Texas Squatter Laws

In Texas, a squatter could potentially claim possession of a property if they’ve lived on it openly and continuously for a certain amount of time.
Written by Melanie Krieps Mergen
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff
In Texas, under the right circumstances, a squatter could potentially claim possession of a property if they’ve lived on it openly and continuously for ten years. If they’ve made property tax payments, it could be as little as five years or three years with a color of title. 
As a Texas property owner, the prospect that someone could claim ownership of your property without your permission can be a real source of anxiety. That’s why it can be helpful to understand adverse possession and squatter laws, so you can ideally avoid legal headaches before they start. 
That’s why
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, is here to give you the rundown on squatting and adverse possession laws in Texas. Read on to learn more about squatter laws in Texas, what’s required to make an adverse possession claim, and how to reduce the odds that a squatter picks your property to move into.
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Who’s considered a squatter in Texas?

Squatting is when someone lives on a property that’s been abandoned, foreclosed, or otherwise unoccupied without the permission of its legal owner. 
If a squatter lives on a property continuously for a certain amount of time—between three and ten years in Texas, depending on the circumstances—it’s possible that they could claim ownership of it themselves through adverse possession.
While it might sound stranger than fiction, it’s true! Adverse possession claims happen all over the United States. Take a look at
this example
of a recent adverse possession appeal in Texas. 

Squatting vs. trespassing vs. holdover tenants

The legal definition of trespassing is when a person knowingly enters another person’s property without permission. So, how is that different from squatting? 
The lines between squatting and trespassing can be complicated depending on a situation’s circumstances and local and state laws. 
However, there are a couple of factors that distinguish the two: whether the property owner has informed the squatter they’re unwelcome and how long the squatter has lived on the property
If a property was marked with “no trespassing” signs or was otherwise occupied and another person tried to take up residence there, these would typically be considered pretty clear cases of trespassing. 
Initially, squatting could be considered illegal trespassing at the start in many situations, but if a property owner isn’t aware of their presence; and therefore doesn’t request that they leave, enough time could pass that would allow the squatter to take possession of the property. 
Another complicated situation can arise in the case of holdover tenants or tenants who refuse to leave a property after their lease has ended. Generally, if they were to make an additional rent payment that the landlord accepted, they could become at-will tenants (which would then require certain legal proceedings to address). However, a holdover tenant could be considered a trespasser once served with an eviction notice.
Another complicated situation involves holdover tenants who don’t vacate a rental after their lease has expired. Generally, if a tenant doesn’t vacate the premises after their lease is over, it may constitute trespassing; but, if the tenant were to make an additional rent payment that the landlord accepted, they could become an at-will tenant.

Adverse possession laws in Texas

Adverse possession laws in Texas are outlined in
Civ. Prac. & Rem. §16.024
and onward. 
To take adverse possession of a property in Texas, a squatter must live on a property continuously for a certain amount of time and care for it as if it were their own. 
If a squatter has been making property tax payments and meets other requirements, they could claim the property as their own after five years. Without property tax payments, a person could make an adverse possession claim after ten years
If a person has a color of title, they could claim the property in as few as three years.

Generally, an adverse possession claim will also have to meet the following five requirements:

Hostile possession

Hostile possession means a squatter has been claiming possession of the property without the owner’s permission. This is the case regardless of intention—a squatter could choose to live on a property with the knowledge that they don’t have permission, or they could be there as a result of a good faith mistake, like if they were under the impression they had a right to the property due to an invalid deed.

Actual possession

Actual possession refers to living on the property and taking care of it as if you were the actual owner. This would include taking care of maintenance and repairs and making general improvements.

Open and notorious possession

To make an adverse property claim, you can’t simply come and go from the property in the dark hours of the night. Open and notorious possession refers to openly occupying the property in a way that would be apparent to neighbors and visitors. 

Exclusive possession

Exclusive possession refers to occupying the property exclusively, rather than being one squatter among a group. 

Continuous possession

Continuous possession means a person has been occupying the property uninterrupted for a given amount of time. In Texas, that amount of time is three years with a color of title, five years after paying property taxes, or ten years without tax payments or color of title. 
Key Takeaway An adverse possession claim in Texas requires ten years of continuous residence, five years of paying property taxes, or three years with a color of title.

Does Texas honor color of title claims?

A color of title is a document that appears to be a legitimate claim of title to a piece of land but is actually invalid for one reason or another. 
In Texas, having a color of title could allow someone to make an adverse possession claim in as little as three years, rather than five or ten. 

How to protect yourself from squatters

Properties most vulnerable to adverse possession claims are generally properties that belong to absentee landowners who aren’t aware that someone has been living on their property. Part of the premise behind adverse possession claims is actually to give abandoned or neglected property to someone who can make good use of it. 
For these reasons, being a present owner pays off if you’re worried about adverse possession claims from squatters. Here are a few more things you can do to help protect your Texas property from a squatting situation:
  • Visit the property regularly: Especially if you own a property that isn’t currently lived in, making routine visits to the property can ensure it’s in good condition, and you're more likely to pick up on signs that someone may be squatting on the property. The sooner you’re aware someone is squatting on your property, the sooner you can address the situation before they’re able to make an adverse possession claim. 
  • Install a security system: Locks and alarms are an important safeguard against trespassers and having security cameras can help you monitor the property while you’re not there and evidence of squatting if you need to. 
  • Pay property taxes promptly: In Texas, paying property taxes can reduce the amount of time a person needs to make an adverse possession claim, so it’s a good idea to make sure you pay yours on time.
  • Post “no trespassing” signs: “No trespassing” signs on property entrances make it clearer that squatters aren’t welcome and can potentially give you more legal recourse if you have to deal with trespassers or squatters.
If you’ve discovered someone is squatting on your property, there are a few ways you can go about remedying the situation:
  • Written notice: You can provide a written notice to the squatter informing them you own the property, they aren’t welcome there, and ask them to leave the property.
  • Offer to rent them the property: This could seem counterintuitive, but if your concern is more so about maintaining possession of a property rather than someone else living there, a lease would turn a squatter into a tenant, which then gives them a different relationship to the property that wouldn’t qualify for an adverse possession claim.
  • Evict them from the property: If a squatter doesn’t vacate a property after being asked, you may have to follow Texas eviction proceedings to legally remove them.
While dealing with a squatter as a property owner can be frustrating, don’t issue threats or shut off utilities—these could cause legal repercussions leaving you with additional headaches. Instead, get legal counsel if you need it and follow the proper procedures based on your particular situation. 

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Technically, a squatter might be able to manage to live on a property indefinitely, but to make an adverse possession claim in Texas, a person would have to live on a property continuously for three years with a color of title, five years if they’ve made property tax payments, or ten years without either.
Not necessarily, but paying property taxes could help a person make an adverse possession claim after five years, rather than ten years without paying property taxes.
It depends on the circumstances. Although trespassing is generally a criminal offense in the United States, certain squatting situations are treated as civil matters that require a court-ordered eviction before the person is legally required to leave.
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