NO TRESPASSING signs – Calif law
No Trespassing – Hunting, Trapping
This article is in response to the discovery of the BobCat trap on Tom O’Key’s private Joshua Tree property (click for orig story) and adjoining the northern boundary line of the Joshua Tree National Park. While advocates for a total and complete ban on trapping BobCats anywhere in California is underway, it will be months and more likely years before any meaningful legislation with teeth in it will be passed and implemented. In the meantime, property owners are left to their own devices when it comes to curbing trespassers upon their private property. Law enforcement cannot do anything if appropriate notices are not posted on the property.
While “trapping” bobcats is legal during the trapping portion of the hunting season in California, trappers are taking advantage of the Bobcat not being able to read. The wild critters pass through the invisible junction of the boundary lines of both private and government owned real estate properties and have no clue they just passed from the safety of the Park into a kill zone. That is, the law allows the animals to be killed right up to the fence (or invisible property line) of the Joshua Tree National Park. Hunting, trapping, etc., is prohibited “inside” the Park… so, the trappers hide their cage style traps outside the National Park fence which may well put the trap inside private property or even inside the National Park. The wildlife continues to travel from the safety of the National Park into the killing zone of BLM and private properties.
Generally speaking, this article will address the California law on “trespassing” vs the physical signs posted on private property to warn the public of certain prohibitions and restrictions posted by the private property-owner. The general “rule” when addressing trespassing claims or charges,
- There’s a larger version of this sign farther down in this article
the legal system (the courts, juries and judges) will rely on the specific legal notices you posted on the real estate being protected. That is, the specific wording, legibility, visibility, sign size, lettering size, and color scheme will be challenged to determine if the sign gave the defendant (trespasser) “reasonable notice” as to what can or cannot be done to or on that private property.
A property owner who must appear in court to present his/her “trespassing case” who shows up with documents and photographs (evidence) of the No Trespassing signs will most likely win the case. Without the signs (or proof of) the errant trapper/hunter/trespasser is very likely to beat you in court, AND you will be legally liable for returning to the trespasser all his/her/their personal property – i.e. traps, tools, the catch itself and may even be required to pay the trespasser for damages to his/her personal property. Be prepared. Install appropriate No Trespassing signs to give yourself a convincing voice in the courtroom. The burden of proof remains with the property owner to prove to authorities that the property trespassed was legally posted with reasonable notice.
The example sign shown in this article may be printed out but don’t try to “install it” as your official sign. Paper from your printer will not stand up in the outdoors. Your insurance company will love it, and may even reduce your annual insurance premium if you “apply” for a reduction along with proof of signage.
Keep in mind that there are lawyers out there (a lot more than we think) who will take on falsely claimed personal injury cases (the so-called “slip ‘n fall” or the “dog bite” law suits) even though no one trespassed the property. The lawyer will go after the homeowner’s insurance company to “settle out of court”. The insurance company may well RAISE your premiums if you cannot demonstrate you took proactive action to ward off trespassers. The bad side of being sued even when you are not guilty, is that YOU will be forced to pay, out of pocket, all the court costs and other expenses you incur while DEFENDING your case. Currently, I believe the approximate “fee” to answer a civil lawsuit is about $450 and is not refundable. If you don’t answer the lawsuit by filing the appropriate court documents and paying the filing fee of about $450, YOU AUTOMATICALLY LOSE THE CASE and the claims by the plaintiff (the person who sued you) are awarded to the plaintiff. If you hire an attorney to defend you in court, expect to pay the lawyer about $450-$600 per hour while in the court room. Usually the attorney will ask for a “good faith deposit” generally in the amount of about $2,000-$3,000 before the lawyer listens to your problem. Even if you “win” your case, you will still have considerable difficulty collecting your costs from the loser. If the court does not award you “damages” (your costs of the lawsuit) you can always file your own lawsuit… in Small Claims court — but that’s another lengthy story……………
Can local law enforcement help?
