Neighbor Law: The Lines According to Trespass Law

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© Alice Neff Lucan

A foot across the fence line? No.

Knocking at a stranger’s front door? No, probably not.

Your hounds on another’s land? Maybe.

Your horses or cattle on another’s land? Yup.

We’re talking here about trespass, not hunting season dates or game limits. Most of trespass law is about common sense and common courtesy. The owner or lawful tenant of any property is protected against someone else using, crossing, or changing the land. A minimal, temporary crossing of the property line is not as likely to get a court’s attention, either as a civil or criminal matter (unless you run 20 horses across a corn field, but that’s not minimal and the damages are obvious—one hopes.)

If an owner (or tenant) sets up a sign says, “Posted: No Trespassing” or prohibits hunting and fishing, and if the sign is posted in a place or places where it may be reasonably seen, then the land is posted. (The owner can add aluminum colored stripes on fences.) So, trespass can become a criminal matter with the mere pounding of a nail through the sign at the front gate. Penalties are worse if you ask for permission and are refused but proceed anyway.  Class 1 and 2 misdemeanors can result in fines or jail time. Class 3 and 4 misdemeanors can result in fines.

What about the UPS guy and trick-or-treaters? Generally, the law presumes that your first call at the front door is excused, that you have implied permission to knock and ask for candy, help, or a question.  UPS or any other deliverer of goods you’ve ordered probably has explicit permission to bring the package to you. But once that permission is withdrawn—“leave and don’t come back,”—then the person who knocks at the door again risks criminal trespass. Be careful with this.  There are some nitty-gritty rules that must be followed.

Soliciting is governed by county ordinance. Children (under 18), charities and civic organizations can solicit door-to-door; more precisely, they are not included in the definition of solicitor. Some businesses are excused, like dry cleaners and diaper services. Others whose business is to call door-to-door to take orders for goods or services are solicitors and must register with Albemarle County police.

Peddlers who are carrying goods like eggs or firewood to sell are not solicitors and they are not required to register with the chief of police.

And hunters? If the land is posted, hunters must have the property owners’ written permission to hunt. If land is not posted, oral permission will do. If tracking wounded game, the hunter still has to have permission to enter the land and may not carry weapons without permission. So, even if you’ve wounded the poor bear and she runs into adjacent property, permission to track her is required and your tracking hounds have to be leashed. If the landowner chooses to protect the animal, the hunters may not follow, something that can have cruel results or may allow the animal to live.

Fox and coon hunters who’ve started a chase with permission may go on to someone else’s land without permission to retrieve their hunting dogs, falcons, hawks or owls, but they may not carry their weapons with them. And if you want to pick up your hounds, ask the landowner first.

The ultimate authority on these hunting and fishing questions is Virginia Game and Inland Fisheries at www.dgif.virginia.gov/hunting/. The closest district office is in Verona at  (540) 248-9360.

Disclaimer: Don’t use this information as legal advice. Ask a lawyer who takes you as a client and can get your specific facts first hand. The tiniest circumstance can change an outcome. N

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