Texas Squatters’ Rights & Adverse Possession Laws - 2024

What are Squatters’ Rights in Texas?

Squatters’ rights, also known as adverse possession, is a legal concept that allows people occupying an abandoned or vacant property to potentially gain legal ownership of that property after a set period of continuous possession. 

In Texas, squatters’ rights laws state that a squatter who occupies a property openly, continuously, and hostilely for 10 years or more can legally claim ownership of the property through adverse possession. The rationale behind squatter's rights laws is that if a property owner neglects their property for an extended period of time, and a squatter maintains, improves, lives on, and pays taxes on the property, the squatter can be rewarded with ownership.

To gain ownership through adverse possession in Texas, the squatter must treat the property as their own for at least 10 straight years. Their possession has to be actual, visible, exclusive, and hostile for the entire duration. The squatter needs to reside on the property and make it their permanent home. Merely visiting or storing belongings does not qualify as possession. If another party also occupies the property or if the owner returns, the continuous possession clock resets.

Squatter's rights laws in Texas provide an avenue for squatters occupying abandoned buildings and vacant homes to legally gain ownership after 10 years. However, the process is not easy and squatters must rigorously maintain possession or they lose their opportunity to claim adverse possession.

Requirements for Adverse Possession in Texas 

In order for a squatter to gain legal ownership of a property in Texas through adverse possession, they must meet all of the following requirements:

Hostile Possession

The squatter must occupy the property without the permission of the legal owner. Their possession must be hostile, meaning against the rights of the true owner. The owner must not have given any consent for the squatter to live on the property.

Exclusive Possession

The squatter must possess the property exclusively. They can't share occupation with strangers, the owner, or others. The squatter must be the only occupant during the entire statutory period.

Open and Notorious Possession

It must be obvious to anyone that the squatter lives on the property. They must make no attempt to hide their occupation, and it should be common knowledge in the community that they reside there. This gives the true owner adequate notice that their ownership is in jeopardy.

Actual Possession

The squatter must physically occupy the property. They must treat the property as their own home and land. Merely making occasional use of the property is not enough to meet this requirement.

Continuous Possession

The squatter must reside on the property without lapse for the entire statutory period of 10 years. This time period cannot be interrupted. The squatter cannot abandon the property and return sporadically.

In Texas, a squatter can potentially gain legal ownership of a property after 10 continuous years of adverse possession. The 10 year time period starts running as soon as the squatter begins occupying the property without the owner's permission. 

To meet the requirements for adverse possession in Texas, the squatter must maintain exclusive, open, notorious, hostile, and continuous possession of the property for those 10 years. 

In addition to occupying the property for the required time period, the squatter must also pay all applicable property taxes during that time. They need to maintain the property as if it was their own. Making visible improvements or changes to the property can help demonstrate the required possession.

The key factor is that the squatter must occupy the property continuously for those 10 years. If there is any significant gap during that time where they are not possessing the property, then the clock resets. 

After the entire 10 year period has elapsed, the squatter can then take legal steps to claim adverse possession and become the rightful owner. At that point, the previous owner forfeits their rights to reclaim the property.

So in summary, 10 continuous years of adverse possession in addition to paying property taxes can allow a squatter in Texas to legally gain ownership of a property. The owner cannot reclaim the property after that time period has lapsed.

Abandoned vs Unoccupied Properties

In Texas, it is generally easier for squatters to establish ownership through adverse possession of an abandoned property compared to one that is unoccupied. 

An abandoned property is one where the legal owner has stopped maintaining, paying taxes on, or showing any intention to make use of the property. Since the owner has essentially relinquished their claim, it becomes easier for squatters to take it over. As long as they follow all the proper adverse possession requirements, an abandoned property can legally become theirs after 10 years of continuous occupation.

With an unoccupied property, the legal owner still maintains or pays taxes on the land and may have future plans to make use of it. In these cases, it can be more difficult for squatters to claim adverse possession since the owner has established their intention to retain control. However, even in these scenarios, if the squatter fulfills all the necessary requirements for the statutory period, they may be able to successfully claim legal ownership. 

The key differences being that with an abandoned property the original owner has given up their rights, while with an unoccupied one they still assert their control, though may not have a physical presence. Squatters will have an easier time taking over abandoned properties, but with determination and by following the letter of the law, they may still be able to gain rights to unoccupied ones as well.

What Constitutes Hostile Possession?

In order for squatters to establish ownership through adverse possession in Texas, they must occupy the property in a "hostile" manner. Hostile possession simply means occupying the property without the owner's permission. It does not imply any ill will or malintent on the part of the squatter. 

The property owner does not need to know about the possession for it to be considered hostile. As long as the squatter does not have the owner's consent to occupy the property, their possession meets the hostility requirement. Even if the owner is unaware of the squatter's occupation, it still qualifies as hostile as defined under Texas squatter's rights laws.

The key factor is that the squatter is occupying the property without permission. If the owner gave them consent to live on the land, then their possession would no longer be considered hostile. However, if that consent is later revoked, and the squatter refuses to leave, their ongoing occupation would once again become hostile in the eyes of the law.

So in summary, hostile possession refers to occupation without current consent from the owner. It does not require any malicious intent from the squatter. As long as they lack permission to be on the property, their possession is hostile and may lead to eventual ownership if all other adverse possession conditions are also met continuously for the statutory period.

Maintaining Exclusive Possession

To successfully claim adverse possession in Texas, the squatter must maintain exclusive possession of the property. This means the squatter must be the only one occupying and possessing the property during the entire statutory period. 

The owner, or any other party, cannot also be in possession of the property at the same time as the squatter. Any occupation of the premises by the legal owner disrupts the exclusivity of possession and breaks the continuous possession time period required for adverse possession. Even a brief period of occupation by the actual property owner can destroy a squatter's claim for adverse possession.

