So, as a prepper or homesteader, one of the things you must do is to take care NOT to get caught up in any unnecessary legal trouble. If you aren’t aware of laws and regulations for your area or don’t stay updated on them, something as simple as building a rain water catchment system or traveling with your firearm to another state, can land you in jail. Researching and staying abreast of laws and regulations will save you a lot of headache and trouble later on.
- Land Use & Property Zoning Laws
If you are already living on your own property or if you are trying to decide what piece of property to buy, make sure that you know with 100% certainty what the local laws are for the zoning of your property. Whether a property is zoned residential, commercial, or both, can have a huge impact on what you can and cannot legally do on your own property.
One way to avoid fines and maybe even jail time is to know in advance whether what you want to do now or in the future, will violate any local rules. Think about what you may want to do next year or even five or ten years down the road. Make sure that current zoning for the property you are buying doesn’t conflict. Google the name of your town and state and the phrase “planning” to find agency information to get more specific details on zoning for your area.
When it comes to property, covenants can be either restrictive or positive in nature. A positive covenant attached to your property requires you to do something whereas a restrictive covenant tied to your property requires you to refrain from doing something. Covenants are often sporadically enforced so make sure you have written notice of any covenants of lack thereof so you don’t end up in a bad situation.
- Property Easements
Property Easements are generally enacted to give specific people the ability to access parts of your property for a specific reason. They are typically in writing and are on file with your local property assessor’s office. Don’t depend on a realtor’s knowledge or even a property owner’s knowledge of property easements. Check it out for yourself through the assessor’s office.
Easements typically involve granting access to another property through a road on your property or granting access to a utility company to get to power lines by using a road that crosses your property. The language of an easement is critical when it comes to enforcement.
If an easement was granted for one neighbor’s use for example, it often cannot then be expanded to include traffic from a development of homes just because they now all live there and need access. Interfering with an easement that has been granted can get you into legal trouble, so if there is an easement tied to your property, make sure you know what it involves.
- Home Owner’s Association (HOA)
A Home Owner’s Association or HOA is typically a non-profit group that is charged with providing services and regulating the activities within a planned development or subdivision. An HOA is authorized to charge fees or assessments and even to impose fines for failure to comply with rules. The HOA is made up of voting members, your neighbors, who have the authority to dictate a wide range of things.
If you choose to buy property that has an HOA, you are required to join, pay the dues, and follow the rules set forth by that HOA. These rules can change dramatically based on the opinions and preferences of the membership, typically your neighbors. Make absolutely certain that you are prepared to abide by any rules created by the HOA now and in the future. Keep in mind that if the make-up of the neighbors living around you changes drastically, it can have a big impact on new restrictions that could be enacted.
An HOA can dictate anything from the color of your house and roof, to the mailbox you can install, and can even forbid you to have a garden in your yard! My uncle lives in a development where every homeowner is required to have their garage door closed by a specific time each day. They even have a security person who rides by to ensure this is being adhered to each night! Failure to comply with the rules or failure to pay your dues can result in additional fees and even a lien against your home.
- Hunting & Trapping Laws & Restrictions
People who regularly participate in hunting and trapping small game must be intimately aware of the laws and regulations surrounding this activity. If you plan to hunt, trap, or even fish, make sure that you know what the restrictions are for your area regarding “season length”, allowable quantity, etc. This applies to any kind of activity involving animals.
For example, in some states, catching fish with your bare hands can actually be illegal! Do your due diligence for any property you want to purchase or that you own. If you cannot abide by the current laws or they seem overly restrictive, avoid legal problems by moving to an area that will give you more freedom to live the way you want to live.
- Water Rights
You own your property and you have a creek or stream on the property that you want to tap into to irrigate your gardens and water livestock. Or maybe you decide to install a rainwater catchment system to use for your garden and livestock or even to supply water to your house for personal consumption. It’s not normally something you’d think about in great detail, it’s your land so it’s your water, right? Well you may not be legally entitled to the water right you think you do.
Surface water rights, such as creeks and lakes, are governed by two doctrines, either the Riparian Doctrine or the Prior Appropriation Doctrine. The Eastern part of the United States uses Riparian doctrine, this means that your right to use surface water such as creeks, rivers, and streams are based on proximity and reasonable use.
The Western half of the United States is governed by the Prior Appropriation Doctrine which is based on who began using the water first. As Indian tribes are now widely recognized as being there first, they have been granted first appropriation. This is causing conflict across the Western United States as ranchers who were the first to “apply” for a permit and who have been using the water to irrigate their cattle for decades, are being ordered to stop using the water.
If you’re looking to harvest rainwater, you may also want to check this article on the topic.
