HB 2984, the trespass reform bill championed by the Oklahoma Farm Bureau, has been signed into law by the governor and will become effective on November 1. What does that mean for private property owners? How does this law apply? Who is affected? Who is not?
The new trespass law clearly states that whoever willfully enters the private land of another that is primarily devoted to farming, ranching, or forestry purposes, without permission by the owner or occupant shall be guilty of trespass. This means that anyone entering private agriculture land must have permission to enter, or he or she is trespassing. The landowner is no longer required to post or to prove the land was posted for “no trespassing,” but it is not a bad idea to leave your signs up as an extra deterrent.
The law does not apply to peace officers or federal, state or local government employees while performing their official duties; or to firefighters, emergency medical personnel or public utility employees addressing an emergency; or to parties engaged in oil and gas operations acting under a legal agreement, permit or order. Basically, law enforcement and others working to assist the public are not trespassing when they enter private agricultural land to carry out their official duties.
Others who may enter such land, unless forbidden to do so by the owner or occupant are: registered land surveyors to perform their services; persons in the sole process of retrieving their livestock or animals; persons making a delivery, selling a product or service, conducting a survey or poll or working on behalf of a political candidate or who otherwise have a legitimate reason for entering and immediately upon entering seek to conduct that business. This means that those who can show a legal or lawful reason to be on the property will not be considered trespassers, unless they had been told not to enter by the landowner.
The fine for trespassing remains the same under the new law at $250; however, a provision was added that anyone who enters private agricultural land and commits or attempts to commit waste, theft or damage, upon conviction, shall be fined not less than $50 nor more than $500 or sentenced to county jail for not less than thirty days nor more than six months, or both fined and imprisoned. Therefore, while the fine remains $250, a trespasser who damages or destroys property, for example, by dumping trash or cutting a fence, could be fined between $50 and $500 dollars and sent to county jail.
Finally, the law specifically places the burden of proof on the trespasser by stating that it shall be an affirmative defense to prosecution that the accused had express or implied permission or legal authority to be on the property. Express permission may be an oral or written statement from the landowner, while implied permission may consist of permission granted through a friend or relative who had permission from the landowner. Legal authority includes those with an easement or right-of-way to enter or cross property.
In summary, the burden is no longer on the landowner to prove the land was posted for no trespassing. The burden has shifted to the person entering the property to prove he or she had permission to enter the property.
*This site is not intended for, nor was it created to provide any type of legal advice. If you have any questions about the law, contact an attorney.