This is based on the thread Property Owners & Injury Liability w/ Signage (US, WV) on this site and the comments on my answer there.

This is specifically about the law in West Virginia, but nswerd for other jurisdictions would be welcome.

§61-3B-3. (Trespass on property other than structure or conveyance.) of the West Virginia Code provides that:

(a) It is an unlawful trespass for any person to knowingly, and without being authorized, licensed or invited, to enter or remain on any property, other than a structure or conveyance, as to which notice against entering or remaining is either given by actual communication to such person or by posting, fencing or cultivation.

Suppose that a landowner in West Virginia has a fence around a property consisting of land and a house, with a latched but not locked gate. Suppose further that there are signs at regualr intervals along the fence saying "No Trespassing. No Entry. No Exceptions."

Now suppose that a private person lifts the latch, enters the property, and knocks at the front door of the house. The person may be a door-to-door seller or political agent, or a neighbor. The person intends no unlawful act, such as theft. The person has no official purpose.

Is such a person legally a trespasser under §61-3B-3., whether or not prosecution is likely? If the person is not, what law or case law grants the right to enter the property in spite of fence and signs? I am looking for a specific citation or authoritative source.

Edit after an answer was posted

§55-7-27. (Liability of possessor of real property for harm to a trespasser.)

(a) A possessor of real property, including an owner, lessee or other lawful occupant, owes no duty of care to a trespasser except in those circumstances where a common-law right-of-action existed as of the effective date of this section, including the duty to refrain from willfully or wantonly causing the trespasser injury.

I am particularly interested in whether the hypothetical non-official person is a trespasser the the degree that the "no duty of care" language from §55-7-27 applies,

1 Answer 1


There is case law recognizing an implied-in-fact license to enter though an unlocked gate to knock on the front door (although I haven't seen West Virginia law in particular). Some case law can be found here:

In Florida v. Jardines, 133 S.Ct. 1409 (2013), the [United States] Supreme Court indicated that a police officer’s right to walk up to a front door of a person’s home is subject to an implied license based on existing social norms. . . .

In United States v. Denim, 2013 WL 4591469 (E.D.Tenn. August 28, 2013), the district court (adopting the magistrate judge’s R&R) held that “no trespassing signs” do not revoke the implied license and that officers can approach the front door and knock on the door despite the signs[.]

In the absence of a sign such as "no solicitors" (which would bar a door-to-door seller or political agent) or a more explicit sign right at the gate ("No neighbors or law enforcement officers, or anyone else I have not told in advance may have access, may cross this front gate even if it is unlocked"), the likelihood of a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt in those circumstances is bleak. One of the cases above doubts that even the specific no trespassing sign would be effective (suggesting that the implied license is to some extent conclusively implied in law, rather than implied in fact).

Also, certain officials, public and private (surveyors, deputy sheriffs serving process or carrying out official duties, utility company workers, county assessor's employees), may have a statutory or common law privilege to enter onto private property that would otherwise be trespassing for a limited purpose. In other cases, the right may arise from recorded or statutory easement rights or from customer agreements. Such provisions are usually piecemeal. See, e.g., Colorado Revised Statutes § 18-4-515 (privilege for surveyors to trespass under certain circumstances).

  • Interesting. I am particularly interested in whether such a person is a trespasser such that there is reduced duty of care toward the person. I should have been clear about that. Commented Nov 2, 2021 at 0:17
  • @DavidSiegel I doubt that there is enough law on that detail to make a coherent statement. Even trespassers are entitled to be free of deadly traps which would be the typical fact pattern.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Nov 2, 2021 at 0:20
  • Yes, I am not assuming a trap, rather a somewhat dangerous or decrepit situation where liability might depend on the duty of care. Commented Nov 2, 2021 at 0:24
  • do you think that rulings that allow cops to do what they want can be applied to the public at large?
    – Tiger Guy
    Commented Nov 2, 2021 at 0:32
  • @TigerGuy Yes. To some extent you get there via a slippery slope. Cop precedents get applied to the USPS guy and then to the FedEx guy, and then to someone warning their neighbor about a broken fence. Eventually, any argument that it isn't general falls apart.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Nov 2, 2021 at 17:37

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