If you take a proactive position by installing court recognized NO TRESPASSING signs that are properly worded, any sworn peace officer will have the legal tool in your signs to cause the trespasser to vacate forthwith or take other appropriate action. Without the sign, the peace officer has no legal authority to “assume” you don’t want the person on your property. Nearly all trespass cases that have gone to court, either criminal or civil, where the trespasser has sued the property owner for “recovery of damages” (loss of or damage to trapping equipment, for example) the property owner will be on the losing end of the court proceedings because s/he did not provide proof of “No Trespassing” signs.
SIGN SIZE vs COMMERCIAL PRICE
The general thought is that a sign of 10 x 14 x 0.60″ thick aluminum would be an appropriate size. Remember, you first need to satisfy the Judge or Jury — not your own personal preference. The lettering on the sign should be quite legible for the average visitor at about 50 to 100 feet distance. The color scheme should be either a caterpillar yellow field with black lettering or a white field with black lettering. Two colors (red and black for example) is not necessary and adds considerable additional cost to the project. Any outdoor sign having red or blue on it will fade quickly in the harsh climate of the desert. Signs with yellow or black will last for years.
“… Any ordinance or resolution adopted by a county which requires written permission to enter vacant or unimproved private land from either the owner, the owner’s agent, or the person in lawful possession of private land, shall not apply unless the land is immediately adjacent and contiguous to residential property, or enclosed by fence, or under cultivation, or posted with signs forbidding trespass, displayed at intervals of not less than three to a mile, [at every 1750 feet] along all exterior boundaries and at all roads and trails entering the private land. (Added by Stats. 1986, Ch. 34, Sec. 1.) …” – (end quote, emphasis added.)
The law on “No Trespassing” signage posted on private property varies by state and even local county and/or city ordinances; Escondido, for example, invokes several paragraphs under their “Section 553 penal code”. Some states “suggest” appropriate sign wording, others are mute on the specifics. On that note, it would appear that should the violator of a “trespass” be charged in either a criminal court or civil court, or both, the outcome will weigh heavily on the exact wording the sign displays and the exact location of the sign(s) on the property, plus the color of lettering and background color of the overall sign. Not all judges or juries think the same all of the time. So, one case may “allow” a blue sign background and contrasting lettering, while another state may require “safety-yellow field” with black lettering. Many states do not specify colors, as in California.
California’s “law” is, on this issue, under the criminal statutes in the California Penal Code Section 602. This PC-602 provides NO specific “wording”, lettering size and no known color scheme or sign size. The only specific cited in the PC-602 code is how far apart, along the property boundary lines, the signs must be posted. That is quoted as follows:
“…at intervals not less than three per mile along all exterior boundaries and at all roads and trails entering the land.”
Three per mile divides 5280 feet into 1760 feet between signs.
CAUTION: While many properties along the border of the National Park are 5-acres or larger, the general length of these 5-ac parcels is 660 feet (plus or minus) and the other distance is about half the property length… or about 330 feet.
Place one sign at each property boundary CORNER. Place another sign at any trail, pathway, or roadway that enters the property whether gated or not. The property does NOT have to be fenced. The sign should be mounted on a “wind ‘n sun” resistant material and at least 4 to 6 feet off the ground. Not too “high” as someone could claim they could not see the sign because they were “hiking” with their noses to the ground.
To “prove” your case, take clear, well defined photographs of each sign with plenty of visual clues around four sides of the sign… one photo of each sign will do. The photos should be taken while facing North, East, South and West. Mark each photo as to which direction they were taken. These photos should then be documented as to when they were taken, by whom, and an affidavit as to their authenticity. While this could be challenged in court, such “proof of posted signage” will go a very long way with the judge or jury adjudicating the case.
One way to prove the photos were taken prior to the trespasser causing the problem is to place your “proof of signs” materials into a suitable envelope. Seal the envelope. Be sure to put your return address on it AND address the envelope to yourself at your personal mailing address. Affix appropriate first-class postage and mail it – have the USPS mail clerk ‘hand stamp’ the envelope to ensure you have a valid date on it. When it arrives, store it, unopened, in a safe place. If ever needed, take it to court, (DO NOT OPEN IT) show it to the judge; who will open the envelope while noting the date on the envelope.
