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In 2014 I hiked in the Adirondack Mountains, New York, United States of America. The trail passed a sign that had a single word on it: "POSTED". There was no other text on the sign either on the front or on the back. Not understanding what it meant, I ignored it. I camped around 10 metre behind it. When I returned the following day, a fellow hiker commented on it and told me I had camped in an area I wasn't supposed to enter in the first place.

According to this SE answer, in New York state specifically:

It is a defense to this type of trespass that there are not signs posted instructing people to stay off the property. It may also be a defense that any signs posted in the area are not in the proper place to be easily seen by visitors to the property.

Would a sign that only says "POSTED" with no other text be a sign "instructing people to stay off the property"? I wasn't shot and left no trace, so the landowner probably never found out I trespassed, but I'm still wondering about the validity of the sign that is cryptic to foreigners like me, who may not be familiar with the specific context in which the term "POSTED" is used on signs in the USA.

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  • As an average reasonable person, I can tell you it is. I would perfectly understand that the word "posted" is posted. I am flabbergasted as to what is not clear about that.
    – kisspuska
    Aug 16 at 0:06
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    @kisspuska Maybe to Americans. I understand "No entry", "Verboden toegang", "Zutritt verboten", etc. signs in many languages, but "POSTED" signs are an American thing (maybe Canada too) and you cannot assume this is automatically clear to all foreigners, including those with CEFR B2 ESL. I suspect a fair proportion of Brits might also not know immediately what it means.
    – gerrit
    Aug 16 at 7:30
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    Sorry, I meant to say "that the word "posted" means* posted [and nothing more than that]. Yeah, no, the Brits would probably also be clueless, indeed.
    – kisspuska
    Aug 16 at 7:45
  • FYI: "POSTED" signs are virtual fence posts.
    – RonJohn
    Aug 16 at 13:13
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    @TigerGuy Possibly yes. It was pitch black dark, raining hard, I was very tired, and I had no real way of finding out what the sign meant anyway. But you're right, I should.
    – gerrit
    Aug 16 at 16:16

4 Answers 4

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This varies depending on the specific law of the state or locality involved.

In New York, the word "POSTED", along with the name and address of the owner is sufficient to notify people not to intrude, and anyone ignoring such a sign is technically trespassing (although, in practice, if such a person leaves the property when asked, did no damage, and appeared honestly ignorant, it is likely that no legal action would be taken).

In California, as specified by penal code section 553 (quoted in the linked answer) a sign for this purpose must include:

the words “trespassing-loitering forbidden by law,” or words describing the use of the property followed by the words “no trespassing.”

in letters at least two inches tall, and follow other specifications in the law. The word "Posted" is neither required nor sufficient, although the law calls land with such signs "posted property".

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  • What does "posted property" at the end of your answer mean? Aug 16 at 0:37
  • @RockPaperLz The relevant phrase from the answer is the law calls land with such signs "posted property". That means that "posted property" is the legal term for land that has been so marked, Aug 16 at 0:47
  • Thanks David. It took me a few reads, but now I understand what you are conveying. Aug 16 at 5:24
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New York's Department of Environmental Conservation offers direction on "posting" your land, the purpose of which is to identify the boundaries of your private land and to make others aware that the land is private and advise them that they are prohibited from entering.

The website says this about the specific formatting and location of the signs (emphasis mine):

Hardware and farm supply stores frequently carry signs for posting. Customized signs may also be obtained from local printers. DEC doesn't provide signs to private landowners unless the landowner is a cooperator under the Fish and Wildlife Management Act. In this case, they will be provided with "Safety Zone" signs. Cooperators provide free public access to most of their property in a large cooperative hunting/fishing area.

Signs must be a minimum of 11 inches by 11 inches. They also must bear the name and address of the owner, lawful occupant or other person or organization authorized to post the area. The sign must bear a conspicuous statement which shall either consist of the word "POSTED" or warn against entry for specified purposes or all purposes without the consent of the person whose name appears on the sign. These words must cover a minimum space of 80 square inches (about 9 by 9 inches) of the sign.

At least one sign must be set on each side of the protected area and on each side of all corners that can be reasonably identified. Signs shall be no more than 660 feet apart, set close to or along the boundaries of the protected area. The signs must be conspicuous - they should be high enough, and spaced closely enough to be seen. Illegible or missing signs must be replaced at least once a year.