The squatter must act as the exclusive user and possessor of the property. They must treat the land as if it is their own property and not share occupation with anyone else. Having any other parties, such as guests, living at the property for a period of time can also break exclusivity. The squatter must be the only one exercising exclusive domain over the property for the full statutory period.

Maintaining exclusive possession ensures the squatter alone asserts ownership rights over the property. It proves the owner has willingly relinquished possession and control. Exclusivity is an important requirement for a successful claim of adverse possession. As long as a property owner maintains some possession and control, a squatter cannot claim exclusivity and meet this key requirement.

Following Property Tax Laws

For squatters to gain legal ownership through adverse possession in Texas, they must pay property taxes on the property for the full 10 years they are occupying it. Payment of taxes is one of the requirements that must be met to prove continuous, open, and notorious possession.

The squatter must document having paid the property taxes for the entire 10 year period in order to claim adverse possession. If the squatter fails to pay taxes for even one year during the decade of occupation, it can nullify their claim to adverse possession.  

Property tax records are public information in Texas. When a squatter makes an adverse possession claim in court, tax records can be used to verify they paid taxes on the property for 10 straight years. The court will look for evidence of continuous tax payment during the entire adverse possession period.

Paying property taxes further establishes a squatter's possession as open and notorious. Making the tax payments is a clear signal to the owner and public that they are occupying the property exclusively. Property owners should be vigilant in checking that taxes are paid on their vacant land each year. Unpaid taxes can be a red flag that a squatter may be occupying the property without permission.

By complying with property tax laws for 10 years, the squatter shows they have maintained constant, open possession of the land to meet the legal requirements for adverse possession in Texas. Documented tax payments for the entire decade are crucial evidence that the squatter did in fact exclusively treat the property as their own during that time.

Making Possession Open and Obvious

For adverse possession to apply in Texas, the squatter must occupy the property in a manner that is open and obvious. This means they cannot try to hide the fact that they are living there from the legal owner. 

Some examples of open and notorious possession include:

  • Making repairs or improvements to the property. This demonstrates the squatter is exercising ownership.
  • Using the address to receive mail and other deliveries. This creates a paper trail showing the squatter resides there.
  • Paying utilities and bills associated with the property. Accounts in the squatter's name indicate occupancy. 
  • Maintaining the land by mowing the lawn, tending a garden, etc. This shows active stewardship.
  • Displaying personal belongings around the property for others to see. This visually stakes a claim to the land.
  • Telling neighbors and community members that they live there. Verbally asserting residency.

A squatter cannot simply hide inside the home or property out of sight. They need to make overt efforts to demonstrate they are occupying and caring for the land as its owner. The possession needs to be conspicuous enough that a reasonable owner checking on the property would discover the squatter's presence.

Preventing Squatters on Your Property

To prevent squatters from occupying your property in Texas, it is important to take proactive measures to secure vacant buildings and land.  

  • Regularly check on any unoccupied properties you own. Drive by or inspect the property frequently to look for signs of trespassing or squatting. Check to make sure entrances are still secured and no damage has occurred. 
  • Post "No Trespassing" signs around the perimeter of vacant land or buildings. Place signs where they will be visible from all access points. No Trespassing signs help establish that any unauthorized presence is unwelcome.
  • Secure all entrances to vacant structures with high-quality locks. Make sure all windows are closed and locked as well. Block access to crawl spaces or basements. Cut overgrown vegetation that could hide trespassers.
  • Consider installing surveillance cameras to monitor unoccupied properties remotely. Monitor the live feeds so you can contact law enforcement at the first sign of unauthorized entry.
  • Hire a property management company to regularly inspect your unoccupied properties if you cannot do so yourself. Have the property manager document any issues through written reports and photographs.  
  • If you live far away, have a neighbor, friend or family member regularly check on the property for you. Offer to compensate them for keeping a close eye on your vacant building or land.
  • Make sure your contact information is up to date with the local tax assessor's office so you do not miss important property tax notices. Pay all property taxes on time to avoid tax-default properties.

Taking preventative measures can help protect your vacant property and establish your ownership rights in case of any squatting attempts. Consistent monitoring and maintenance is key.

Evicting Squatters in Texas

If you find squatters occupying your property in Texas, you cannot take matters into your own hands and forcibly remove them yourself. This could potentially expose you to civil and criminal penalties. Instead, you must follow the formal judicial eviction process to establish that you are the legal property owner and have squatter(s) occupying the premises without your consent. 

The steps for evicting a squatter in Texas are:

  • File an eviction lawsuit against the squatter(s) in the local justice court to establish that you are the lawful owner of the property. This gives you the legal authority to evict them.
  • Hire a process server to serve the squatter(s) with a written notice to vacate the premises within a specified period of time (e.g. 3 days). The notice should identify the property address, list the names of the squatters, and state the reason for eviction.
  • If the squatter(s) fails to leave after the notice period expires, file a request with the court to have a writ of possession issued. This court order authorizes the county sheriff to carry out the physical eviction.
  • Contact the sheriff's department to schedule a time for them to arrive and forcibly remove the squatters from the property if they are still present. The sheriff will oversee the removal of the squatters and their belongings.
  • If the squatters leave behind any personal property, follow required procedures for proper storage and return if applicable. You cannot simply dispose of their possessions.
  • Secure the property against future squatting once the eviction is complete.

The formal judicial process must be followed under Texas law for removing squatters, as illegally evicting them without a court order can open you up to liability. Simply having police or sheriffs show up cannot instantly evict a squatter if you have not gone through the proper legal channels first. Be sure to hire a local attorney if you need assistance carrying out a legal squatter eviction.

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