Texas state Senator Bettencourt calls for new criminal statute against squatting

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Texas Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, estimates that up to 10,000 squatting cases have happened in Texas, according to a Wednesday press release.

On May 15, Bettencourt chaired a hearing of the Texas Senate’s Local Government Committee focused on the issue. Testimony included families and landlords who had encountered serious problems with squatters.

Texas Senate holds hearing on squatters

“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 said at the hearing.

KXAN followed up with Bettencourt on Wednesday. He called the hearing a great first step.

“I’ve got a great group of bipartisan senators that look for solutions,” Bettencourt said. “What we think we’re looking at is increased criminal penalties, because this is willful malicious behavior. This isn’t a renter with a landlord…this is people that have no right to occupy your home. That’s why they’re called squatters.”

Bettencourt calls one potential solution a “rocket docket,” which would expediate the removal of suspected squatters from residences. But the desire for quick evictions against squatters could hold the potential to weaken protections for legal tenants.

Tenant rights group BASTA Austin released its data on Travis County evictions last week. It said that the data shows the county is heading for a record number of evictions.

Travis County heading towards record number of evictions in 2024

“There’s legitimate protections for renters, for tenants following the law, and then there’s completely illegitimate squatters. That’s what we need to deal with here,” Bettencourt said. “There’s plenty of protection for legitimate renters, and we’re gonna keep that.”

Along with a new criminal statute, Bettencourt wants to pursue a recommendation made by Harris County Constables: More training and tools for law enforcement officers to quickly investigate potential squatting.

“Maybe quick links to appraisal records, tax office records, something that says who actually owns what. Because the problem is that once law enforcement doesn’t interfere, then it takes a court process,” Bettencourt said. “We have to recognize that people do not have a right to occupy without a legitimate contract.”

Copyright 2024 Nexstar Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

For the latest news, weather, sports, and streaming video, head to KXAN Austin.