Practical Tips for Avoiding Liability When Entering the Property of Others

While you can't always eliminate your legal risks when entering the property of others, there are a number of ways you can minimize your risk of liability. Some suggestions include:

  • If you have any doubts about your right to enter property, get consent from the person in possession of the property before entering.

  • Make sure your use of the property is consistent with your right to be there. If you are invited onto someone's porch for an interview, do not assume that you can access other areas where you were not specifically invited.

  • Do not misrepresent yourself to gain access to public or private property. If you feel that it is necessary to assume another persona, get legal assistance to find out how best to proceed.

  • If you have sufficient advance notice, it may be helpful to get a press pass for the place you would like to access. Depending on the forum or event, the owner of the property, local police, or other government agency may have a procedure for obtaining these passes. Government agencies sometimes require proof that a requester is a professional journalist, but in some cases you may be able to qualify if you publish a blog or website or by simply asserting that there is a public interest in publishing information from the forum or event. Once you obtain a press pass, display it clearly. See the First Amendment Center's discussion on press credentials for more information (click on link and scroll to the section titled "Press credentials").

  • If you arrange an interview with a resident in a private residential community, have the resident provide your name to security ahead of time. If you want to gather additional information while on the premises of the community, stay within the more traditionally public areas, such as parks and sidewalks, rather than approaching people on their lawns or in their homes.

  • If you enter a business open to the public, do not disturb the peace or harass people in order to get information.

  • It's generally a good idea to refrain from interfering with your subjects or disturbing the peace. Even if you're on public property, you may face charges of harassment, assault, and the like.

  • If you want to enter public school grounds, let the school know ahead of time that you would like to visit the campus and interview students.

  • Don't loiter around a schoolyard. Get permission from school officials to be on the premises; most schools will not allow strangers to wander around without credentials.

  • If you are covering a breaking event, cooperate with authorities, police, and emergency personnel to be sure that you are not interfering with rescue or other emergency efforts.



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