How to Deal with Trespassers on Your Property

Landowners who run horse businesses on their land often run into situations in which an unwelcome person attempts to come onto their property.  Sometimes the unwelcome party is someone who once boarded their horse with the property owner, but no longer has a business relationship with the property owner.  In other instances, the trespasser may include a current boarder who has stopped paying the property owner the agreed amount, but still comes out to enjoy the facility as well as their horse without also bringing payment.

Except in special circumstances (mineral exploration, freshwater lakes and streams, easements, beaches, cemeteries) land owners do not have a legal obligation to let uninvited parties onto their land if it is privately-owned.  In other words, the fact that a land owner is running an equine-related business on their land does not give uninvited or unauthorized persons the right to access the private land.  Under Section 30.05 of the Texas Penal Code, a person commits criminal trespass if "he enters or remains on or in property of another without effective consent and he 1) had notice that the entry was forbidden; or 2) received notice to depart but failed to do so."

Below are some steps landowners can take to protect their property from trespassers before a trespass occurs:

1) Post a Sign on Your Property - In addition to the posted sign bearing the Chapter 87 equine liability statute, landowners should also post a "Private Property--No Trespassing" sign at a conspicuous place near the entrance of their property. 

2) Immediately Notify A Former Guest That They Are No Longer Welcome - If someone who used to have permission to access your land is no longer welcome, give them notice, either orally or in writing, that they are no longer welcome on your property and if they attempt to access your property (other than to pay you and take their horse, if money is owed), you will call the sheriff.

3)  Include a Trespass Provision in Your Contracts - If you require people who access your land to sign contracts, include a provision in the contract that your land is private property and you reserve the right to deny them and their guests access if they breach the contract, even if their horse, tack, or other belongings remain on your property;

4)  Secure the Property - If you know a trespass is imminent, lock the gate or take other measures to prevent entry upon the land.  Call the sheriff or local police if you're in the city limits and let them know a trespasser is trying to get onto your property.

If, despite these efforts, someone trespasses on your property, the best thing to do is to call the sheriff and let them handle the trespasser.  If for some reason you cannot have law enforcement intervene, Texas law (Section 9.41 of the Texas Penal Code) allows you to use "reasonable force" to protect your property.  Reasonable force includes any force that is not potentially lethal.  This would probably include physically blocking the trespasser's entry onto the land and perhaps even showing the trespasser that you have a gun and are prepared to use it if warranted.  However, as discussed below, an actual discharge of a firearm, unless clearly not aimed anywhere towards the trespasser, may expose the land owner to unwanted scrutiny by law enforcement.

When is a landowner allowed to shoot at a trespasser?  According to Section 9.42 of the Texas Penal Code, a landowner can shoot at or use other deadly force against a trespasser if the landowner reasonably believes the land or property cannot be protected or recovered by any other means, or that the landowner himself would be exposed to substantial risk of death or serious bodily injury if the landowner does not use deadly force. A landowner can also shoot at or use other deadly force against a trespasser if the force is immediately necessary to prevent the trespasser's imminent commission of arson, burglary, robbery, aggravated robbery, theft during the nighttime or criminal mischief during the nighttime; or to prevent the trespasser who is fleeing immediately after committing one of those acts from escaping with the property.  "Criminal mischief" includes "knowingly or intentionally damaging or destroying, tampering with or marking, inscribing slogans, drawing or painting on tangible property " of the property owner. 

Using potentially dangerous measures to protect your property is not recommended in all cases, as it can expose a property owner to possible physical harm and also criminal prosecution if too much force is used.  However, property owners should be aware of, and exercise, their right to protect their property under the proper circumstances.

 

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Equine Law Blog - May 21, 2008 10:11 AM
A gentleman recently told me that his stallion had gotten loose, gone onto his neighbor's property, and "worried" the neighbor's mares. The neighbor also said he would shoot the stallion if it came onto his property again, and that he...
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