So to answer your question, the sign, as you described it, was improperly formatted as it did not contain the contact information of the landowner, but it should still be sufficient to fulfil its purpose of advising you against trespassing on the land past the sign. These notices are valid, even if you don't understand the wording of the sign, as ignorance of the law is not an excuse for violating it, though from a practical standpoint you might be able to convince the police or the property owner to let it go based on your ignorance, provided that you then leave the property.

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    @Trish Yes, "shall either consist of the word "POSTED" or warn [...]" means that the word "POSTED" on its own is sufficient warning. Aug 14 at 11:35
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    The sign is supposed to have the information of the property owner regardless of the format of the warning itself. It must bear the owners information, and it must bear either "POSTED" or the longer warning. There's nothing there that says one instruction is dependent on the other. Aug 14 at 11:41
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    Why should it be? The question is about the use of the term "posted," which is why I put that part in bold. My not making it bold doesn't negate the regulation. Aug 14 at 12:42
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    Thinking aloud: I wonder why "POSTED" is preferred to "NO TRESSPASSING" which is universally understandable? Aug 15 at 8:28
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    @DiplomacyNotWar And my point was, frankly, in a sort of concurrence with yours in that even traspassing is far from universal, but “posted” is simply ridiculous to even consider as the means of giving notice to anyone that they may just get shot dead. Absolutely mind boggling, and, really, if anything happens to anyone as a proximate result of this completely reckless or malicious way of legislation, those damaged should have a meritorious claim against the State of New York for this. (As a side remark: the upvote on the previous one is mine)
    – kisspuska
    Aug 16 at 4:23
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I assert it is illegal to trespass private property even without a sign in many regions, so beware of local rules.

It may be debated, that the sign is unclear to indicate permission or prohibition. Certainly "POSTED" carries as little information as only "WARNING" without further info.

Thus your action to leave without a trace was appropriate and unlikely to cause concern.

A proper sign might look like this. enter image description here

The no trespassing notice must be given in a posting in a conspicuous manner.

ref:
https://www.dec.ny.gov/lands/118436.html#Posting
https://thelawdictionary.org/article/laws-for-posting-no-trespassing-signs/
https://www.bestofsigns.com/blog/no-trespassing-signs-laws-what-a-sign-can-cant-do-in-all-50-states/

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  • "premises" is not open land, and posting does not convert land to premises. Laws about premises are separate.
    – david
    Aug 14 at 23:30
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    "Certainly "POSTED" carries as little information as only "WARNING" without further info." Less information, even. I'm from Canada, and I have no idea why the term "posted" would suggest I avoid that land. At least "warning" would serve as an understandable deterrent. With "posted" I would just be confused as to what the sign is there for.
    – JMac
    Aug 15 at 11:41
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    @JMac, as a fellow Canadian, I'm assuming "posted" refers to fence posts and being surrounded by them in spirit where it wouldn't be possible/feasible to do so in practice. It also sounds archaic af, you won't find anyone under 60 that won't ask you "posted where? Instagram? Twitter?"
    – Blindy
    Aug 15 at 14:32
  • "I assert ..." your answer would be greatly improved if you backed up that assertion with references to the relevant legal principles/decisions. (Especially as it's explicitly not the case in all jurisdictions in the world - many European countries have explicitly codified "right to roam" laws. -- New York may be different, but "random internet person makes sweeping opinionated statement" is not a good basis for that determination.)
    – R.M.
    Aug 15 at 17:01
-1

As you already know, posted is a legal term with a meaning that is not obvious. As with all laws, ignorance doesn't absolve you of wrongdoing in a case where legal action is brought on you.

Example: A fire you started while camping burned down all the trees on the private property and the landowner sues you for a large sum for the damages. Showing up in court and claiming "I didn't know what posted meant" would not win your case.

Example 2: Landowner shows up in the middle of the night and demands you get off his property. You refuse to leave. Landowner calls the police. Police show up and you claim "I didn't know what posted meant". Police tell you to get off the land now or you will be arrested for trespassing.

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  • Your answer could be improved with additional supporting information. Please edit to add further details, such as citations or documentation, so that others can confirm that your answer is correct. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center.
    – Community Bot
    Aug 15 at 23:09
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    The fire would still spread onto private property had I started it on the other end of the POSTED sign. And if someone asks me to leave, of course I would profusely apologise for not knowing what most Americans probably understand, and leave immediately. What would be unpleasant is if a landowner would shoot me in my sleep for trespassing, which I hope they can't legally do even in the US with "stand-your-ground" laws (which apparently does not include New York). Marginally less unpleasant would be to be woken up by the landowner at gunpoint.
    – gerrit
    Aug 16 at 7:32

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