a tent, they are trespassing.
You can call the police, notify the squatter, or file for a court order in this situation. If they fail to vacate the area after a court order, the Sheriff can remove them.
However, they could claim prescriptive easement if the squatter goes unnoticed and lives on the raw land for at least ten years without challenge. In theory, the squatter could build a tiny home, add solar power, and put in a sewage system and private well.
Can You Turn off Utilities on a Squatter?
No. If a squatter moves into your property, and they turn on the utilities, you cannot turn them off again. Unfortunately, denying access to utilities is illegal, and the squatters can sue you. Plus, you will have to continue to pay the utility bill until you can evict the squatters.
Alternatively, in an attempt to claim residency of the property, squatters may set up utilities in their name. It is not that hard to do. In Austin, Texas, all they need is a security deposit of $200.
What Can a Texas Property Owner Do If They Have a Squatter?
Take precautions to prevent squatters in the first place by carrying out the following:
- Regularly Inspect the Property
- Keep Paying Property Tax
- Add No Trespassing Notices
- Hire a Property Management Company
Can Police Remove Squatters?
If you find someone is on your property, the police will determine if they are dealing with a squatter or a trespasser.
The police can forcibly remove trespassers as it is a criminal offense. However, if the police believe they are dealing with squatters, they cannot remove them, and you will have to apply for eviction.
When your eviction process is successful, you will receive a writ of possession which gives the squatter 24 hours to vacate the property. The Sheriff gets the writ and will escort the squatters from the property. If they refuse to leave, the Sheriff can remove them forcibly.
How to Evict a Squatter in Texas
When dealing with squatters, remove them by first issuing a notice to quit. Once you serve the notice, follow the eviction process we detailed earlier.
Texas Abandoned Property Notice
Following an eviction, the squatter may leave behind their personal property.
If they don't collect it, you can issue an abandoned property notice stating that any property not collected within ten days will be confiscated and disposed of. If the squatter contacts you before the ten days is up, they get an additional five days to come and retrieve their items.
Adverse Lien Search Texas
When purchasing a property, you can search for an adverse lien or adverse possession claim.
The search will show if there are any liens attached to the property, like unpaid taxes. It will also show whether the property has a squatter and applied for an adverse possession claim.
Does Texas Have Squatters Rights?
Yes. Squatters in Texas have the right to stay in a property provided they fulfill the adverse possession requirements as listed earlier.
Squatters Rights on Texas Property
An individual entering an abandoned property in Texas has certain fundamental rights.
- They can stay unless served an eviction notice.
- After three years, a squatter can apply for the color of the title.
- They can pay property tax.
- If they have a color of title and pay the tax, they can apply to occupy the property after five years legally.
Does Paying Property Tax Give Ownership in Texas?
Paying property tax does not immediately give squatter ownership. But if squatters find a way to pay tax on the property, for example, by forging documents to show they are the owner and have a color of title, they could apply to occupy the property legally.
Texas Squatters Rights - Eviction
If you find a squatter in your home, you have the right to issue a three-day notice to vacate. Then, if they still do not leave, you can file an eviction order with the county court.
The squatter has a right to:
- Stay in the property during the eviction process.
- Not be forcibly removed from the property.
- Appeal the eviction notice
Squatters Rights in Texas as an Heir
A person is a squatter if they live in a property without a right, lease, or title, and that does not apply to heirs.
However, the property goes to the state if there is no will. The state then decides who inherits the house. The chosen heir has the right to evict any family members still living in the house.
How Do Squatters Rights Work in Texas?
As we have seen in this article, squatters do have rights in Texas and can even end up becoming the legal owner of abandoned property.
How to Keep Someone off Your Property Legally in Texas
Even if a house is unoccupied, make it clear that it has an owner. Set clear boundaries and erect no trespassing signs.
How to Deal with Trespassers in Texas
Unlike squatting, trespassing is a criminal offense. But, if a trespasser leaves on their own accord, there is little you can do. Also, you cannot detain a trespasser if they choose to go.
Keep a record of any damage and get a good description of the trespasser. Under Texas law, landowners must not intentionally harm a trespasser.
If a previous tenant does not leave the property after the lease ends, they are called a holdover tenant. They can offer to pay rent at the original rate and terms.
If the landlord accepts, the tenant becomes a 'tenant at will. The landlord can evict them without notice. If the landlord asks them to leave, and they refuse, they cannot make an adverse possession claim. They would then become a criminal trespasser.
Abandoned Personal Property Texas
Once you give the squatter reasonable notice to retrieve their personal property, you can dispose of it.
How to Insure a Vacant House as a Homeowner
If you intend for your home to be vacant for an extended period, you should buy HO1 insurance.
How to Insure a Vacant Rental Home as a Landlord
If you deal in property management or are a landlord, the equivalent of an HO1 is DP1 insurance. It provides coverage for vacant rental property.
Liability Issues for Property Owners of Vacant and Abandoned Property
There can be many concerns associated with owning a vacant home.
- Vandalism. Empty properties are targets for vandals and thieves.
- Accidents. Even if you no longer live on the property, you are responsible for any accidents that occur on the premises, including a squatter's injury.
- Undetected Damage. Failure to regularly assess the building means you can miss damage from fires, wind, hail, mold, etc.
There are some easy ways to mitigate risk. For example, make the property look occupied with security lights, keep the lawn neat, check the property regularly, and look for any maintenance issues or break-ins.
Add smoke alarms that link to the fire department and burglar alarms that notify the police for extra safety.
Hope that helps!
At your service,