If you own a vacation house, rental property, or another piece of land that you don’t occupy, you should probably familiarize yourself with squatter’s rights.
Squatters are people who inhabit a land that’s not theirs, and they can be a significant problem for property owners. Given time, squatters can claim property ownership, and evicting a squatter isn’t always easy.
If you’re considering selling your property and have a squatter, read on. We’ll explain everything you need to know about squatters’ rights in Texas, including what the law says about getting rid of one and how to sell your home once they are there.
What Are Squatters’ Rights?
Squatter’s rights in Texas are legal rights that protect people who unlawfully occupy a piece of real estate. Almost every state has squatter’s rights, but the protections vary by the property’s location.
Squatters’ rights or squatters law comes from the Homestead Act of 1862. In that act, the government gave pioneers the ability to obtain land ownership by developing it. Pioneers could travel to a vacant piece of land, build their homes, and assume ownership.
Though the pioneer days have long since passed, squatters’ rights remain.
When a squatter inhabits a piece of property that isn’t theirs, they may do so knowingly. Alternatively, the squatter may be under the impression that the property is theirs to occupy. If there was a fraudulent lease agreement or an agreement with the previous property owner, they may not even realize they’re squatting.
Regardless, the squatter has protections that the property owner needs to understand.
First, it’s crucial to realize that squatters aren’t trespassing. Trespassers must violate the property in some way. They may break a window, pick a lock, or walk past a no trespassing sign.
Squatters inhabit the property without violating it to get in. They may enter through an already broken window or an unlocked door.
Trespassing is a criminal offense, and criminal trespassers don’t have legal protections, but squatters do. Once a squatter inhabits your real estate, you can’t just kick them out. Instead, you have to follow an eviction process, much like you would with a holdover tenant or someone who hasn’t paid their rent.
Squatters who inhabit property for a lengthy period, usually several years, can claim ownership under adverse possession laws. That’s why it’s crucial to keep an eye on vacant properties and try to keep squatters out. Otherwise, if left too long, the squatter can make an adverse possession claim and potentially gain ownership of your land.
Are Squatters’ Rights in Texas Different?
Squatters’ rights in Texas are different than in other states. So, suppose you’re selling your vacation home, rental property, or vacant lot in Texas and have a squatter problem. In that case, you must understand how specific state laws cover your Texas property.
In Texas, much like other states, squatters can gain ownership of your property through an adverse possession claim. A squatter must meet five requirements to make this claim.
- Make a Hostile Claim
In legal terms, hostile doesn’t mean violent or combative. Instead, there are three legal definitions for hostile.
- Simple Occupation: The squatter is simply occupying your land. They may not know they are on someone else’s property.
- Awareness of Trespassing: The squatter is occupying your land and is aware that it doesn’t belong to them.
- Good Faith Mistake: The squatter relies on a false deed to occupy the land.
- Treat the Property as Theirs
The squatter must also invest in the property to make an adverse possession claim. They may repair buildings, improve structures, or beautify the land. They also need to pay property taxes, utility bills, and other expenses associated with the property.
- Live There for 10 Years
According to Texas law (Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 16.021, et seq), before a squatter can claim ownership of a property, they must show continuous possession of the property for ten years. If they leave for weeks or months at a time, their claim is invalid.
The ten-year requirement can grow longer or become shorter given various circumstances.
If the squatter establishes “color of title,” attempts to improve the property in some way, and pays property taxes, they only need to inhabit the property for three years before making a claim.
“Color of title” proves through irregular means that the squatter has rights to the land. This proof could be through a title defect or some other kind of documentation irregularity.
If the squatter does not have “color of title” but does improve or maintain the property and pay property taxes, they can make a claim after five years.
However, if the actual owner of the property is underage, imprisoned, or declared legally incompetent, the continuous living requirement increases to a minimum of 25 years per Texas law.
- Possess the Property Exclusively
The squatter must also live in the property exclusively, meaning they can’t lease it to a tenant or live there with other potential owners. They must be the only ones who can feasibly make an adverse possession claim.
- Make it Obvious
Finally, it must be obvious to the general public that the squatter is living on the property. If they try to hide their presence, a claim of ownership won’t fly.
Can You Sell Your House When You Have a Squatter?
Understanding squatters’ rights in Texas state can save you a lot of trouble down the road. Squatters in Texas have basic rights so you need to get rid of them before selling your home. An eviction can take time, but a thorough understanding of the law and the real estate market can help. You also may want to enlist a home buying company that can help shorten the process.
Knowing the law can hasten the eviction process and get rid of a squatter more quickly. We’ll discuss the exact steps for eviction below.
A thorough understanding of the local real estate market will also help you sell your house once you get rid of the squatter. You can learn about the most expensive home sales in Tx, as well as what lower-end homes sell for, which will help you set a price that attracts interested buyers.
Companies that buy houses in Jacksonville and other parts of Texas like ours will purchase your property without the extensive repairs and cleaning you’ll likely need after a squatter takes up residence.
How to Sell Your House When You Have a Squatter
When you have a squatter, selling your house is complicated. Squatters often pose a health and safety risk to realtors you may want to work with. Even if you’re selling a house without a realtor, a squatter can cause trouble. So, it’s best to follow the eviction process perfectly.
First, you’ll need to serve an eviction notice. In Texas, this written notice must give the squatter three days to provide the rent payments they would owe you or leave the property. Deliver this notice by mail or law enforcement, and avoid going to the property yourself.
If the squatter doesn’t leave, you can file for eviction in the courts. Assuming the hearing goes in your favor, you can then have the local sheriff serve a Writ of Restitution. This allows local law enforcement to remove the squatter from your property.
After that, you’ll probably need to do some cleaning up before you can sell. Alternatively, we buy homes in Texas that need repair. If you need a company to buy your house in Longview or another part of Texas after a squatter has left, reach out! We can save you time and expense with a repair and clean-up process.
Squatters have basic rights in Texas, and getting them off your land can be difficult. A squatter can claim legal ownership in Texas after just a few years, so it’s crucial to deal with the issue immediately.
You’ll need to serve an eviction notice and involve local law enforcement. You should also expect significant clean-up and repair needs once the squatter leaves.
If you’re trying to sell your personal property after a squatter vacates it, you may consider using a company like ours. We buy homes that need repair, saving you the time and expense that often comes post-squatter.