Members of the Fort Worth City Council were briefed this week on squatting laws — or rather, the lack of them — in Texas.

The briefing was prompted, in part, by concerns expressed by community members, a city spokesperson said, according to NBC 5 DFW.

Squatting has become an issue in many American cities, particularly in large metropolitan areas in Georgia, Texas, and Florida, per a survey by the National Rental Home Council, Newsweek reported.

According to the survey, some 475 squatting cases have been reported in DFW, compared to 1,200 in the Atlanta area and about 125 cases around Orlando.

Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) said in an interview with WFAA that, based on information from county constables, there were probably about 1,000 squatting cases in Houston alone and as many as 10,000 across the Lone Star State.

Bettencourt said the crux of the problem was that squatting is not technically a crime in Texas, as there is no definition for squatters in the Texas Code. This makes it difficult for police to take any action to remove the alleged squatters.

“This is a big, undiscussed problem. Because once a squatter gets in, you could use neutron weapons — you won’t have much of the building left — to get rid of them. I mean, it’s really horror stories,” Bettencourt told WFAA.

In 2022, the Fort Worth Housing Finance Corporation discovered squatters living in several of its properties, according to Crystal Moya of the Texas Apartment Association. She said that when the issue was reported to authorities, the police said it was not considered a crime and must be handled by civil courts. Moya said it took six months and $150,000 to evict the unwelcome occupants, NBC 5 reported.

In a Texas Senate hearing last month, Mesquite homeowner Terri Boyette recounted her experience with the issue.

A handyman hired to repair Boyette’s house while she was away for two weeks instead became a squatter. Police could not evict the man and told Boyette to pursue formal eviction proceedings through the civil courts.

“He used that time to sell my appliances, furniture, large items. Left the water running when he ripped out the fridge, washer, and dryer, so I have water and mold damage in my house now,” Boyette said, per NBC 5.

“If you own your property, you own it. Squatters have no right to it,” Bettencourt said. “It’s a zoo. And we’re going to fix it,” Bettencourt told WFAA.

He said that legislators in the next session intend to create substantial criminal penalties for squatting and make laws allowing law enforcement officers to evict squatters. Some states, including Florida and Georgia, have already passed legislation to address the problem.

However, while there is currently no legal restriction on squatting in Texas, there are steps that homeowners can take to protect their property from squatters, as Fort Worth city staff told the council members. These include:

Securing property by locking doors and windows and posting “No Trespassing” signs.

Regularly checking vacant properties for signs of attempted entry or occupancy.

Utilizing indoor and outdoor lights with timers or motion sensors to make the home appear occupied.

Asking neighbors to report signs of suspicious activity.