Around here, in the Morongo Basin, it is not uncommon to experience heat temps up in the 120 range and below 32 degrees in the winter. These temp extremes can and will break down the signage material unless it is made of metal; generally powder coated aluminum.
Colors of the sign
Safety signs and barriers are black lettering on a bright yellow field.
Highway direction signs are bold white lettering on a green field.
The most “eye catching” is red lettering on a white field.
In “1″, safety signs & barriers are almost universally colored with “caterpillar” yellow with either dark blue markings but most often all markings are black. This color scheme is considered the most “legible” of all informative signage.
“2″ highway sign colors are selected to have some contrast with the sky (whether there are clouds or not) and the lettering stands out but does not “clash” with the background, or field. Notice all the “freeway signs” and their color scheme.
“3″ is likely the first thing most folks not familiar with the sign industry will think of in terms of colors. Red lettering on a white (or other pale/light color) field is considered to be the “most eye catching” scheme… albeit it is also the least legible. Avoid using “red”.
Now, there’s no reason one cannot become “artistically creative” even for a “legal notice” sign. However, Judges and juries are not always “artists”. Therefore, the convention of presentation of such a legal notice MUST remain “conventional” in nature to ensure it will pass the court’s finicky judgment.
(You are welcome to copy this sign as the sample to work from)
Where to get these signs
There are numerous vendors of “pre-conceived” safety, road, highway, OSHA and other signage over the Internet… prices start at about $7 (plus S&H) in quantities and up to about $20+ each. This can be a burden to some property owners who may be on a fixed income. Generally, a 9 x 12 “No Trespassing” aluminum sign, black lettering on a yellow field will set the homeowner back about $14 to $22 plus S&H. Oh, the commercially available signs generally include ”No Fishing” which is useless here in the Morongo Basin.
I offer this suggestion:
Gather together property owners who’s properties are within about 2-miles of the National Park’s boundary line. These owners could easily order a larger quantity of signs that would accommodate all the affected property owners, for a lot less $$ than each owner purchasing as individuals. Also, the wording, color scheme and size will be consistent among those posted; and forms the credibility of the “legal notice” in the eyes of the court system.
All the signs could be “printed” here in the Morongo Basin onto ”0.80″ thick” aluminum (minimum of 0.60 inch thick) that measures a minimum of 9 x 12 inches. Use a background of “white” or “bright yellow”. Lettering should be “black” as other colors (red, blue, brown and similar colors containing red or blue) fade very quickly in our harsh sunshine.
Personally, I’d suggest that the signs be SCREEN PRINTED (silk screen) onto the metal material which is then installed onto suitable “posts” where the approximate center of the sign is about 4 to 6 feet above the surface of the ground.
The mounting posts should be situated atop or closely adjoining the actual property boundary line, and at the property “corners” and one sign at all trails and entryways leading into (or out of) the property. Considering the courts must determine if your sign(s) and locations are a reasonable legal notice to the public, a trail, pathway, roadway onto the property needs “one sign” whether or not the trail or pathway is gated and locked. The law does not care about “gates”.
To possibly reduce the cost even farther, consider checking with real estate offices who may have surplus RE sale signs. These sign blanks measure 18″ x 24″. Perhaps the wording on the real estate sign is no longer valid… like the phone number has changed which renders that sign useless. Take a stack of these signs to a local sheet metal shop, or a sign shop and have them cut the 18″ x 24″ metal sign into quarters, to yield FOUR, 9″ x 12″ sign blanks. Each can have the old existing lettering painted over to produce suitable sign blanks for printing with the No Trespass wording shown in the example.
Personally, I prefer the bold black lettering on the bright yellow field. Out here in our desert landscape, a “white” background tends to get lost against the open sky. However, a bright yellow sign with the black lettering will stand out like a sore thumb against nature’s background of shrubs, scrubs ‘n rocks.
I owned and operated Aztec Sign Productions 1961-1982. Hand painted signage, screen printing. Operation evolved into screen printing and publishing a demographic hobbyist oriented electronic magazine titled: The Printed Circuit. I also had 3-years of law school but never intended to become a lawyer.
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