Squatters' rights in Tennessee protect long-term squatters, and give them the opportunity to make a claim for legal possession- but what can landlords and owners do to stop this from happening?

Nobody wants to find squatters on their land or in their vacant building- but it can happen. Understanding the laws, landlord rights, and how they affect you and your property can protect you from expensive and difficult losses.

Download the Landlord’s Guide to Squatter's Rights Whitepaper

Landlord’s Guide to Squatter's Rights Whitepaper

Get the quintessential guide to squatter's rights on the go from DoorLoop’s “Landlord’s Guide” series. 

Click here or on the banner above to download the whitepaper and get all our best tips (by the book).

Now, let’s dive in. 

Tennessee Squatters' Rights

  • Squatters who have lived on your property for at least 20 years could claim it legally as their own.
  • If they have a color of title, the required time drops to seven years.
  • The squatter must pay property taxes to have any chance of taking over ownership.
  • Tennessee allows additional time for landlords to fight an adverse possession claim if they were underage, imprisoned, mentally incompetent, or disabled at the time.
  • A standard eviction process is the best way to get rid of squatters. Unless there are exceptional circumstances, the court hearing should go the way of the owner.

The Bottom Line

Luckily, Tennessee law is favorable to the landlord or owner- and squatters can only make an adverse possession claim after many years of having met many conditions. However, anyone with an abandoned or vacant property should stay vigilant- as there are circumstances where a person could be allowed to legally stay without paying rent.

Adverse Possession Claim

People are quick to cite adverse possession laws in their attempt to take over a property- but they are far more conditional than people may think. In Tennessee, there are very few situations where the squatter has fulfilled all the requirements and responsibilities that they need to have a chance at winning legal ownership.

Adverse Possession Laws

What exactly is an adverse possession claim? The adverse possession law essentially states that someone who squats on a property for a certain amount of time, treats the property as their own, pays property taxes, lives their life as if they are the owner, and is never legally asked to leave can eventually claim it as their own.

It sounds like a landlord's worst nightmare- and it is- but luckily, it is not very easy to gain adverse possession in Tennessee. Here are the conditions a person must meet if they want to gain property ownership.

Hostile Possession

The definition of hostile possession or a hostile claim in Tennessee is the occupation of somebody else's property without permission and against their rights. It has nothing to do with violent or dangerous squatters. There are other definitions in other states- but this is the requirement under Tennessee law.

Actual Possession

Actual possession means holding a physical presence on the property and treating it as the actual owner would. That includes keeping the area in good condition- and they must pay property taxes.

Open and Notorious Possession

Open and notorious possession means the squatter must be obvious about occupying the property. They can't attempt to hide the fact they are living there from neighbors or the owners- it must be completely open.

This way, the owner has every chance to find out they are there and take steps to remove them should they wish to. If they don't act, the squatter must be able to show that it was no secret that they were there in the first place.

Exclusive Possession

A squatter trying to claim adverse possession must also have exclusive possession- meaning they are not sharing the property with anyone else. Multiple squatters occupying the same space cannot apply for adverse possession in Tennessee.

Continuous Possession

Lastly- and most importantly- the squatter must occupy the property continuously for 20 years- or seven years if they have a color of title. The occupation but be uninterrupted, and they need to have upheld the other conditions for the duration of their time there.

Stop Squatters

Squatters exist- so what can landlords and owners do about it? Dealing with squatters in Tennessee is fairly straightforward if you catch them early enough. Here are a few things to know about handling squatters in Tennessee.

Can a Landlord Forcibly Remove Squatters?

Put simply- no, they cannot. It is illegal to forcibly remove squatters- not even standard local law enforcement is allowed to. Squatters rights in Tennessee state that the official process must be followed.

What Is the Correct Process?

There are no specific laws in Tennessee regarding the removal of squatters. You should follow the same eviction process you would with any unwanted tenant.

First, you need to issue an eviction notice in accordance with the requirements. In Tennessee, there are a few different eviction notices to choose from.

  • A non-payment of rent notice

If someone fails or refuses to pay rent, a landlord can issue a 14-day notice requesting payment. The tenant or squatter then has two weeks to pay rent before any further actions can be taken. When the time expires- and no rent payment has been received- you can pursue an eviction lawsuit in court.

Also, read about security deposit laws to see how they fit under these circumstances.

  • A no-lease or end-of-lease notice

The conditions of a no-lease or end-of-lease notice depend on the circumstances. If someone is occupying your property, who never had a lease agreement, you can issue a ten-day notice to quit to give them time to vacate before further legal action is taken.

