Squatting vs. Trespassing in Texas
How Do Squatters Claim Adverse Possession in Texas?
Do Squatters Need to Pay Property Taxes in Texas?
How To Evict a Squatter in Texas
Texas Squatters' Rights Bottom Line
There are some critical differences between squatters and trespassers, including their intent. So, while it’s true that both trespassers and squatters illegally occupy vacant land, these two terms are not the same. Trespassers are temporary, meaning they only occupy a given space for a limited amount of time. The vacant dwelling is not their home, nor do they intend to claim it as such. Squatters, on the other hand, do both of these things. They actively inhabit the vacant property for an extended, uninterrupted period of time and treat it as their own home. If not properly evicted during the appropriate legal time frame, squatters can file for adverse possession of the previously vacant property. Remember, while all squatters are trespassers, not all trespassers are squatters.
Each state has a unique set of requirements that squatters must follow to claim adverse possession. In Texas, a squatter must meet the following seven pieces of criteria before applying for legal rights to a vacant property:
1. Hostile Possession
Here, the term hostile does not mean dangerous, violent, or unsafe. Instead, a squatter is legally considered hostile if they occupy a property under one of the following conditions:
- They had no prior knowledge of a pre-existing property owner
- They understand that their actions are considered illegal and can result in a criminal offense
- They operated under “good faith,” a situation where the property has a faulty deed or clouded title.
It’s important to remember that squatters are not tenants. Paying rent institutes a landlord-tenant relationship between a landowner and a potential squatter, which is not considered hostile occupancy. Squatters wishing to claim adverse possession should avoid paying rent, as this can disqualify them from necessary hostile possession.
2. Actual Possession
Actual possession occurs when a squatter fully inhabits a property, making it their primary residence. In other words, they must live on the vacant property. Additionally, a squatter wishing to claim actual possession must also “treat the property as their own.” This can include performing certain functional maintenance on the property, paying utilities, and renovating/beautifying the property in some way.
3. Continuous Possession
Once a squatter takes possession, they must continue doing so for an extended period. This means they cannot leave the vacant property for a consecutive series of weeks, months, or years without losing their status as a squatter. In Texas, squatters can file for adverse possession after ten continuous years.
4. Exclusive Possession
Squatters cannot share possession with other parties. That means they cannot be on the property when the owner or even another squatter occupies it. Only one squatter can occupy a given vacant space at a time to make an adverse possession claim. Therefore, multiple squatters cannot apply for adverse possession of the same property.
5. Open & Notorious
A squatter cannot hide their occupancy. Instead, their residence must be conspicuous, and the public should be aware of their presence. This prevents the original owner from claiming they were unaware their property had become illegally occupied.
6. Color of Title
After both meeting the first five possession requirements, and occupying a vacant space for three consecutive years, Texas squatters can apply for “Color of Title.” This is a claim to the title of the vacant property, which can become the foundation for a squatter’s adverse possession. After being granted this color of title, a squatter can immediately apply for adverse possession.
A squatter meeting these criteria can legally file for adverse possession in Texas. By doing this, they can bring new life into what would have otherwise been wasted property.
Squatters do not need to pay property taxes to claim adverse possession in Texas, but doing so can benefit them. By paying the property taxes in full, a Texas squatter can shorten their required length of continuous possession of a vacant property. This will allow them to apply for adverse possession in five years instead of ten.
Forcible evictions are illegal in Texas. This means that in order to both remove squatters and regain legal possession, property owners must follow the state’s judicial eviction process. To file the eviction lawsuit, a property owner must first notify the squatter through a three-day eviction notice. Once this has passed with no resolution, landowners can officially file their lawsuit with the court. Remember, in a squatter situation, time is of the essence. Therefore, it’s essential to act quickly to prevent the squatter from claiming “Color of Title” and gaining uncontested rights to the vacant space.
If a vacant property is open, available, and without proper security, then a squatter is likely to take up residence. After meeting the state-required criteria, a squatter can eventually claim adverse possession, and gain ownership rights to the property. After this, they are no longer an illegal trespasser but entirely legitimate titleholders of the previously vacant property.