If someone trespasses and even lives on your property without your permission, then you can always have them thrown out, right?

Believe it or not, the answer is not that simple. Perhaps you've heard of "squatter's rights." Both federal and Texas state law respects squatter's rights.

Photo by Matheus Ferrero on Unsplash
Photo by Matheus Ferrero on Unsplash

So what is "squatting" exactly?

A squatter is someone who lives on a property to which they have no title, right, or lease.

Under the Texas squatter's rights laws, a squatter can legally own property through adverse means.  In other words, if a squatter takes up residence on the property you own long enough, they can make a legal claim to it.

For a squatter to make an adverse possession claim to your property, they must be able to fulfill the "Open and Notorious" requirement. This means they must be able to prove that they have been living on the property openly and treating the property like the actual owner would. For example, making beautification efforts such as landscaping and fencing.

To fulfill this requirement, the occupation of the property must be obvious, so much so that even the landowner should be aware.

Also, the squatter must be able to prove exclusivity in their possession of the property. They have to show that they have occupied the property exclusively. Sharing it with anyone else would render their adverse possession claim invalid.

To make a claim the squatter also has to fulfill the "Hostile Claim" requirement.  The squatter doesn't have to know the property belongs to someone else.

young man who has received an eviction notice

Finally, the squatter must reside on the property for a continuous period. To file a claim on the property, a squatter must have lived on it for at least 3 years. Once that is met, then the squatter gets the "color of title" After that, the squatter must pay property taxes and live on the property for 5 years. Without a color of title or paying taxes, a squatter must reside on the property for a minimum of ten years.

It seems unfair that a total stranger can take over your property just by trespassing, but the law is clear. There are some steps you can take if you have vacant properties.

1) Visit the property regularly. Collect the mail, clean up the yard and do whatever it takes to make the property look "lived in".

2) Cut off all utilities.  This makes the property uninhabitable for squatters.

3) Ask trusted neighbors or nearby relatives and/or friends to visit the property regularly to make sure no one is there.

4) Make sure all entry points are inaccessible. If someone breaks into your property and a squatter enter through the opening, they can claim legal ownership.

Once a squatter has established residency, they must be served a legally prepared eviction notice.

Home Real Estate Property Handover Sale Concept

We've all heard the expression, "possession is nine-tenths of the law." Most of us never knew just how accurate that expression is.  If you own properties you don't live on, it's better to be safe than squatted on.

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