Montana is the Big Sky Country, the last best place, and wide open spaces as far as the eye can see. It’s also known for the friendly nature of those who call this place home. So you’ve just purchased your little slice of heaven here in Big Sky Country – or maybe it’s that 6,200 acre, not-so-little ranch you’ve always wanted. Either way, it’s beautiful and it’s all yours. Or is it?
Did you remember to post those pesky fluorescent eyesores we know as “No Trespassing” signs? No? Well you may want to reconsider.
So why is it so important to clearly mark the boundaries of your property with these signs, or as you may have seen in some cases, bright orange paint? It’s important because this provides notice to the general public that they are approaching private property that they do not have a right to enter, which means their entry, should they choose to do so, is clearly a trespass. Fee simple property ownership grants the landowner many rights and privileges, including the right to exclude others from their property. As we learned from Spiderman, though, with great power (or in this case, privilege) comes great responsibility. Although you, as a fee simple landowner, have the exclusive right to use and enjoy your property, you also have an obligation to protect and defend that right, and providing clear notice to the public is one way in which you can protect your property rights.
Maybe you’re a friendly guy (or gal) though and you’re thinking to yourself, “no one really comes up here except that old rancher that lives down the way and I don’t mind if he comes through here when his cows get loose.” Kudos – it’s people like you who make Montana such a great place to call home! There’s nothing wrong with accommodating your neighbors, and surely you’ll need a similar accommodation at some point, but consider putting these arrangements in writing.
Now I know you all are thinking “these darn lawyers are always trying to get in the way – can’t they just let a good thing go?” In this case, no. Why not? Because I can just about guarantee that you don’t want to lose your exclusive property rights to someone who has been passing over your property without your express permission, or perhaps even worse, find out that old two-track road you’ve been blazing up and down on your four-wheeler is actually a county road!
While this seems far-fetched, it is not at all. Individuals and/or the public may be able to secure the right to use your property without your permission in several ways, including adverse possession, public and/or prescriptive easements, and by showing that an old public or county road is located on your property. These claims have been litigated at great length and the Montana Supreme Court regularly finds that an individual or the public has established a right to use a private landowner’s property without the landowner’s permission. Don’t let this happen to you!
While the best time to address these concerns is before you close on your transaction, you should consult with a licensed attorney if you have concerns about your property, regardless of whether you are in the process of purchasing your property or have owned it for years. The earlier and more thoroughly you protect and enforce your private property rights, the less likely you are to end up defending them in court.
Contact or call us at (406) 585-0440 to schedule your consultation today!