Texas lawmakers begin work on anti-squatting legislation

Texas lawmakers are looking at creating a law to make it easier for homeowners to kick squatters off their property.

A hearing at the Capitol comes after Gov. Abbott suggested property owners could use the "Texas Castle Doctrine" to force squatters out.

In Harris County, squatters moved into a home after the owner went into a nursing home. Getting them out wasn't easy.

"The property owner has to go through legal channels to get them evicted. It can take a long time. A lot of squatters know that," said Sgt. Mauro Alvarado with the Harris Co. Precinct 6 Constables' Office.

In the Harris County case, constables eventually arrested four men and charged them with burglary. It's a nationwide problem. 


In California, AirBnbs have been taken over. In Atlanta, a squatter made headlines after using a fake lease. 

Anti-squatting laws have been passed this year in Georgia and in Florida. They focus on speeding up the eviction process, giving police more authority and increasing criminal penalties. A similar approach is being prepared for Texas lawmakers.

"It's everywhere. And this problem needs an answer," said State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R) Houston, who is chairman of the Senate Local Government Committee.

At a hearing, members of the committee said they were ready to crack down but admitted it could be complicated.

"Granted, there are two sides to it, but I think what we're seeing is a system that has allowed one side to skirt the law. By the way, it's been structured," said State Sen. Bob Hall (R) Edgewood.

The committee was told Texas has six laws dealing with adverse possession, as well as trespassing laws, but nothing specifically for squatting. They also learned old frontier laws can come into play, according to Rusty Adams, a real estate expert with Texas A&M.

"Another thing that could be a drawback to that is, Texas does, in some situations, have oral leases. And so, if there is an oral lease. Then they may have a right to be there," said Adams.

Property owners could try to force squatters out by themselves, but Adams noted that could cause dangerous encounters. That possibility came up after a recent social media post by Governor Greg Abbott. He went as far as to suggest using the Castle Doctrine, which could involve deadly force. 

Desperate measures for a desperate situation. Video shown to the committee was an example of that.

The images were from a home in Mesquite owned Terri Boyette. She testified about fighting a squatter for seven months, which brought an exchange with Senator Royce West (D) Dallas.

That brought a stern response and warning from Committee Chair Bettencourt.

"I'm putting out a warning right now that the police are going to be invited next year, along with the San Antonio Police Department. And until we find that we have got a problem, because, yeah, I’m mad already, and we are not even one hour into this hearing," Bettencourt said.

Committee members said as a Bill is drafted they want to include protection for renters who are victims of fraud. There are cases where people pay rent to individuals who claim to be a property owner but are just pulling off a con.