This section provides an overview of the laws that govern your right to access different types of public and private property.
While the First Amendment protects your right to engage in speech, it does not grant you unfettered access to the property of others. You should always keep in mind that your right of access is no greater than the public's right of access. In general:
- You have a right to access property that is open to the general public.
- Not all property owned by the government is accessible by the public.
- You do not have the right to enter private property without the owner's permission.
Even when you have a right to access property, however, you may be asked to leave by law enforcement or the owner of the property. In these situations, it is important that you understand your rights ahead of time. You should read the relevant local statutes, familiarize yourself with the common law, and perhaps contact the police and other government offices in the area to better understand your right to access different locations.
Generally speaking, government officials and persons in possession of private property are the only figures who can restrict your access to property. If one of these figures asks you to leave a place that you believe you have a right to access, you should explain why you have the right to stay. They may tell that current circumstances are an exception, or you may be able to convince them to let you stay. In any case, you must take care—you can be charged with trespass for remaining if you do not have a right to remain there.
Depending on the type of property you will be entering, you should review the section on:
- Access to Public Property if you plan to enter public property;
- Access to Private Property if you plan to enter private residences or businesses;
- Trespass in order to understand your potential legal liability if you overstep your right to access the property of others; and
- Practical Tips for Avoiding Liability When Entering the Property of Others in order to minimize your legal risks as you venture forth.