Asking Permission To Enter Private Land


Asking Permission To Enter Private Land


by Daniel Bernzweig

You may need to enter private land for one or more reasons, including hunting, fishing, metal detecting, other outdoor hobbies, and recreational activities, or researching property near your historic home. Another reason you might want to enter private land is to pursue public land and roads or public property with access issues or that aren’t safely accessible from the main road.

To ask permission to enter private land, you should:

  1. Do Your Research
  2. Get Acquainted
  3. Write a Letter
  4. Offer Character References
  5. Offer To Help Out
  6. Be Respectful
  7. Be Honest
  8. Address Potential Concerns
  9. Follow Up
  10. Go Above and Beyond

Before entering private property, it is always best to ask first and obtain written permission if possible. There are legal challenges to this problem, like criminal trespassing, especially in states like New Hampshire, with a “stand-your-ground” law. It might be a helpful solution to simply build rapport with the owner and ask their permission regarding interpersonal challenges. This article will give you nine concrete steps to take before asking permission to enter private property.

1. Do Your Research

Doing your research is critical before asking permission to enter private property. Adequate research will help you avoid a run-in with law enforcement officers or potential criminal charges for trespassing. This can be anything from researching the property on Google Earth or using a metal detector to find your property pins (if your land is neighboring private land) to making a trip to the local municipalities for more information on the property boundaries.

Once you have identified your area, do some research on who owns which parcels of land by checking online on county records. Or, if there is a name listed as the owner of the land, you can look them up online and see if they list any contact information you can use to contact them.

Be sure always to use public records and reputable sources - talk to locals and ask around before using social media or other less reliable resources. Also, be aware that lands like national parks and forests will either charge a small fee to visit or require a permit. Pay attention to the rules and regulations concerning what activities are and are not allowed on any land marked national or federal. Always look for public access signage before entering an area of land.

2. Get Acquainted

To approach the property owner and establish rapport, it is best to be friendly, polite, and act professionally. Be respectful and courteous to them, even if they don't return the same courtesy. You will demonstrate your willingness to work with them if you ask permission - do not assume that just because they own the land, they will be uncooperative or rude.

It's best to get acquainted with the property land owners to avoid any legal action. Getting permission from a lessee or renter is not enough. There are a variety of trespass laws, including some that protect property owners from unreasonable searches. When law enforcement officials conduct an unlawful search on a suspected criminal's property, they must adhere to regulations that safeguard the suspect's rights against arbitrary searches and seizures. If a police officer enters your home, they must obtain a search warrant and provide reasonable notice. Under the Fourth Amendment, people are protected from unreasonable searches and seizures. The constitution protects these rights, and the supreme court enforces them.

Trespass laws also regulate the use of real estate properties by long-term lessees and prohibit trespassers or unauthorized persons on the premises. These laws allow the occupant to treat the leased property as their own real property, requiring you to get consent before entering private land by the private landowner. In some cases, this could go hand in hand with the stand-your-ground law.

3. Write a Letter

Written notice asking permission to enter private land is an effective way to ask. It can be done in either a formal or informal tone, whatever is most effective with the person you are approaching.

Some information to Include might be:

  • Who you are
  • Where you live
  • Some kind of personal connection, such as living near them or having had a positive interaction with them before, and  
  • Reason for wanting or needing access to private land

When you're researching property next to your historic home, you might want to use a more friendly or even a face-to-face approach. Neighbors are often more understanding than strangers in these cases.

It's best to be prepared with all the information about why you need access (whether it is for relocation purposes, hunting privileges/recreating/photography needs, etc.), especially if it's just general research.

Keeping a letter short and sweet is the best way to go about it - long-winded letters can be tedious for people to read, and they may lose interest halfway through or forget what it was that you were asking permission for in the first place. It should also be noted that sometimes private land owners have limited time, so sending them something via email may be more efficient than snail mail if done properly. In this case, it would need to be agreed upon by both parties ahead of time which communication channel will be used.

4. Offer Character References

Character references are exactly what they sound like - confirmations of your character from people who know you. It takes a few emails to ask for references, but that's all you need to do!

Some great examples of character references would include:

  • A letter from your school showing your good conduct and confirmation that you have never been a disciplinary problem
  • Employment references that confirm your character and identity
  • Statements or documentation for city or local government officials.
  • An email from a member of the clergy from the house of worship you attend
  • A letter or note from past land owners that you successfully worked with

There are many more examples, but these five are the most effective.

5. Offer To Help Out

Offering to help the landowner or occupier in some way, such as by helping with chores, may further establish rapport. Also, consider the option to directly barter tasks or other assistance in exchange for access to the property.

