Ways to Protect Your Land Rights

When most people purchase property, they have certain expectations regarding their privacy and their rights as an owner. While it's true that landowners have control of their personal property, ownership doesn't mean that someone can't, or won't, try to infringe upon those rights. Unfortunately, there are loopholes that allow others to do just that. There are, however, ways that landowners can reduce this risk and protect their property in a safe and lawful manner.

Keep Intruders Out

One of the simplest, and most basic, ways to protect one's property is to keep uninvited people from trespassing. There are several steps that property owners can take to accomplish this.

1. Build Walls and Fences

Building a fence or wall around the perimeter of one's property is a first-step measure that clearly shows a property is private. Before putting up a physical barrier, there are certain things that one should consider, such as the type of fence or wall, whether it is allowable under the law, and whether they can put it up without conflict from neighboring properties. One should know exactly where their property's boundaries are to avoid taking up space on someone else's property. Under certain circumstances, even if the barrier is on the owner's property, the neighbor with the adjoining property may be held jointly responsible for maintenance or repairs in some states. To prevent cases like this, one should speak with their neighbor before building either a fence or a wall. Besides neighbors, one should also check state laws and local building codes to verify whether a building permit is necessary and how far back they should set a fence from roads.

2. Post Signs

Signs are a way of removing any doubt about whether uninvited visitors are welcome on a property. Their purpose is to let people know what to expect should they choose to enter. There are several types of signs that can serve as a deterrent. No trespassing and no soliciting signs, for example, clearly instruct people not to enter a property and leave no room for confusion. Place these signs on a fence, wall, or other entrance to the property. Beware of dog signs are also common warning signs that will alert people of dog that may cause injury to trespassers. Other signs may show a fence is electric or that there are surveillance cameras or alarm systems on the property.

3. Install an Alarm System

Alarm systems are a popular method of protecting one's property. An alarm system typically trigger a loud persistent noise and will often automatically contact the alarm company or authorities. Perimeter alarms are those that are placed around the perimeter of a property to detect people who are not easily seen. A triggered alarm can startle a potential theft or criminal and prevent them from committing a crime against one's person or property. Before getting an alarm, property owners should shop at several reputable companies to ensure they have the best alarm for their property size and needs.

4. Review and Update Your Security Regularly

While installing deterrents can be effective, they'll need to be maintained and routinely checked over time. Checking the condition of one's fences and signs can alert property owners of any damage, such as broken fences or removed signage, so that repairs can be made. Alarms should also be routinely checked to ensure they are operating correctly. It's important, however, to notify the alarm company when conducting an operational check so they do not think a burglary is in progress and contact the authorities. Another way of updating or reviewing security is to hire a professional who can assess it for weaknesses.

5. Blocking Other Uses

When protecting one's property, there may be times when action is necessary to deal with intruders. For that reason, a person should know what the laws are regarding the use of force in their state. It is important that they understand the castle doctrine, which allows people to use deadly force when protecting their homes and land. This is crucial as laws may vary, depending on the state and where and how force was applied.

Preserving Your Boundaries

When protecting one's land rights, understanding the boundaries of the property is critical. Fortunately, there are several ways to do that.

1. Have your property surveyed

A property surveyor is a professional who can research and measure the boundaries around a property. This will:

  • confirm the accuracy of one's property lines

  • alert the owner of any environmental shifts due to time, natural disasters, or other changes to the landscape

  • verify that descriptions of artificial barriers are accurate and that it is still intact

  • help the landowner avoid any encroachment on their part or by others.

  • make the property owner of any easements that they may be unaware of

  • notes any areas that may be hazardous

  • identifies underground utilities, such as cables or pipes.

When hiring a surveyor, one should verify that they are not legitimate and have the proper state licensing, but also have liability insurance that will serve as a protection against mistakes.

2. Create contracts for agreed uses

Whenever another person uses any part of a person's land, it is crucial that the landowner take steps to protect their property. One of the best ways to do that is to have them sign a legal contract that outlines the terms of that use. A contract should state who is using it, where they can use it, how they plan to use it, the purpose of its use, and for how long. The terms of the contract should not cover an extended period, however. It's important to date it in a way that allows it to be re-evaluated after a set period of time. The contract should also include a statement in which the person who is being allowed to use the land acknowledges that:

  • the land is private property

  • the owner has the legal right to end the usage at their discretion.

Failure to get a signed contract can cause legal problems in the future. Without a contract, the person using the land may falsely claim permission was not given and attempt to file a claim of adverse possession or a prescriptive easement.

3. Record land-use contracts with your county recorder

Because of the important nature of land use contracts, they should always be officially recorded to prove their authenticity in the future. Before signing the contract, one should check with their state and local laws to verify whether they'll need a witness or notary present. One will also want to confirm how to record the contract with their county recorder and confirm the fee amount to do so.

4. Monitor the use of the property

Not everyone asks for permission to use property that belongs to someone else. Some people may simply take up residency on a property. Often, this occurs on land parcels of land that no one routinely checks or on properties that sit empty for years. In cases like this, where permission is not given, these trespassers can get a prescriptive easement or file a claim of adverse possession after they have continuously used the property without the owner's consent. Typically, they will have to use the property for a set amount of years and meet other guidelines set by the state.

Owners must continuously monitor their property, or land to ensure that no one has taken up residency. One way to do that, depending on the size of the property, is to conduct random checks of sections of the property. Because it takes years for a person to claim rights to a property, conducting monthly checks can be an effective tactic. When doing these checks, one should look for signs of use such as a worn path from a car, litter, or even flowers or someone's personal belonging. It can help to erect a private property or no trespassing sign on the area in question to serve as a warning to the trespasser.

Blocking Other Uses

There are many other ways to seize land rights from a property owner. To prevent that, owners need to educate themselves about these other uses and how they can successfully block them. This knowledge can protect their land rights in the future.

1. Research water and mineral rights

Landowners may have rights that they are unaware of. For most people buying a house, they assume a fee simple ownership of their property. This type of ownership gives the owner complete ownership of the land and everything on it. Sometimes, this may extend below its surface. This can give them water and mineral rights that they may be unaware of.

To research how far rights extend, a landowner should check the deed to their property. It is possible that water and mineral rights were separated from one's ownership, leaving them with only surface rights to their property. In this situation, someone would likely hold these rights, which could infringe on the landowner's rights if they attempted to remove water or minerals from the underground source.

Other ways to research water and mineral rights include checking with the state, searching public records about the history of these rights associated with the land, or consulting a mineral rights attorney who understands and can explain any laws and regulations.

2. Contest eminent domain

It's important for every landowner to understand the law of eminent domain and what can be done to protest against it. Eminent domain is the power that the government has to take over the property of a private citizen for public use. In exchange for taking the land, the owner is given "just" financial compensation.

To contest eminent domain, the property owner may challenge the government's decision to take their property for public use. The first step toward doing that is to hire an eminent domain attorney who can explain what one's legal rights are and represent them in court or negotiations. The most common ways to challenge the government in court is by challenging their justification for taking the land, arguing that only part of the land is necessary for public use, or accusing them of violating the landowner's constitutional rights.

3. Consider creating a conservation trust

A conservation trust protects property from exploitation or development on the basis of conserving the land. It is a conservation easement between the property owner and a private nonprofit organization that protects and conserves the land by permanently limiting its development. There are several additional benefits that come from creating a conservation trust, including property tax benefits and making it easier for it to pass on to one's heirs. If considering a conservation trust to protect property, it should be put into action before a problem occurs. They require a significant amount of research to assess and confirm legal rights and can take as little as a few months to a year to complete.