Squatters. They’re every property owner’s worst nightmare.
In some cases, they occupy your home or rental unit while you’re away. Other times, they’re daring enough to build a house on your property unbeknownst to you.
They’re unwelcome guests at best — and they’re a major headache at worst.
Unfortunately, ejecting them isn’t always as straightforward as it may seem. Read on to learn how to legally remove squatters from your property:
Is it trespassing or squatting?
The terms may seem interchangeable, but the law clearly differentiates between the two.
Trespassing means entering a property uninvited but without the goal of setting up camp. Trespassing is a criminal case and can thus be reported to the police.
Squatting, meanwhile, is when an unwanted occupant intentionally makes your property their home. Squatting constitutes a civil case; you need to go through the courts to get the squatter evicted.
Why can’t I just evict squatters?
Part of the reason is Texas’ adverse possession law, which can potentially grant squatters the right to legally claim ownership of your property.
In the eyes of the law, unused property is a wasted resource — that’s why a squatter who uses it productively (e.g. tills the land, constructs a home) is extended certain rights.
In practice, though, very few squatters can lay claim to any property that isn’t legally theirs to begin with. This is because the adverse possession law has very exacting requirements that a squatter must meet:
It must be clear that the squatter does not have the owner’s permission to occupy the property.
The squatter must act as if they actually own the property, including paying the utilities and property taxes.
They exclusively use the property and do not share “ownership” with anyone else.
- Open and notorious
The squatter must not, at any point, have hidden his occupancy of the property from the owner.
In many cases, the squatter needs to have occupied the property for at least 30 consecutive years to even invoke the adverse possession law.
Another reason why you shouldn’t sweat adverse possession law? Most instances of squatting are accidental.
For instance, you may have bought rural land and a neighbor accidentally used part of it because there wasn’t a boundary fence. In most cases, disputes like this can be amicably resolved between the two parties.
How do you legally evict squatters?
Depending on the scenario, there are a few ways to go about it:
- Turn them into tenants
Some squatters might just really like your property and may even have invested their own money to improve it. If such is the case, offering them a rental contract might not be a bad idea. The upside to doing this is that you can legally evict them should they violate the terms of your lease or refuse to vacate the property after their contract runs out.
- File a civil suit
If the squatter refuses to become a tenant, you should hire a lawyer and obtain a notice of ejection or file an unlawful detainer suit. If the court sides with you, you can then call in the local sheriff to enforce the eviction.
Contact me to help with property management advice! Our phone number is 361.449.2051. Or you can drop me a message at desertflowerrealty(at)desertflowerrealty(dotted)com.