- Making Explosives/Federal Conspiracy
It is illegal to make or possess explosive substances and devices, even handmade ones without proper licensing and permits. You can have explosives for your own personal use, but you are required to follow all laws regarding storage and transport. This is a very sensitive area because if you are found in possession of explosives and there is any suspicion that you intended to use those explosives to harm life or property, you can also be charged with Federal Conspiracy, a more serious crime.
For more details, see the Explosive Substances Act 1883 in the UK or 27 CFR, Part 555 if you reside in the U.S. Keep in mind, that in addition to federal laws regarding explosives, there could also be state laws that apply. In the U.S., there are additional laws and penalties if you transport explosives, including something as innocent as taking an explosive target you made to the shooting range for practice. Contact DOT before transporting any explosive materials to avoid fines and court proceedings.
- Firearms Violations
The laws regarding the use of, sale, and transport of firearms and ammunition can be very different from state to state. There are many aspects to these laws, so make sure you check and thoroughly understand the regulations regarding firearm purchase, registration, background checks, and licensing as well as open and concealed carry laws.
When it comes to gun laws, you cannot be safe just knowing what the laws are in the state in which you live, you are bound by the laws of where you are located at the time. If you are concerned about your liability in the event of an intruder in your home, check into the Castle Doctrine Law for your state. If you will be traveling, pay attention to the Peaceable Journey Laws for each state you will travel into.
If, for example, you live in Idaho and hold a Concealed Carry Permit, and you decide to make a trip to Oregon, your Idaho permit will not be recognized there. In some states, local government is allowed to pass their own laws that could be more restrictive than state laws. This means that your firearm can be perfectly legal in the entire state except the one county or town that you visit to sightsee. You could end up in big legal trouble for a firearms violation.
The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act prohibits certain individuals from possessing a handgun, including anyone who committed a crime punishable by prison of one year or more, anyone addicted to or illegally using a controlled substance, and even anyone who was dishonorably discharged from the U.S. Armed Forces.
- Living in an RV or Non-traditional Home on Your Own Land
In Los Angeles County, in a desert area, otherwise known as the Antelope Valley, residents are being targeted by armed county inspection squads that target victimless code violations. Approximately 14 residents, living relatively independent in this remote location, have left the state in recent years, broke and destitute after losing their property to the county. Remaining residents believe a future development or highway is planned in this area and residents in this valley are an obstacle.
Joey Gallow, retired Vietnam era army veteran, was initially cooperative when asked to clear brush, move a shed, and then remove his motorhome. After cooperating with officials and complying with multiple requests, he was then told he couldn’t live there and would have to move. He was told that his activities are obstructing the free and clear use of neighboring land. His nearest neighbor is almost a half a mile away.
Oscar Castaneda is a mechanic and a preacher. He and his wife own the church where popular movies, Kill Bill 1 and 2 were filmed. They bought their land twenty-three years ago. They grow their own food and use solar power. They believe in living independent of the city. He has no neighbors for over 10 miles. Government officials visited several times, taking pictures. After the fourth unannounced visit, Castaneda learned that he could ask them for a warrant. But the damage had been done. Castaneda received notices of multiple code violations. He is now being told he has to clear his land and move or a bulldozer will be brought in to level the property.
Jacques Dupis and his wife have lived on their property for twenty-five years without any issues. They paid taxes every year. They are now being told their water storage tank doesn’t meet code and they must put in a well in order to stay, at a cost of 85,000, a price this retired couple cannot begin to afford.
Kenny Perkins of Acton, collects and restores old cars. He moved to the country after his cars were vandalized by gangs at his previous home. Local authorities showed up and informed him that one of his outbuildings did not meet setback requirements and he had to move it. He complied and moved the building. He is the last house on a private dirt road. He was then told to register all his cars with historical vehicle plates, which he did to the tune of $2,500. He later discovered that the county had no authority to order him to move the outbuilding because the “setback” requirements don’t apply on a private dirt road.
So, as a prepper or homesteader, guard against potential fines and even jail by making sure you:
(1) research the laws and ordinances for your property at the federal, state, and even the local level,
(2) know your rights so that you can stand up for yourself should an incident occur, and
(3) pay attention to potential changes in laws and regulations so that you can band with other residents to fight any laws that would interfere with your right to live the way you see fit.
Our right to live free is guaranteed to us by the Constitution. It’s a fine line between living the way you want to live and being a nuisance to your neighbors. Most people with non-traditional ways of living intentionally move to remote locations so as not to bother anyone else. It seems even those remote areas are now under attack. One must be ever on guard to keep authorities from chipping away at our freedoms.