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Published on May 23, 2024
Texas Senator Paul Bettencourt Champions Strict Anti-Squatting Legislation, Proposes "Rocket Docket" Eviction ProcessSource: Unsplash / Avi Waxman

Texas State Senator Paul Bettencourt is taking a stand against property squatting in a big way, pushing for tighter laws that would not just hasten eviction processes but also impose criminal penalties on those unlawfully occupying homes. Calling on multipartisan support, Bettencourt chaired a hearing with the Texas Senate’s Local Government Committee on May 15, to shine a light directly on how squatting has affected families and landlords statewide. “The one thing that stood out to me was the hearts of the people this has happened to. We’re going to figure out how to fix this as soon as possible,” Bettencourt told KXAN.

Among the proposed solutions is the "rocket docket," a system designed to expediently remove suspected squatters. However, Bettencourt is quick to assure that this would not undermine the rights of lawful tenants. “There’s plenty of protection for legitimate renters, and we’re gonna keep that,” he ensured. Yet the senator estimates that Texas could be seeing up to a staggering 10,000 squatting cases, a figure brought to light by Bettencourt's comments and underlining the urgency to robustly address the issue. Tenant rights group BASTA Austin has sounded the alarm as well, citing a worrying trend towards a record number of evictions in Travis County.

Bettencourt also emphasizes the need to clearly distinguish between squatters and renters, asserting that squatters often have no right to occupy your home. Training and tools for law enforcement were also recommended by Harris County Constables to swiftly identify legitimate property owners in squatting cases, Bettencourt revealed in an interview with The Factor Uncensored. He outlined the necessity for accessible records, such as appraisal and tax information, to ascertain ownership and aid police in quickly resolving these situations.

On the legislative side, Bettencourt is now leading the charge to define the ambiguous term 'squatter' within Texas law. “Well, the first thing is, is that, I mean, we actually convened a subcommittee in the hearing. Senator West took Senator Hall, and they called, Mesquite, you know, general manager and said, why did you all not arrest that clearly crackhead squatter in our first witness, out of the panel. And, you know, everybody has excuses,” Bettencourt said, as he recounted the dialogue that has spurred the imperative legal work ahead. And though real change may not come until 2025 or a potential special legislative session, the groundwork being laid now seeks to ensure that no Texan finds themselves displaced in their own home by illegal occupants, a resolution that can't seem to come quick enough for those affected.