Posting No Trespassing Signs and Granting Permission to Use Land

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“I live in the state of New York. My parents had purchased approximately 100 acres of land 40 years ago. The land is now in mine and my two sisters names, but my mother has life use (my father is deceased). The land has been posted, but this hasn’t seemed to stop hunters, quads, etc… from entering the property. I’ve contacted the office of the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), and was told that I could submit a letter to them indicating that I do not wish to have individuals entering my property. As I understand it, DEC would then patrol my property as best as possible, and arrest and prosecute trespassers.

The problem I have is that in the past, my mother has allowed a few individuals to hunt on her property. Per DEC, I was instructed to indicate the names of those being allowed to hunt in the afore-mentioned letter to their office. I’m hesitant, however, to state in writing that anyone be allowed to enter my property, as I’m concerned with liability issues. Also, given the fact that the land is in the names of my sisters and myself (with my mother having life use), I have no clue as to who is required to sign such a letter, who determines if anyone should be allowed on the property (presuming that my sisters/myself/mother are not in agreement), does majority rule, etc… Anyway, any advice/suggestions in this matter are much appreciated.”

According to no less an authority than the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, “Whether the property is posted or not, the General Obligations Law protects landowners from liability for non-paying recreationalist on their property. Because of this protection, recreational liability lawsuits against rural landowners are uncommon. Recreational activities covered include: hunting; fishing; organized gleaning (picking); canoeing; boating; trapping; hiking; cross-country skiing; tobogganing; sledding; speleological (caving) activities; horseback riding; bicycle riding; hang gliding; motorized vehicle operation for recreation; snowmobiling; non-commercial wood cutting or gathering; and dog training. This protection does not apply in cases of willful or malicious failure to guard or warn against dangers.”

While it is a good idea to post your property, even if you do not, anybody who enters without permission is trespassing under the law. If you wish to allow someone permission to be on the land, it is best to give them written permission, and in fact the New York DEC provides a preprinted permission slip here (this downloads a PDF file). While I cannot provide you direct legal advice on this, it seems to me that if you don’t mention any names in the letter, but provide written permission to those whom you wish to allow on your property, that would address your concerns.

As to whether your mother can in fact grant permission during her life estate, that is a tricky question, and turns in part on the terms of the granting of the life estate. To determine that, you would need an attorney in New York to review the documents which grant ownership of the property to you and the life estate to your mother.