SHERIFF'S CORNER: Exploring trespassing laws
There are common misconceptions on what is considered trespassing on private property and what makes it a criminal act. In this edition, I am going to cover an overview of trespassing and what is the criteria and requirements for it be enforceable under the law.
In simple terms, this can be broken down into three distinctive areas: criminal trespass, recreational trespass and ORV trespass.
This is the willful act of someone entering onto the property or premises of another after being banned or specifically told not to by the owner, occupant, agent or lessee of the property.
750.552(1)(a): "...a person shall not do any of the following...Enter the lands or premises of another without lawful authority after having been forbidden to do so by the owner or occupant or the agent of the owner or occupant."
I would like to define the word "forbidden" as in how does someone know that they are not allowed on a specific property. This is generally established when a peace officer (as in a deputy sheriff or other police officer) directly informs the individual that they are no longer allowed on the property, after being directed by the proper person listed in the statute. If the subject then returns to the property, that would subject the individual to criminal trespass.
In the past, a letter could be sent to the individual stating they are no longer allowed on the property, but that appears to be no longer valid from a recent court decision.
For example, this would be used if someone was barred or banned from a local establishment, residence, campground, bar, club, gas station, etc. Remember, we are referring to private property. This would not include a municipal building (township hall, village hall, etc.) since government property is open to the general public and citizens have certain rights to be on it.
(Disclaimer: Be careful when dealing with residency and landlord-tenant issues. There are specific requirements that deal with live-ins, renters, exes or occupants that you may not want on your property, but still have rights to be there. Unless they leave on their own, or you go through an official eviction process, they may still have rights to be there. This will be addressed in a future article.)
This is the act of someone entering your property for recreational activities (hunting, hiking, trapping, etc.) without first obtaining permission of the property owner.
324.73102(1): "..a person shall not enter or remain upon the property of another person, ...to engage in any recreational activity or trapping on that property without the consent of the owner or his or her lessee or agent..."
This is pretty self explanatory -- but how would someone know that they are on someone else's property, or in a prohibited area? For example, you are hunting in the woods and happen to unknowingly walk onto someone else's property, or it's property you thought was owned by the person who gave you permission to be there?
Well, it has to be either fenced or posted.
When posted, the law specifically addresses where it should be posted as well as the size of the posted sign: "(a) The property is fenced or enclosed and is maintained in such a manner as to exclude intruders."
This would mean that the property is clearly fenced on all four corners. You would need to think in reasonable terms. Would a cedar log fence qualify? Probably not. A tall chain-link fence, a 12-foot dirt berm or an alligator moat, I would say, most likely yes.
"(b) The property is posted in a conspicuous manner against entry. The minimum letter height on the posting signs shall be 1 inch. Each posting sign shall be not less than 50 square inches, and the signs shall be spaced to enable a person to observe not less than 1 sign at any point of entry upon the property."
So, only posting a "no trespassing" sign on the two-track that leads back to your property won't cut it, nor would only posting a couple signs on each property line.
Basically, at each point on the property line, an individual must be able to clearly see that entry is prohibited. Furthermore, the law states the sign lettering must be one inch in height and each sign must be 50 square inches, which is roughly 6x9 inches, or 5x10 or 7x7.
Years ago, I always thought it was silly when I saw so many trespassing signs on a private, wooded area. I was like, "Dude, we get it. It's private property." Now, you know why it is done that way.
This form of trespassing is specifically addressed in the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, which also includes the damage to real property, vegetation or terrain on private property. The difference between this particular trespass from the two mentioned earlier, it that this is "assumed" rather than "informed." First, let's define what an ORV is.
324.81101(u): "a motor-driven off-road recreation vehicle capable of cross-country travel without benefit of a road or trail, on or immediately over land, snow, ice, marsh, swampland, or other natural terrain. A multi-track or multi-wheel drive vehicle, a motorcycle or related 2-wheel vehicle, a vehicle with 3 or more wheels, an amphibious machine, a ground effect air cushion vehicle, or other means of transportation may be an ORV...does not include a registered snowmobile."
So, we are specifically addressing dirt bikes, quads, ATVs, three-wheelers, side-by-sides, etc. (Note: Snowmobiles are not included in this particular law.)
324.81133(1)(h): "In or upon the lands of another without the written consent of the owner, the owner's agent, or a lessee, when required by part 731. The operator of the vehicle is liable for damage to private property caused by operation of the vehicle, including, but not limited to, damage to trees, shrubs, or growing crops, injury to other living creatures, or erosive or other ecological damage...Failure to post private property or fence or otherwise enclose in a manner to exclude intruders or of the private property owner or other authorized person to personally communicate against trespass DOES NOT imply consent to ORV use."
Basically, when riding your ORV, you must be positive that you are on your actual property or property you have permission to be on. It does not have to be posted for you to be in violation.
Knowing these laws will protect you against criminal actions, as well as protecting the rights of property owners.
This information is provided to you for clarification on specific laws, and not legal advice. This is not to be construed as a personal opinion, agreement or disagreement of any specific law.
If you have any questions on any specific topic, you can always email me your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
As always, it is a honor serving and working for all of you who live, visit and work in Lake County. Working together, we can make a difference.