The winter months are a good time of the year for landowners to ensure that their property boundaries are well maintained and adequately marked to prevent trespassing and poaching and ensure that management activities will not encroach on adjoining ownerships. Newly acquired property may need a survey to relocate property corners and mark property lines. Once marked, yearly maintenance is a good practice for reducing future expenses associated with boundary reestablishment.
The first step in knowing where property corners and boundary lines are located is to ensure you have a copy of the deed for your property. A deed is proof of ownership for any parcel of real estate, whether a home on a residential lot or a tract of land of any acreage. Within the deed, a legal description of the property is required. The description can be written in the deed using metes and bounds, which describe the property boundary in directions and distances between marked points such as established irons or other landmarks like rocks or fence corners. The deed can also reference a new or previously recorded plat of the property.
A plat is an illustration of the property with the directions and distances between property markers annotated. Other features a plat will show may include roads, water features, structures, and adjoining ownerships. The legend on a plat lists what each icon on the map represents and will have a map scale and the date that the plat was drawn. Plats are often easier for a landowner to use than a metes and bounds description found in a deed to locate their property boundary lines and corners since plats illustrate the property layout and features.
If a property needs to be surveyed to reestablish or confirm boundary lines and corners, landowners can find a licensed surveyor in their area by visiting the South Carolina State Board of Registration for Professional Engineers and Surveyors on the SC Labor, Licensing and Regulation website at https://llr.sc.gov/eng/. Boundary surveys are usually done at a rate per linear foot of boundary line, at a per acre rate, or an hourly rate. Expenses will vary depending on how accurate the current survey is, how much research needs to be done to find the documentation necessary to survey the boundary, how difficult the site is to traverse, how much vegetation must be cleared to complete the survey, and how many stakes the landowner wants to be set along the property line between corner markers. Old fences should not be assumed to be accurate locations of property lines.
The best time to become familiar with and mark a property boundary is right after a recent survey. Evidence of the surveyor’s lines between boundary markers will still be fresh. The lines can be marked by tying flagging in trees at intervals, and corner markers can be made more visible by placing pipes over or adjacent to the markers. Protecting corner markers with pipe will also ensure that they are not moved or damaged during land management activities. Orange and yellow flagging is visible during most months of the year but may be more challenging to spot with leaf color change during the fall. Flagging will also degrade over time and need to be replaced periodically. Painting the surveyor’s boundary markings with paint is more labor-intensive but will last much longer than flagging.
The current state trespassing law is found in the SC Code of Laws Title 16-11-600 (https://www.scstatehouse.gov/code/t16c011.php). The law states that a property owner or tenant must “post a notice in four conspicuous places on the borders of such land prohibiting entry” for trespassing fines and penalties to be enforceable when someone enters the property without permission. The most commonly used method for posting is with signs stating, “No Trespassing,” “Private Property,” or “Posted”. The signs will periodically need to be replaced due to weathering. A bill referred to as the “purple paint law” is currently being considered in the SC General Assembly. It would amend the trespassing and posting law in the state so that a property boundary clearly marked in purple paint according to specific requirements would be an acceptable means of posting a property against trespass. This law has already been enacted in about 15 states.
The laws relating to poaching can be found in the SC Code of Laws Title 50-1-90 (https://www.scstatehouse.gov/code/t50c001.php). The enforcement of this law does not require that the property be posted, but posting can strengthen a case since it indicates the landowner gave a warning that the property was not to be entered.
The SC Department of Natural Resources sponsors a program for landowners and their representatives or land lessees called Property Watch (https://www.dnr.sc.gov/propertywatch/index.html). When a property is enrolled in this program, SCDNR law enforcement officers can prosecute any trespass violations on the property in the landowner’s absence. For a small fee, landowners in the program can order Property Watch signs to post at their access points, property corners, and along the property line.
Absentee landowners have the most significant risk of trespass and poaching violations on their property. Securing access points with locked gates and posting these areas can be a deterrent. Regular maintenance of the property, such as mowing and clearing downed trees, also indicates that the property is not neglected and will not be an easy target for unlawful use. Also, asking neighboring landowners to check periodically on the property can reduce trespassing since violators will know someone is watching for signs of illegal activity. Finally, leasing the property to a hunt club can increase property activity year-round and ensure the property is being utilized during the times of the year when poaching violations are most significant.
Janet Steele, Cooperative Extension, Forestry and Wildlife Agent
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