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I have seen this story now several times in some variation.

An HOA, landlord, property management company, neighbor decides that property that is not theirs is still theirs. An owner has a tree or pool that a neighbor wants removed. The neighbor, while the owner is away, hires a crew to remove the tree or pool or places their driveway on neighbors land, etc.

  1. How would a company ensure that a person who is wanting services performed on a property is the actually owner that can give permission? What is the minimum due diligence of a company to ensure they are not being conned? When would such an error cross from civil to criminal liability?

  2. What actions should the true property owner take should they be present when offense is being undertaken as well as after?

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The service company should take serious all evidence that they have that the customer is not the property owner, and therefore will decline to provide the service if there remain doubt. Ordinarily, when you contact a tree service (for example), they assume that you are the property owner and of course they come up to the font door and make the deal with the person who answers. That would not be a reasonable assumption if the request is to "cut down all of the trees" in a 30-unit apartment complex, the company representative would need better assurance that the individual which they met with had actual authority. In lieu of evidence to the contrary, it is reasonable to assume that the person who answers the door at a single-family dwelling and purports to be John Q. Owner is the owner, not a renter. If the customer speaks of "the landlord", that is evidence that the customer is not the owner. As you can imagine, there is no rigorous procedure that guarantees that you are not dealing with a fake-owner. What matters is whether the company acted in good faith and with due care for the question of ownership and the related matter of trespassing.

If an owner catches a service provider in the act (and doesn't want the service), they should demand that the workers cease work, on the grounds that they are not authorized. Probably, the guy with a chain saw is "just doing what he was told", and if the company is non-negligent, their employees will be instructed to call the boss, and they will stop work.

Criminal liability would arise when the company knows that they are trespassing and have been told to stop, but they continue with the work.

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