Squatter’s Rights in Tennessee. A Comprehensive Guide.

Laws & Eviction | 0 comments

Squatter's Rights in Tennessee

Squatter’s rights in Tennessee give certain opportunities to a squatter trying to gain title or possession of a vacant property. If you have a rental property in Tennessee, it’s important to equip yourself with the necessary knowledge and insights to navigate this legal landscape and avoid costly and time-consuming situations.

In this comprehensive article, we will talk about:

    1. The Definition of Squatters: Understand who squatters are and how they take possession of vacant properties without legal permission from the owner.
    2. How Squatter’s Rights Work in Tennessee: Explore the specific opportunities and requirements that squatters have to gain title or possession of a property under Tennessee law.
    3. Strategies to Protect Your Property: Discover practical and proactive measures you can take to safeguard your property from unauthorized occupation, minimizing the risks associated with squatters.
  1. By gaining a deep understanding of the laws and implementing these strategies, you can stay informed and empowered as a property owner in Tennessee. Stay one step ahead and protect your investment from potential squatter-related issues.

Understanding Squatters: Definition and Implications

A squatter is an individual or group of individuals that take up residence in a home, building, or piece of land, intending to permanently use the property without any legal permission from the property’s owner.

Some squatters eventually gain legal title to the property through adverse possession.

Adverse possession is the process that allows the squatter to become the owner of the property after they have met the minimal requirements and have presented their case in front of a county court in Tennessee.

The Difference Between a Squatter and a Trespasser

As a property owner, it is important to know that a squatter and a trespasser are not the same thing.

trespasser is someone that knowingly enters someone’s house, building, or land without permission or authorization.

Trespassing is considered a criminal offense, thus once it is determined that a person is a trespasser, that person can be removed by the Sheriff’s office.

On the other hand, a squatter is someone that has taken up residence on someone else’s property and has the intention of living there as if they were the owner.

A clear example of a squatter that was NOT a trespasser is someone that was once a tenant but failed to pay the rent and is now being evicted. If this person decides to stay in the property and not move out as they are being asked to, they are now considered a squatter.

At this point, unlike trespassing, which is criminal, the squatter now needs to be handled by the court system, and the case is now considered a civil matter.

Adverse Possession Explained

The terms adverse possession and squatter’s rights are often used interchangeably because adverse possession is the set of legalities that give a squatter the right to gain the legal title of a property after they have occupied that property and met the legal requirements to become the owner.

Someone seeking title by exercising adverse possession is also known as a disseisor.

A disseisor is someone that claims that they have been able to dispossess the true owner of the property and claim to now have a legal claim to the title of such property.

There are a few minimum elements a disseisor must prove to claim the legal title of a property and exercise their squatter’s rights in Tennessee.

Key Elements of Adverse Possession

Before someone can claim legal title to a property through adverse possession in most states, as well as in Tennessee, they must meet these basic elements:

Exclusive Use

For adverse possession to take place, the squatter or disseisor must exercise exclusive use of the property as if it was their own.

This means that the disseisor must act like the owner of the property and possibly keep out and remove trespassers, other potential squatters, and even the true owner of the property.

The use of the property must be exclusive.

Actual Possession

Actual possession of the property dictates that the disseisor must use the property as an owner would, and effectively maintain and/or make improvements to the land or building.

Examples of this would be mowing the lawn, landscaping, changing locks, or harvesting the land.

Open and Notorious

The disseisor must not hide the use of the property and must occupy it in a way that can be seen by the public or the legal owner.

An example of this would be exiting and entering through the front door as a regular owner would.

Hostile

This element can be interpreted somewhat differently by each state’s squatter laws, but at a minimum, to meet this element, the disseisor must have entered the property or must use the property without permission from the true owner.

The hostility part of this element does not necessarily mean that there must be confrontation or violence between the disseisor and the true owner.

It simply mandates that the disseisor’s motivations must be against the true owner’s claim to the property.

Continuous Use

Lastly, adverse possession can only take place if the disseisor or squatter uses the property continuously for the entire duration of the statute of limitations.

This means that the person claiming the right to the property must exercise the four elements above continuously through the period mandated by the state’s squatter laws.

Exploring Squatter’s Rights in Tennessee: Requirements and Process

For a person to claim squatter’s rights in Tennessee and gain ownership of a property through adverse possession, they must meet all of the five adverse possession elements mentioned above, as well as meet additional requirements as stipulated by adverse possession laws in Tennessee.

A person claiming adverse possession in Tennessee must:

→ Meet all 5 adverse possession elements mentioned above.

→ Have continuous possession of the property for a minimum of 20 years. However, the length of time can be reduced to 7 years with proof of Color of Title.

→ Color of title is not required in Tennessee; however, proof of Color of Title can reduce the required length of occupation to 7 years. (Color of title explained in the next section)

 Timely pay any required state, county, or municipal property taxes for the required 20 years of occupation; however, proof of Color of Title may waive this requirement for the 7 years of occupation. 

A squatter meeting the minimum requirements to claim property can initiate legal proceedings through Tennessee’s court system and present its adverse possession claim in front of a judge.

For more information on squatter’s rights in TN and the adverse possession requirements, you can review Tenn. Code Ann 28-2-101 of the Tennessee Code.

Questions?

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Color of Title: Impact on Adverse Possession Claims 

Color of Title

Color of title is a term used in property law referring to someone’s claim to have possession of a document that grants them title to the property when in reality, they don’t hold title to the property or there is something specifically wrong with such document.

