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Why Are There Recreational Use Statutes?

Recreational Use Statutes

In the United States, every state has property law statutes that encourage landowners to open their lands to the public for recreational use. These statutes are often of particular importance to landowners in rural areas who may allow third parties to utilize their land for recreational activities including hunting, hiking, swimming, fishing, rafting, or other activities.

These statutes encourage landowners by granting broad immunities to the legal repercussions and liabilities of property damage and personal injury. Often, these statutes are enacted within property law in order to meet the ever-increasing demand of growing urban populations for recreational land.

Recreational use statutes revise older common law rules regarding trespassers, licenses, and invitees. They remove a landowner's obligation to keep the land safe for either entry or use, or provide warning for dangerous areas on their property, provided they do not charge the third person parties for recreational use of the land. Recreational use statutes and property law often regulate land and water on a landowner's property, but also regulate the buildings, machines, or equipment on the property as well.

In order for a landowner to be protected by the recreational use statutes, they must be defined as the "owner" of the estate, which may be defined as the actual legal landowner, a lessee, a tenant, and manager of the land, or an occupier. If the state does not find that a party qualifies as the "owner" of an estate, that party will be held to the stricter enforcements required of them through common law.

Additionally, recreational use statutes are voided if a landowner charges for recreational use of the land or is found to have willfully or maliciously caused harm to third person parties on the real estate. The cost of such items such a fishing license have been found to not violate the status of an "owner" within courts, and certain states allow owners to charge parking fees without voiding their rights through the recreational use statutes.

To protect landowners, almost all recreational use statutes and state property law prohibit the adverse possession of land. Adverse possession allows for a third party to gain a permanent right to access to a land by continued use of the land without the direct permission or objection from the owner. This allows landowners the freedom to open and close their lands without the fear of a third party gaining a permanent right to access the land and to use it for recreational activity.

Public entities are not always regarded as "owners" within recreational use statutes. Certain states readily accredit public entities as "owners" within the statutes, and in these states, the recreational use statutes protect these owners for the recreational use of third parties on their land. However, other states have specifically discredited public entities as "owners," and the common law and property law is enforced within those states.

Still, other states neither accredit or discredit the status of an "owner" for a public entity, and have allowed their courts to decide. It is important to check particular state recreational use statutes and court case history before engaging in recreational activities on a public entity's land.

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