In case you would like to lend a hand, here are a few ways that you can do so:

  • Helping repair utility lines
  • Looking for water leaks
  • Help work agricultural land
  • Collecting natural resources
  • Repair damage to the property
  • Tend to cultivate the land
  • Locating underground cables
  • Helping clean debris or conserving part of the land
  • Helping clear trash from bodies of water

Approaching this discussion from the standpoint of service rather than just trying to gain access may help put the landowner in a more favorable state. Once you've built a solid rapport with the property owner, this conversation should become much easier. Either way, approach this topic with a respectful and polite tone.

6. Be Respectful

It is important to remain respectful and different people will have different ideas of respectful behavior; therefore, it is essential to check in with the landowner in many instances. In general, keep a polite tone, and avoid making demands. Remember that while your requests may seem like a minimal imposition. The landowner may have experienced issues with others in the past.

Here are some examples of how to be respectful in your approach, your conversation, and your actions:

  • Ask if it is a convenient time to talk
  • Maintain eye contact and a friendly tone
  • Showing a willingness to discuss your request
  • Avoid distractions such as earbuds or cell phones
  • Approach the owner at appropriate times of day
  • Give the owner your contact information so that, in case they are uncomfortable with your presence on their land for any reason, they can get in touch with you.
  • Introduce yourself and make sure the owner knows who you are, tell them what you wish (to cross their land), and make sure they understand your intentions. 
  • Avoid making assumptions

If denied entry, respect that decision and do not attempt to force an entry onto the private property if you’re not an authorized person allowed to be there. If so, the landowner may call for police officers to remove you. Further steps may include: asking someone who is a friend of the landowner to intercede with them on your behalf; researching if there have been trespassing issues for the landowner in the past.

Always ask permission to enter private land, even if the posted land is noted as open. Most landowners in the United States understand hunters who inadvertently go onto their property searching for wildlife; however, many are not, especially if they are on or near natural wildlife resources.

It's very important to address all aspects of your time on their property, so they have a complete understanding of what you need or want.

For example, you can ask:

  • Is it okay for me to carry a firearm on the property?
  • If I drive a vehicle on the property, is it okay for me to do so?
  • Would it be okay if I pitched my tent here while I hunt?
  • Can I use a metal detector to locate a property pin if I use a metal detector to find a property pin?

Asking such questions may further put you in their good graces and even make them feel more tolerant about your presence on their land.

7. Be Honest

Whether you plan to gain entry or re-enter the land, you must be honest about your intentions and follow through on your promises and agreements.

If you tell someone you will visit their land to do a certain thing and, for some unforeseen reason, they find that you have not done it and ask for an explanation, then simply provide one.

Don't try to invent a story or just skip over the details; be as truthful as possible.

Those who own private property are likely to protect what is theirs, so lying about your activities makes no sense.

8. Address Potential Concerns

You should always anticipate potential concerns and address them upfront with the landowner.  If you don't do this, they may see your presence as a potential threat and become defensive when allowing you to access private property.

For example, if they have a concern about your vehicle tearing up the land, then reassuring them that you don’t plan to use vehicles that will disturb the land is a great way to address the concern. You should ultimately follow through by respecting their wishes.

Explain why you are on the property and what kind of activities brought you there. In most cases, if you have been open from the beginning, then any suspicion from landowners will be dropped, and an answer is given in return.

9. Follow Up

It is helpful to establish a long-term relationship with the owner if you need to access the property for reasons in the future. Following up with the property owner, especially if they're a neighbor, or know you in the community, will help establish a good, ongoing relationship. If the owner has been friendly and helpful throughout this process, then you have much better odds of being able to access their property if needed in the future. And it's no harm to be nice to people!

If you have difficulty accessing a piece of land, do not get discouraged. Sometimes things happen beyond our control, and we must move on. Even if you feel like you made an effort and someone was not willing or open enough to allow you to do something, be sure to thank them for their time anyway. They may end up changing their mind just from that interaction.

10. Go Above and Beyond

Demonstrating good character to the landowner by going above and beyond will increase the likelihood that you will be permitted to enter their privately owned land. If they like and respect you, they may give you a shot.

If you're permitted to enter private land, some other ways to go above and beyond for the owner include:

  • Presenting the owner with any valuable items that you find on their property
  • Doing volunteer work on the land
  • Following up after you're done and thank them again
  • Writing a thank you letter after you've left the property
  • If the landowner has livestock, be respectful

Do not take it personally if you are refused entry. The last thing you want is to be confronted by a law enforcement officer. Remember that there are other areas to enjoy without trespassing, and visit again in the future. You should ask the landowner permission each time you access the property as the trespass law requires it.

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