NYFalls.com is not an authority for information about the ownership of land in NY State. Although we make an effort to post accurate and timely data, we cannot guarantee the validity of that data. If you find yourself in a situation where you have misjudged the status of land, we cannot help you. It is up to you to protect yourself, and to know a bit about trespassing law and your responsibilities, and to abide by it. NYFalls.com will not assist you or be held accountable for your actions if you are caught trespassing.
Before You Explore: Research
Seek out information about the ownership of land you are looking to enter and seek out permission for privately owned land. There are many ways to go about this.
- An easy way to get a rough idea is to ask in our message board. We have a lot of knowledgeable members, who may already have the information you seek. Start there and always ask for a source of their information.
- Some land is privately owned, but there are conditions for visitation. An example of this would be the State land surrounding Hemlock and Canadice Lakes (for which you need to follow certain rules) and some trails near Zoar Valley (for which you need to be a member of a local conservation organization).
- Check with the town or county clerk in the area in question. They should have detailed maps outlining privately owned land They should be able to give you the information you need.
- Ask the people who live there. Is there a house or business nearby?
- Make sure the person giving you permission is the actual owner. Don’t accept permission from a neighbor.
Some guidelines for Trespassing Law in NY State
- NY State trespass law is derived from English common law.
- A person, who enters private property without honestly knowing the status of the land, is not subject to criminal trespass.
- According to NY State Penal Law 140.05, to be convicted of trespass it must be proven that the person knew they were on private land (see law below). If you saw a posted sign, read on a website, or heard from someone that the land was not public, this can be held against you.
- Just because you are unaware of the status of the land, doesn’t make you immune to the law. An officer of the law can, and probably will, remove you from private land. If you come across any indication the land is private, you are obligated to remove yourself immediately.
- Just because you are unaware of the status of the land, doesn’t mean you can’t be charged and taken to court for trespassing. You may not get convicted, but it will still be a drain on your time and money.
- Theft or vandalism falls under another section of the law (Section 145) and can lead to felony charges if you enter private property and cause damage.
- You may not have the right to publish, sell, or promote photos taken while in the act trespassing. There is no law that specifically states this, but some lawyers can easily fit this under damages and you certainly can be sued civilly.
- There are exceptions to knowingly trespassing if you are traveling by navigable waterways (see below).
- It’s best to just avoid trespassing altogether. Ignorance is not immunity.
Simple trespass is a violation of the law, but not necessarily a criminal charge.
Criminal trespass in the third degree is a class B misdemeanor.
Criminal trespass in the third degree is a class A misdemeanor.
Criminal trespass in the first degree is a class D felony.
Water Navigation is Different
With paddling becoming an increasingly popular sport, it is important for both landowners and paddlers to be on common ground as far as interpretation of our water navigation laws. Most people have their own ideas as to their rights, and those skewed ideas may get them in trouble.
Guidelines for Water Navigation and Property
- Our water navigation rights are derived from English common law.
- Persons have the lawful right to freely navigate waterways that are “Navigable-In-Fact”
- Navigable-in-fact is loosely defined as the ability of the body of water to transport persons or goods for a distance (anywhere but the originating location).
- The definition loosely includes most forms of recreation (Adirondack League Club, Inc. v. Sierra Club, 1998).
- The right excludes artificial or improved sections of waterways (stay away from dams and power plants).
- If it can be proven that a waterway has not historically been used for navigation, or is not currently being used for recreation, then it may be excluded from those rights.
- The waterway can be navigable for only a temporary period (flooding or seasonal conditions) and can still be considered navigable-in-fact. It doesn’t have to navigable for a minimum time… just the time you are using it.
- Just because you have the right to navigate a body of water, doesn’t give you the right to do anything else (fish, photograph, hike) although there are some exceptions (see below).
- The right of navigation also protects the boater’s ability to portage. If waterfalls, rapids, downed trees, or other obstacles prevent a person from navigating, they have the right to portage (using the most direct route possible) over land of any status. This includes any contact with land in order to navigate further or to ensure the safety of the persons navigating.
- Bodies of water completely isolated by private land may also be excluded from that right. You do not have the right to cross private land to reach a public waterway. You must have public access to that waterway.
- You do not have the right to use adjacent private property for camping, picnicking, hunting or fishing… you may not be able to do any of that on public property either.
- This right does not protect hikers who travel in waterways.
- The land around roads and bridges (roughly 10 feet) is usually owned by the state or county and may be an opportunity to access navigable waterways.
- If access of a section of navigable-in-fact waterway is blocked (by fence, rope, posted signs, etc) use caution. It is unlawful for land owners to impede boaters from navigating waterways. But there may be a reason (like a hunting club, shooting range, endangered species area, fishing activity). The best thing to do is call the DEC office responsible for that region and file a complaint.
NY State Penal Code, NY State Court of Appeals, NY State DEC website, Lawyer consultation
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