Texas Looks at Revamping Squatter Laws

Old door with eviction notice
Old Door with eviction notice | Image by Mr Doomits/Shutterstock

The Texas Legislature is re-evaluating the state’s laws concerning squatters’ rights amidst a spike in social media posts about negative homeowner experiences.

The Senate Committee on Local Government held a hearing this month in which it heard stories from homeowners who have dealt with squatters and the difficulty of removing them under current laws.

According to a notice of public hearing, the committee’s intention was to “secure Texas against ‘Squatters'” and “review current laws relating to ‘squatters’ or those claiming adverse possession of property,” as well as to “[m]ake recommendations to streamline the process for the immediate removal of ‘squatters’ and to strengthen the rights of property owners.”

Changing the existing laws, however, could create a situation in which legal tenants face an enhanced eviction process that does not provide opportunities to settle and remain housed.

It remains unclear just how big a problem squatting is, however.

Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), who chairs the committee, claimed that “the magnitude of [the problem] is shocking,” despite the lack of any official statistics on the issue, reported The Texas Tribune.

Not everyone agrees with Bettencourt.

“It is not a big scale problem at all,” said Stuart Campbell, a lawyer with the Dallas Eviction Advocacy Center, per The Texas Tribune.

“It’s extremely rare,” he said, blaming social media for spotlighting the issue.

One homeowner testified that she was gone for just a few weeks to deal with a family emergency in another state, only to find her home occupied when she returned. It took her seven months to get the squatter removed, and she is still fighting with her insurance company over payment for the damage done to her home.

A couple testified that a contractor they had hired to remodel their home instead took possession of the property and remained there. It took three months to remove him.

As recently reported by The Dallas Express, a Houston homeowner found a family of five living in her home, and the door locks were changed.

Brian Cweren, an attorney specializing in eviction cases, told ABC 13 Houston that there has been a rise in squatting cases. He said that if there is evidence that the people inside the house are trespassing, the situation should not be treated as a civil matter but a criminal one.

“I don’t think we need to evict someone who’s clearly a trespasser,” said Cweren.

“If you look at different factors, this person went in by force,” he said, referring to the Houston homeowner’s situation. “There’s signs of forced entry, there’s no rental history, there’s no discussion of rental history between the actual landlord and the person claiming to be a tenant.”

Housing advocates point to Texas laws that force homeowners to file for eviction to remove squatters, a lengthy, expensive process that often requires hiring a lawyer. The process can further be complicated when a squatter claims “adverse possession,” a protected legal status that provides tenants rights against homeowners.

It can be an expensive and time-consuming legal process to have squatters removed. In Texas, property owners must issue a three-day notice to quit before law enforcement can assist in removing a person.

“The eviction laws, as they are written, are designed for getting tenants out of property. I know we have some people who are purported tenants, and we may have some way to deal with that. But [when dealing with] a pure trespasser these laws are not working because they put the burden on the property owner to show that this person doesn’t have to be there,” Rusty Adams, a research attorney at the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University, told The Texas Tribune.

Although it is unclear what, if any, changes lawmakers will make, recently passed legislation in Florida and Georgia were discussed as potential models. DX reported on a new law passed by Florida and signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in March that allows law enforcement to be utilized to remove squatters.

“You are not going to be able to commandeer somebody’s private property and expect to get away with it. We are, in the state of Florida, ending the squatter scam once and for all,” DeSantis said, as reported by Fox News. The law is the first of its kind in the nation. In most states, including Texas, individuals can effectively take over property without a lease or paying rent.

Support our non-profit journalism

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Continue reading on the app
Expand article