Updated: May 6, 2020
What are the signs you are not welcome to run on private property? Look for the signs.
A sign that says “no trespassing” or “keep out” means what it says. Generally, property owners have the legal right to exclude runners and others from their property. But the landowners need to take steps to let us know we are not welcome there. Posting signs and putting up fences are the most-common methods.
Signs that merely label property as private without issuing a directive to keep out present runners with a dilemma. We might be welcome there or might not. We need to be open to the possibility the property owner does not want us there and be prepared to leave if asked to do so.
Signs that prohibit certain activities such as bicycle riding or roller blading, but do not specifically say running is off-limits, raise even more legal uncertainties. Generally, if walking is allowed, running probably is too. That being said, runners still should be prepared to leave a privately owned area if asked to do so.
How about in places where there are no signs or fences and we are not sure whether the land is public or private? Runners can keep in mind the core legal principle that usually we cannot be guilty of a crime without knowing we are doing something wrong. The principle applies to the crime of trespassing.
Criminal liability arises when intruders ignore requests to leave private property. Therefore, runners need to be prepared to obey lawful directives in those instances.
For example, Minnesota’s criminal trespassing statute says:
A person is guilty of a misdemeanor if the person intentionally … trespasses on the premises of another and, without claim of right, refuses to depart from the premises on demand of the lawful possessor.
The statute goes on to single out cemeteries, mining sites, and construction sites as places where we run the risk of becoming trespassers. Runners need to be especially careful of intruding into those areas. Still, there must be signs to let us know we are not welcome.
Entering a public or private cemetery in Minnesota during the hours it is posted as being closed to the public is a misdemeanor. Minnesota law even regulates the size and numbers of signs required at mining and construction sites. For the latter, the statute requires a sign of at least 8.5 inches by 11 inches “in a conspicuous place within the area being protected.” The law continues:
If the area being protected is less than three acres, one additional sign must be conspicuously placed within that area. If the area being protected is three acres but less than ten acres, two additional signs must be conspicuously placed within that area. For each additional full ten acres of area being protected beyond the first ten acres of area, two additional signs must be conspicuously placed within the area being protected. The sign must carry a general notice warning against trespass.
The bottom line is runners should not ignore signs they are not welcome on private property when exploring new routes and areas.
(Photos: Steve Aggergaard)
The Law of Running is written by Steve Aggergaard, firstname.lastname@example.org. It is not legal advice. The laws are different in every state and municipality, so if you need legal help reach out to a lawyer in your area who knows the applicable laws and is in the best position to help you in your particular situation.