Runners go onto private property more than they realize. Are they trespassing when they do so? Many times, they are not.
If the opposite were true, if runners became trespassers whenever they went onto private property, they would be subject to arrest in a wide range of places where runners commonly go.
For example, runners would be trespassers if they used sidewalks at a private college or ran a few blocks in a townhome development governed by a homeowners’ association. Even the act of ducking into McDonald’s to use the restroom or get a sip of water would be illegal.
However, as I explained in a previous post, if a landowner has put up signs or fences to inform us we are not welcome, we need to obey them. Disobeying signs or climbing fences can make us trespassers.
But if there are no fences, signs, or other instructions to “keep out,” we might have some rights to go onto private property. Or we might not. It depends.
Across the United States, we know we are welcome on a lot of private property for a lot of reasons. Running might be among those reasons, or it might not. Again, it depends. That is why we need to be on the lookout for fences and signs and be prepared to leave private property if we are asked to leave.
The truth is, if you are a runner, you probably have used private property more than you have realized.
For example, if you have run on paths at a resort while on vacation, you are running on private property. Perhaps you are a registered guest of the resort or perhaps not. Is a runner who is not a registered guest at a resort a trespasser? Well, not all resorts are cordoned off with tall fences or signs that say “registered guests only.” Many resorts would welcome runners onto their property with hopes we stay there next time.
But some resorts are not welcoming and the signs and fences let us know that only registered guests are welcome. Excluding others is the property owner's right. If we are asked to leave, we need to leave.
Another place where runners often go without realizing it is private property is a housing development. Many such developments have streets and sidewalks that make them look like public property when in fact they are private. Can we run there? Maybe.
I used to run frequently through a development called “The Landings” where the sign said only it was “private property.” The streets were wide and the sidewalks well-maintained, so I took that as a sign I could cut through the development on my runs.
Plus, the development was just outside the core Minneapolis business district. It catered to residents who the valued the convenience of living close to work so they could walk or bike there. Given the nature of the property and the sign at its entrance, I figured the homeowners association would welcome me as a recreational runner, perhaps with the idea I might want to live there too.
Compare and contrast that development with another one named “The Landings,” which is in a Minneapolis suburb a few miles away. The sign outside that development specifies it is “private property” and “no trespassing” is allowed. If I were to encounter that sign on a run, I would be wise to keep out.
The intersection of the sport of running and law of trespassing is more complicated than runners realize. Look for more posts and podcasts about the topic.
(Top two 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.