OFBF recently weighed in on a new piece of proposed legislation which would effectively immunize trespassers from liability if they enter a property to “beautify” it. Senate Bill 109 attempts to change the current trespassing laws to provide immunization from any criminal trespassing charges to anyone who enters an abandoned property with the intent of beautifying or maintaining it. OFBF strongly opposes any law which would make trespassing more difficult to prosecute or could take away the private property rights of individuals. At a recent committee hearing, OFBF’s Director of State Policy testified to the issues and concerns OFBF sees with this piece of legislation and made several suggestions related to modifications of the bill.
The bill would allow anyone to enter a property that is deemed “abandoned” for the purposes of beautifying the property, such as mowing the grass, boarding up windows or doors, or maintaining buildings. Although the intent of the bill – to keep foreclosed or abandoned properties from drawing down the value of other nearby properties – is well intentioned, it raises several concerns to farmers.
At foremost, is the issue of trespassing; a crime which is already under prosecuted and can cause serious issues for landowners. This effectively allows trespassing so long as the trespasser can make a case that he or she entered the property to beautify it. This excuse could then be used as a front for other criminal activity, and could be used to avoid what should be prosecuted. Another issue arises that a well-meaning person could intend to beautify a property, but is not actually required to verify with the auditor that the property is in fact abandoned. Most concerning of all, are the possible liability issues which could arise from any such activity. There are often times that properties that appear “abandoned” are that way for a reason. A building may be condemned, environmentally dangerous, or just unsound. The landowner may not yet have the ability, legal clearance, or funds to remove the building or make it safe. With such immunity, it would be unclear whether the landowner would be liable for any injuries a beautifying trespasser would incur while on property that is not theirs. Unfairness is also a concern, as the bill does not address the landowner’s liability for the costs of beautifying the property if he or she should return to claim the property after it has been maintained by someone else.
Due to the concerns raised by OFBF, the bill sponsor has indicated a strong willingness to work with OFBF and pursue changes to address these concerns as the bill undergoes hearings in the Senate Criminal Justice committee.
To see a copy of OFBF testimony on SB 109, please click here.