Both rural and suburban land owners are faced with dealing with trespassers from time to time. I have found that hard core trespassers will ignore warning signs and purple paint if they think they can get by with it. Going down to a river bottom field one day I encountered a man fishing on a small body of water formed by an old river channel on our place. When questioned he said that he thought the water was open to the public. I assured him that it was not and he left without incident. This is not always so. Near to my home is a piece of land owned by a friend of mine. His grandson, a young man in his teens or early twenties was hunting there. Two trespassers came up and began arguing with him and proceeded to beat him severely. He had to be admitted to the hospital and spend several days over the beating given him by real criminal trespassers.
Posting property can be a complex question and this article makes no claim as an authoritative end all, but it will point you in the right direction for stopping unwanted traffic onto your land. Posting is not only for your protection it can be for the protection of the public as well. If there are dangerous features on the land then it is common sense to warn potentially foolhardy adventurers to keep out. In recent years all fifty states have enacted legislation to limit landowner liability. Some state trespassing laws, such as in Kentucky, are very vague and infer that the landowner must even tell the trespasser in person that his land is off limits.
Things You'll Need
- Self education on the posting laws of your state.
- Purple paint. In some states a particular color of paint placed on trees, posts etc. serves notice that land is posted.
- No trespassing or posted signs.
First of all research the laws and statutes of your state. Fortunately many of these property protecting statutes are posted on the internet. Be sure and follow them closely since trespassers and their lawyers will exploit any slackness on your part should an event proceed to an arrest or litigation of any kind. Remember that posting laws may differ for property that lies within the limits of a city. In the states of Missouri and Arkansas both purple paint and signs can be used. There are usually stipulations about height from the ground, size and spacing of signs, purple paint or other no trespassing warnings. Look into "attractive nuisance" laws. Swimming holes, old mine shafts and other attractive, potentially dangerous nuisances should be properly posted and/or guarded. In Texas for instance, paint of a prescribed color is also used and marks must be placed on forestland every 100 feet, and signs must be posted every 1,000 feet on all other land.
Some of the provisions for example, for posting of land in Missouri and Arkansas with purple paint are;
• On either trees or posts
• Paint marks must be readily visible to any person approaching the property
• Paint marks must be no more than 100 feet apart
• Each mark must be a vertical line at least eight inches in length
• The bottom of each paint mark must be at least three feet and no higher than five feet from the ground
After you have posted the land in a way that complies with your state and/or local laws don't think that people will not trespass. This is especially so if the property has attractive woodlands and/or waters. Fishermen and hunters are probably the largest group that practices trespass. If a criminal element or intent is involved then any warning signs you have put up are obviously ignored. Make special effort to places signs and/or paint (if used in your state) at gates, along fence lines and especially near to attractive nuisances such as potential swimming hole, scenic views and so forth.
Remember that all trespassers are not just innocents that have lost their way in the big woods. Some are thieves intent on taking your property or worse. My neighbor had an expensive ATV stolen from his barn while he sat watching TV in his home fifty feet away. His land is posted and the barn was secured with a chain and lock, which was cut. Once I found the imprint of a crowbar which left paint flakes in the post that carries my main entrance gate. One glance told me the whole story. This gate is one quarter mile away from my house. The trespassing thieves were obviously scared away by someone driving by on the road.
Confrontations. In the event of a confrontation with a trespasser or trespassers do as much as possible to keep things peaceful. If the interlopers are courteous and leave then fine, but if they seem contentious and willing to take the situation to a higher level, then just leave and go to where you can call for law enforcement. Don't provoke them by calling with a cell phone in their presence since this might spur an unreasonable person to a anger - or more. This is especially so if the trespasser(s) is armed. These scenarios may seem a little far fetched but they happen daily and hundreds of such stories can be found on the net, in the news and in legal journals.
Be safe instead of sorry and leave any confrontation that seems to be deteriorating toward a bad conclusion. Avoid carrying arms to any potential confrontation. The age of the trespassers matters. Children that trespass should be treated differently than adults. Children are usually ready to comply with the commands of an adult. Just because you are in the right gives you no license to act harshly toward youngsters and come off as a self righteous and pushy.
"I don't want to post my property; I just let people use the resource". Posting can protect you in the event of a mishap or tragedy. If you allow the public to use your land and there is a shooting or drowning or other bodily injury incident then you may be liable for civil damages if litigation is brought against you. In our lawsuit happy society attorneys and plaintiffs are looking for someone to stick with the bills. As a property owner you should protect yourself from parasitic citizens by legally posting your land. Generous people are often the ones who get unfairly dealt with in these kinds of proceedings. If you let people use your land then get them to sign a release or hold harmless document. An attorney can provide a form if you provide the circumstances and conditions of the allowed use.
Fees for use of lands. This is a very complicated legal subject and should be discussed with your attorney. If you have land that is posted to outsiders but is leased or licensed in some way to a group, club, etc. then a legal contract should be put in place to address insurance, damages, upkeep and so forth. If you charge someone to use your land and an injury or death takes place then you can expect legal trouble. See your lawyer and do as much research yourself as you can to up your knowledge on the subject.
Tips & Warnings
- Talk with neighbors and other area landowners to see what they have done in the way of posting their property against trespassers. You will educate yourself by doing some research.
- Form a loosely knit organization of rural neighborhood watchers that will do a drive by when you are absent from your property. My neighbor has evicted hunters from my land more than once when I was away. Look out for each other and it will pay off in fewer cases of nuisance trespass.
- If you find trespassers on your property try and get their names and If possible get photos of vehicles and license plates since they may return requiring further action on your part.
- If a law enforcement officer is called for a trespass violation they will often just leave a summons on a vehicle if the trespasser can't be found. This happened to me when I parked adjacent to a neighbor's land. I wasn't on the land but parked - not on his property - to catch a ride with a friend. I came back and found a notice of "criminal trespass" under my windshield wiper. A call to the neighbor cleared it all up.
- Research the laws of your state thoroughly and if necessary speak with a lawyer who specializes in real estate.
- Go the extra mile in posting near fishing holes, potential swimming areas or so forth by placing activity specific signs such as "No Fishing , No Swimming or No Hunting.
- Some state trespassing laws, such as Kentucky, are very vague and infer that the landowner must tell the trespasser in person that his land is off limits.
- Be prepared to replace signs. Trespassers often will just tear down signs as a reply saying to you "we do not intend to stop coming here".
- Photo Credit Frank Jennings
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