Whether or not you own property, property rights are serious business. One of the fundamental rights of any person in a free society is to dictate who can, and cannot, come on their property for any reason whatsoever.
Accordingly, it’s very common to see no-trespassing signs posted conspicuously on trees, on gates, fence posts and more. But increasingly there is talk of so-called purple paint laws when it comes to trespassing.
What exactly are these laws, and why should you care as a good citizen?
Purple paint laws are a colloquial expression for laws that allow property owners to post the boundaries of their property with stripes of purple paint instead of, or in conjunction with, no-trespassing signs. In the states that allow them, these paint markings have the force of law.
In short, in any state that has a so-called purple paint law on the books, a swipe of purple paint on a tree, on a fence post or any other conspicuous object must be treated the same as a no-trespassing sign.
Meaning if you, or anyone else, trespasses in defiance of such markings you’ll be facing serious charges.
But, there’s a lot more to know about these markings themselves and the basics of trespassing law and property rights, so keep reading and I’ll tell you about all of it…
Why Purple Paint in the First Place?
The choice of purple paint is not arbitrary in this case: where many other paint colors like bright white or International Orange often denote specific things regarding timber and more, this purple color is both unique and easy to see, making it especially suited for the purposes of showing property boundaries.
And, once a couple of states settled on this color for this purpose, other states simply followed the precedent.
Aren’t Markings on Trees Just for Denoting What Trees are to be Cut?
No, not always! And don’t let yourself think that. If you are ever out on a ramble or a hike and start seeing purple markings on trees, don’t think for a second that they are any other sort of marking!
Those trees are routinely marked for harvest, for preservation, or for study with various paint markings if you see vertical stripes of purple paint on trees or any other natural object you know certainly that you are on the boundary of another person’s property, and more importantly they are warning you and everyone else against trespassing on it!
What Happens if You Ignore Purple Paint Marks?
You can be charged with trespassing, and depending on the state you are in, it can be a violation with a ticket, a misdemeanor, a significant misdemeanor, or even a full-blown felony.
Assuming that the state you are in has purple paint laws on the books those purple paint markings have the force of law behind them!
This means you must treat them the same as if they are a no-trespassing sign, or direct notice from the owner of the property against trespassing.
Never, ever defy purple paint markings of any kind or on any object.
If you believe the purple paint markings have been placed erroneously or in defiance of state law you should investigate, but do so cautiously and you had better be damn sure or else you can be charged in case you’re wrong.
Is Purple Paint Marking Required to Post Properties Against Trespassing?
No. In the states where it is legal, purple paint markings are an option to use in lieu of or sometimes in conjunction with no-trespassing signage.
To my knowledge, there is no state that mandates purple paint markings to be used expressly instead of posted signage.
However, to be clear, in the vast majority of states, at least some types of property must be posted one way or the other against trespassing to have the full support of the law.
This is especially the case concerning vacant and undeveloped land.
In some states, if you don’t have your property posted against trespassing, someone really can’t be trespassed at all unless you have told them, specifically, to stay off of your property.
As always, it is definitely in your best interest to post all of your property against trespassers if you don’t want trespassers on it.
Do All States Allow the Use of Purple Paint for Posting Properties?
No, sadly. Although many states have been adopting this practice and currently not quite half allow citizens to use purple paint markings to post their properties, it is not the law of the land from coast to coast.
As of 2023, the following states allow the use of purple paint markings for posting at least some kinds of properties against trespass:
- New Hampshire
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
- West Virginia
Hopefully, there are more to come as these laws gain traction. It should also be noted that each state has its own specifications for utilizing purple paint markings, more on that below.
Can You Use Purple Paint to Post a Property in States that Don’t Allow it?
No. Practically speaking, if you use purple paint markings to post a property against trespassing you aren’t going to have the force of law backing you up assuming you don’t also have no-trespassing signage posted.
At best, someone might trespass and avoid more serious charges than if you had posted the property properly.
At worst, it will be like you don’t have your property posted at all against trespassers!
If your state doesn’t allow the use of purple paint markings, you must abide by the state statute’s specifications for posting at trespassing signs, whatever they happen to be.
Purple Paint Marks Always Have Specific Requirements for Use
One of the most important things to know about the use of purple paint marks for posting is that each state has its own requirements for the marks themselves, both the size and placement as well as the interval along the boundary of your property.
For instance, markings must be made so high off the ground on any given object but not too high so that it is at approximately eye level for an average person. Typically this is between 3 and 5 feet.
The mark itself must be so many inches wide and so many inches tall and, of course, made with purple paint although a few states allow the use of orange paint for the purpose.
The object itself makes a difference sometimes with trees and other natural objects belonging to the property owner being viable as long as they can support the requirements above, and also fence posts.
But fence posts are a special case in many states, with several having different requirements for the markings on these posts.
Typically, this will entail so many inches of the post being entirely covered with paint from the top down.
And, the type of terrain and sometimes the type of property makes a difference concerning the interval of these painted marks.
As a rule of thumb, on wide open land, markings will need to be placed every 500 or 1,000 feet.
In forest land, the marks usually need to be placed every 100 feet or sometimes even closer, defined as within line of sight from the proceeding and to the next marking.
In almost all cases, with this spacing requirement it will prove to be significantly cheaper than using traditional signage.
Lastly, if your property borders a public road or a waterway the interval of the markings may change.
Typically you’ll have to post these markings at every land or water entrance to the property, or at different intervals along the road or waterway respectively.
Just in case you couldn’t tell by now, you’ll definitely want to look up these laws for yourself and read them in detail if you live in any of the above states that rely on them.
Remember, if you don’t post these markings or if you post them incorrectly, the law might not have your back in case you need to go after a trespasser, so do your homework and do it right!
Tom Marlowe practically grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, Tom has the experience to help civilian shooters figure out what will work best for them.