Squatting Laws in TN Cory Real Estate Services

A squatter is someone that occupies a piece of property without having a legal claim to it. A squatter can gain legal property rights through an adverse possession claim so long as they meet all the requirements.

Therefore, as a property owner, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the squatters’ rights laws in Tennessee in order to prevent it from happening. You should also be well-versed in Tennessee landlord-tenant law.

One question you might ask is: What is the difference between a squatter and a trespasser?

A squatter is someone that occupies an abandoned or unoccupied building that they neither rent nor own. Squatting is usually a civil matter, whereas trespassing is a criminal offense.

Squatting only becomes trespassing if the property owner establishes the squatter is no longer welcome.

This article will cover everything you need to know about Tennessee squatters' rights and adverse possession in Tennessee.

What is a holdover tenant?

Holdover tenants are also referred to as tenants at sufferance. They don’t leave their rented premises after the lease has expired. In such a situation, the tenant is still responsible for abiding by the lease terms, including paying rent.

The tenant, however, lives ‘at the will’ of the landlord. As a landlord, this means that you can evict them at any point you choose to without notice.

Once asked to leave, a holdover tenant cannot be eligible to make an adverse possession claim. At that point, they become criminal trespassers.

The TN Adverse Possession Statute

What is adverse possession? Adverse possession is a legal principle that allows a person to gain legal ownership of someone else’s property, including the land itself, or part of it. An example of adverse possession is the continuous use of a private driveway or private road. Another example is the agricultural development of an unused parcel of land.

Adverse possession generally rewards productive property use over landowners who sleep on their rights and do not check in on their property or maintain it.

Tennessee adverse possession statute

On its own, making an adverse possession claim doesn’t result in the transfer of color of title, or even the title itself. Rather, it gives the squatter a vested property right to continue occupying the property. It’s after the person meets the requirements outlined in the Tennessee Adverse Possession Statute that they can obtain full legal rights.

The following are the requirements that a squatter must meet to legally claim property.

1. Open & Notorious

The way a person is seeking adverse possession of a piece of property must be obvious. Even the actual owner conducting the investigations should be able to tell that there is a squatter present.

According to the Tennessee adverse possession statute limitations, any attempts to hide their occupation of the property will therefore render their claim invalid.

2. Actual Possession

This simply means that the squatter must have a physical presence on the property. This can be established through their maintenance actions. For example, landscaping the property or any other beautification efforts would qualify as a physical presence. Maintaining abandoned land could give you a case for adverse possession.

3.  Hostile Claim

In a legal sense, “hostile” doesn’t allude to actions that are deemed to be violent or dangerous. The following are the three definitions that the term “hostile” takes in the legal sense.

  • Simple Occupation. Most states in the country go by this definition. Hostile is defined as a mere occupation of the property. The trespasser occupies the property without knowledge of who the property belongs to.
  • Awareness of Trespassing. Unlike ‘Simple Occupation’, the trespasser is required to be aware of who the owner is. They must have the understanding that they don’t have any legal claim to the property.
  • Good Faith Mistake. Here, the trespasser is assumed to occupy the property by ‘good faith’. They may be relying on an invalid deed to occupy the property.

State of Tennessee real estate laws

4. Exclusive Possession

This is also another legal requirement that a squatter making an adverse possession claim must meet. Exclusive Possession simply means that the squatter must be the only one occupying the property. In other words, they cannot share it with anyone else, including the property owner or other tenants.

5. Continuous Possession

Also, a squatter is required to occupy a property for at least 20 years before claiming it adversely. It goes without saying that the entire period of using the property must be continuous.

They cannot give it up, even for weeks, and still make an adverse possession claim, according to the Tennessee adverse possession statute limitations. (Tenn. Code. Ann. §§ 28-2-101, et seq).

What is Color of Title?

Color of title is a term you’re bound to come across when researching squatters’ rights. It simply means gaining property ownership through an irregularity. The person may be missing one of the crucial documents required to properly own the property.

Some states require persons making adverse possession claims to have color of title while others don’t. Tennessee belongs to the latter group of states.

How to Evict a Squatter in Tennessee

Tennessee, just like most states, doesn’t have specific laws in regard to getting rid of squatters. As the landowner, you must go through the judicial eviction process to evict a squatter.

Instead, in order to evict a tenant or squatter in Tennessee, you should refer to Tennessee property law. Not following the correct eviction process in accordance with the landlord-tenant laws can result in serious legal repercussions.

The following is a quick overview of the eviction process in the state of Tennessee.

  • Serve an Eviction Notice. You must first serve the squatter with an eviction notice. The most applicable eviction notice is the 14 Days’ Pay Notice. This will give the tenant 14 days to either pay rent or move out. If they don’t, you can move to court and file for an Unlawful Detainer.
  • Formal Complaint Filing. This is where you’ll need to file a formal complaint in a relevant local court.
  • Court Hearing & Judgment. Once you file a complaint, the court will issue a summons. The court will then issue a judgment based on the evidence presented by both parties.
  • Tenant Removal. If the court rules in your favor, it’ll issue you with a Writ of Possession. This will give you possession of the property back to you.

Tennessee eviction laws

How can you prevent squatters from occupying your property?

Prevention is better than cure – the adage couldn’t be truer when it comes to keeping squatters away from your property. The following tips should get you started.

  • Secure your vacant property by blocking all potential entrances.
  • Inspect the property on a regular basis.
  • Hire a professional property management company.

Disclaimer: The information in this blog post is not meant to serve as a substitute for legal advice. Laws are subject to change, and the information contained herein may not reflect updated regulations. For legal assistance, consider seeking out a professional legal team, or hire the services of a professional property management company.

The Bottom Line

In order to prevent squatters from entering your property, you'll need to secure the premesis. Additionally, equipping yourself with the knowledge of Tennessee squatters' rights, as well as Tennessee's landlord-tenant laws, can help you be prepared to deal with any squatters you may encounter on your rental property.

Cory Real Estate Services is well versed in Tennessee real estate laws and Tennessee property rights. We’ll help you prevent a squatter problem by renting it out to responsible and reliable tenants. Get in touch with us today!

Posted by Justin Cory on
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