As an example, a deed that contains written errors or that is void may make it seem that someone has title to a property, but in reality, the deed does not grant ownership to this person.

Color of title is often mentioned in cases regarding adverse possession and real estate property claims because squatters can use color of title as a tool to give the appearance that they own the property, and could use it to eventually gain legal possession of real property.

Squatter’s rights in Tennessee DO NOT require someone to hold Color of Title; However, someone claiming to have color of title can reduce the required time of occupation from 20 years to 7 years. They can also avoid having to pay property taxes for those 7 years.    

How to Remove Squatters in Tennessee: Legal Procedures and Recommendations

It is important to note that squatter’s rights in Tennessee grant a squatter certain rights compared to a trespasser, and dealing with a squatter requires caution from the landlord.

When dealing with someone that has taken possession of a property without the owner’s permission, it is recommended to consult a local attorney that specializes in eviction law and has a vast knowledge of eviction laws and squatter’s rights in Tennessee.

Although, in most cases, evicting a squatter must be handled through the Tennessee court system with judicial action, there are certain avenues a landlord or property manager can take to remove a squatter from their property.

Call the Sheriff

The sheriff’s office may be unable to remove the person from the property if the person taking possession of the property is considered a squatter and not a trespasser.

However, calling the sheriff is a good initial step because it logs a record of the incident and generates a report that the property owner can then show as evidence if the case escalates to the court system.

Start the Judicial Eviction Process

Unlike other states, Tennessee DOES NOT have specific laws on how to remove squatters, but to begin the removal process, the property owner or manager must initiate a judicial eviction and give notice to the person occupying the property before they can be legally removed by the sheriff’s office.

In the early stages, you may not be looking at a situation in which you have to involve the court system. If the squatter does not have a legal claim to the property through adverse possession, in Tennessee, a landlord can remove a squatter by serving them with an Eviction Notice.

There are various types of eviction notices in the state of Tennessee.

→ 14-Day Notice to Pay (for non-payment)

→ 3-Day Notice to Quit (for illegal activity)

→ 10-Day Notice to Quit (for week-to-week leases)

→ 30-Day Notice to Quit (for month-to-month leases)

Start the Eviction Proceedings

Evicting a squatter requires due process from the part of the landlord and requires a careful approach.

If a squatter is claiming adverse possession and is refusing to leave the premises after the period allotted in the Eviction Notice, then the next step would be to start proceedings in the county’s court.

This will initiate a hearing process in which the case will be presented in front of a judge and a ruling will be made based on the case details.

We recommend consulting an attorney with vast knowledge of property law in Tennessee to avoid possible legal recourses against you, or the property.

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How to Protect your Property from Squatters

Squatter's Rights

Protecting against squatters and trespassers comes down to attentiveness and diligence on the part of the property owner or the property manager.

Leaving property unattended and without regular maintenance for a long period can be a red flag for a potential squatter that the property is vacant, thus increasing the chances of a squatter situation.

And although the situation may not escalate to someone claiming the title of the property, nobody wants someone living on their property without approval or paying rent.

These are some preventive measures that can help you safeguard  your property in Tennessee:

Regular visits 

it is recommended to visit and visually inspect the property often, especially if the property is vacant.

When visiting look for:

→ Signs of someone living in the property.

→ Open doors.

→ Open windows.

→ Leftover trash.

→ Water bottles left behind.

→ Signs of entry.

If the property is located far enough which prevents you from visiting frequently, it is also an option to exchange contact information with a neighbor that could potentially alert you of someone taking up residence in the property.

Have a Maintenance Schedule

Having a regular maintenance schedule can not only keep the property in pristine condition, but it can also help deter a trespasser or squatter from taking up residence.

Having a properly maintained property gives the appearance that someone is already living in the property and deters possible squatters or trespassers.

Also, remember that for someone to claim title to the property through adverse possession, they must have exclusive use of the property and by maintaining the property, you are negating that element of adverse possession.

Record Keeping and Document Storage 

As we have mentioned, some states’ adverse possession laws require the disseisor to pay property taxes and other fees to maintain the property.

For that reason, keeping track of tax due dates and tax payment receipts can not only keep you organized but can also prevent someone else from paying the taxes on the property.

Additionally, it is very important to safeguard other important property documents like the property’s title and expense records.

Keeping tidy property records is key in preventing possible scammers and squatters from getting a hold of these documents and using them against you.

Install an Alarm System

Having an alarm system installed can deter trespassers and squatters from potentially taking up residence in the home. An important first step in avoiding a squatter situation in the long run.

An alarm system can not only stop intruders in general, but if the home is vacant for a long time, it can stop someone at the first sign of entrance.

This can make all the difference in determining if this person was simply a trespasser and not something more, like a squatter.

PropertyCtrl: Empowering Property Owners to Safeguard Against Squatters

PropertyCtrl offers a powerful and easy-to-use cloud-based property management software, with tools and resources that empower you to take control of every aspect of your rental property.

This is how PropertyCtrl’s features can help you avoid a potential squatter or adverse possession situation.

Never miss a property tax due date with a dedicated property calendar to keep you organized.

Run an organized property maintenance schedule with automatic remainders and notifications

Keep all of your important documents like your property's title, tax records and contracts in one single and safe place

The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute as legal advice; instead, all information, content, and materials available on this site are for general informational purposes only.

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