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Published on June 03, 2024
Texas Legislators Tackle Squatter Issue, Spark Concerns Over Tenants' Rights in DallasSource: Unsplash/ Wesley Tingey

In Texas, the battle lines are drawn between property owners dog-tired of squatters taking over their homes, and fears from tenants' advocates that new changes to the law could trample renters' rights. Legislators in Texas are keen on crafting measures to eject squatters with more ease, inspired by recent legislation in Florida and Georgia.

Property owners, fed up with lengthy and arduous confrontation with unwanted occupants, are advocating for swifter and more decisive remedies. Terri Boyette, whose ordeal to reclaim her Dallas home spanned a grueling seven months, spoke at a Texas Capitol hearing about her squatter nightmare, as reported by The Texas Tribune. The hearing, called by senators to mull over the current state laws, put the spotlight on what could be a deeply pervasive issue, though precise data is lacking. Senator Paul Bettencourt described “the magnitude of it is shocking” but also conceded the absence of official statistics.

However, skepticism exists about the prevalence of the situation. Stewart Campbell of the Dallas Eviction Advocacy Center argued the squatter problem is extremely rare, questioning the urgency for legislative reform. The focus, as per Campbell's insights, should not draw away from the weightier issues at play in the Texan housing sector.

On the legal front, if property claims are disputed, owners are forced into proving their title in court, a process plagued by potential delays through fraudulent rental agreement claims, according to Rusty Adams of the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University. But the most concern comes from how the proposed changes might undercut the rights of lawful tenants. Housing experts have sounded alarms that an adjustment in-laws facilitating accelerated squatter removal, could, by extension place undue pressure on tenants, already seeing evictions above pre-pandemic levels.

Last year's numbers give credibility to the rising tide of apprehension among tenant advocates. Eviction rates soared despite the temporary respite provided by federal and state shelters during the peak of the pandemic. A stark contrast emerges with 83% of landlords having legal representation in these matters against a meager 4% of tenants, data from the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel indicates. Texas Housers, an advocacy group, pushes for increased legal counsel for tenants, citing the measure as a cost-effective way to buttress vulnerable renters.

The debate in Texas is poised to continue as the contours of new legislation become clearer. Property owners and tenant advocates alike await comprehensive solutions that address the issues of squatters unlawfully clinging to a property, and tenants who may be on the edge of losing their homes. The balance between protecting rightful ownership and safeguarding tenants' rights hangs in the atmosphere of Texas’s political theatre of housing.

Dallas-Real Estate & Development