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Message #720 Trespassing

mp3 #720 What is Trespassing? (mp3 file)

Trespassing is the invasion of your rights to your body, personal property, or real estate.

Signs that read "no trespassing" are often posted along the boundaries of open land. This means you are being notified by the landowner not to enter his land without his permission. "No trespassing" signs are usually posted to satisfy the requirements of a statute--that is, a legal regulation--making it a misdemeanor crime to enter into real property--land--belonging to another person without his permission. Signs reading "posted, keep out" have the same effect. To comply with the law, signs must be at regular intervals along the boundaries. Laws vary as to distance required between signs, depending on the type and use of the land.

But trespassing is not just violating rights to land. It also includes invasions of your personal property. If someone borrows your pen without your permission, or puts an advertisement underneath the windshield wiper of your car, those are technically trespasses. The violation of your right to be left unmolested may also be a trespass. If someone spits on you, it is a trespass on your body and that is called a battery. Acts of trespass may or may not be crimes. Criminal acts usually are trespasses if they involve acts against your body--or your property, but trespasses are not necessarily crimes. Borrowing a pen for a few minutes without the owner’s knowledge, with the intent to return it right away, is probably not a crime, but it is still a trespass. But, spitting on someone on purpose may be both a trespass and a criminal assault and battery.

When your rights are violated by a trespass, the law gives you the right to sue for damages suffered because of the trespass. If your automobile is intentionally destroyed by someone, you are entitled to recover a judgment, that is, a sum of money for the fair market value of the automobile. But your recovery as a landowner, for damages caused by a person trespassing on your pasture, might be only a few cents, unless you can prove actual damages, such as the cost to repair a broken fence or gate caused by the trespass, or the value of cows who disappeared through the broken fence.

Even if you might be able to recover only a few cents in damages for a trespass to your land, however, it's still important that you consider taking that action. If you suffer repeated violations of your property rights without filing a lawsuit for damages for trespass, you may give the trespasser some important rights to your property. If you allow a neighbor to continually use a portion of your land as a driveway, without your consent and against your will, for instance, and if you fail to stop the neighbor's trespass by appropriate action, then after a period of five years your neighbor could have what is called an "easement by prescriptive right" to continue to use a drive- way on your land, even if you do decide later to file suit. In other words, you've given him the legal right to keep using your land. If you don't start a lawsuit within the period the law requires, then it is too late for you to take action, because of a time limit called the statute of limitations.

Or if people who are actually living on your land without permission are not evicted, and you let them occupy and use the land for a period of five years, and if they meet certain other legal requirements, it is possible for you to lose the title to your land, under what is called "adverse possession". This means simply that they now have a right to a portion of your land, since they've lived on it and used. it for some time. Getting surveys to locate your boundaries, erecting fences on boundaries, and using signed written licenses when you do permit a neighbor to use a portion of your land, are ways to protect against possible trespasses.

Problems involving trespasses or possible trespasses, particularly where boundary lines are in question, can be extremely technical. If you think you have a problem, you should immediately consult your attorney. Unguided actions can have just the opposite effect you want. One of the worst steps a landowner can take in some cases is to post a sign reading "no trespassing". Such a sign can help a neighbor satisfy one of the legal requirements to a later claim of title: that his trespasses were against the owner’s consent. So see your attorney first, if you think your rights are being violated.

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