Tenants who had a lease but it has now expired can be considered squatters if they stop paying rent and refuse to leave. Landlords can serve quit notices based on the following:

  • 10-day notice for week-to-week tenants
  • 30 day notice for month-to-month tenants and year-to-year tenants

Again, if no payment is received by the time the notice expires, it can be pursued in court.

  • Health and safety violation notice

You can issue a three-day notice if a tenant or squatter violated building safety regulations or the housing code- including health breaches. After three days, they need to leave- or the court will allow the sheriff to remove them.

  • Illegal activity notice

A three-day notice also applies to any squatter or tenant that commits illegal activity on the property.

What Happens Next?

If an eviction notice is served and ignored, the landowner can file an eviction suit with the court- which will rule on further action. In most cases, it is sent to the sheriff's office- which can then intervene and remove the trespassers by force.

Keep in mind that local law enforcement cannot remove squatters- only the sheriff can do it. Also, it is illegal in Tennessee for landlords to cut off any amenities during the notice period. Read into Tennessee eviction laws for more information.

Are There Other Moves to Make that Could Help Avoid an Adverse Possession Claim?

Squatters have found their way onto your property- so now what? Aside from filing an eviction notice, is there anything else you can do to reduce the chances of someone being able to claim adverse possession?

First, you should make sure you are paying the property taxes yourself. If you have let this slip on a vacant home or property and somebody else is paying them- it could lead to trouble for you. Make sure it is your bank account the tax payments are coming from.

Secondly, ask them if they want to rent the property from you. They may not be your first choice of tenant, but at least they can't claim adverse possession if they have a lease agreement.

Prevent Squatters

The best course of action is to prevent squatters from ever settling, to begin with. There are many moves a landowner can take to reduce the likelihood of falling victim to unwanted occupants.

  • Make sure you have paid property taxes on time.

Again, Tennessee laws state that a squatter must pay property taxes to have an adverse possession claim- so if you pay your taxes promptly on all vacant buildings, they don't have a chance to do it.

  • Visit the property regularly.

Abandoned properties are prime targets for squatters- so if you are seen regularly visiting and checking in on the property, it could dissuade people from attempting to enter.

  • Keep the amenities switched off.

Although you can't turn off the amenities when trying to evict someone, you can keep them turned off while your property is vacant. This creates a less appealing environment for squatters. They are less likely to settle there.

  • Ask a neighbor to keep an eye out for suspicious activity.

If you can't watch over your property, ask someone you trust to look in from time to time on your behalf. That way, you can spot squatters quickly and waste no time getting them out.

  • Try to make it look like somebody lives there.

Even if you don't live there, try to keep up appearances. Maintain the exterior and make beautification efforts to stop the property from looking abandoned or like an easy target.

  • Reinforce boundary markers and entry points.

It is technically not breaking and entering if the property was left open and unsecured. Make sure doors and windows are closed and locked, fences are solid, and any breakages are repaired quickly and completely.

  • Rent the space

Squatters can't move in if you already have a tenant! Rent the property through a trusted management service and save yourself the headache.

Final Thoughts

Squatters' rights in Tennessee only apply to a small number of people who have been squatting for a very long time. If you are a property owner or landlord, there are plenty of preventative measures you can take to stop things from ever getting that far. Find all the helpful forms and documents you need to navigate real estate, property ownership, and squatters' rights in Tennessee- and save yourself time, money, and stress.


When does squatting become trespassing in Tennessee?

Squatting may not be a criminal offense in Tennessee- but trespassing certainly is. A squatter becomes a trespasser as soon as the landowner makes it clear to them that they are not welcome. If they have been there for five years before the owner notices- they were not trespassing- but once they know and ask them to leave and state there is no given permission for them to remain any longer, they are committing a crime.

Is a holdover tenant the same as a squatter?

No- not exactly. A squatter is usually someone that never had a lease agreement, but there are exceptions. A holdover tenant is someone who had a lease that expired, and they chose to remain on a rolling month-by-month basis.

If the holdover tenant stops paying rent and refuses to leave, they become a squatter- and when you take action against them, they become trespassers.

What is a color of title?

In Indiana, squatters can file an adverse possession claim after 10 years of continuous occupancy.

Do Squatters Need Color of Title to Take Possession of an Abandoned Property in Indiana?

A color of title is something that looks like valid proof of ownership or a claim to ownership- but it is not legally binding. There will be an error of sorts- be it a typo in the title or a mistake in the address. Holding a color of title in Tennessee reduces the time requirements for squatters claiming adverse possession from 20 years to seven years.

Free Downloads


David is the co-founder & CMO of DoorLoop, a best-selling author, legal CLE speaker, and real estate investor. When he's not hanging with his three children, he's writing articles here!