Property rights

Mort Banks, a rancher from the Winston, Ore., area describes a private property problem to Douglas County Undersheriff Jeff Frieze at a recent meeting of the Douglas County Livestock Association in Roseburg, Ore. Frieze says the best approach to trespassers is to call law enforcement immediately and let officers deal with the problem.

ROSEBURG, Ore. — When trespassers or their belongings are seen on private property, the landowner is advised to immediately call law enforcement.

That was the main message presented at a recent meeting of the Douglas County Livestock Association by Undersheriff Jeff Frieze of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office. He encouraged landowners to not try to solve the situation on their own.

“We need a phone call in the initial stages of a person trespassing on private property,” Frieze said. “In the state of Oregon, you have to know where you are located. We know exactly where private property lines are. They’re easy to check. If somebody is there unwanted, we can handcuff them and take them off the property.”

It is known in the state of Oregon that there is a homeless problem, both inside city limits and in rural areas. There have been instances of people moving into vacant houses or setting up tents and tarps on rural properties.

Frieze said in Oregon it is not against the law to sleep on public property whether it is city, state or federal, but it is against the law to sleep or be on private property.

He explained that in Oregon, private landowners are not required to post No Trespassing signs. He added, however, that district attorney offices prefer the presence of those signs since they provide solid evidence when considering charges against trespassers.

Frieze encouraged landowners not to enter into any agreement with trespassers, such as giving them a designated amount of time to leave or trading services like lawn mowing or maintenance work in return for an extended stay.

“Once you allow people to stay with some kind of verbal agreement, it’s so much harder to move them,” the undersheriff said. “That process can turn into days of work and money.”

Marwood Hallett, a rancher in the Tenmile, Ore., area southwest of Roseburg, described trespassing as a “hidden problem in plain sight.”

“I’ve become aware of this problem in just the last six to eight months,” he said. “We’ve all tried to deal with it ourselves. But the implications of that can be quite consequential if you don’t know what the laws are. If you give people any kind of verbal agreement, then you’ve changed the situation into a whole new arena.”

Frieze said it is OK for a landowner to make a call about trespassing on adjoining property, especially if it is known that the property is under out-of-state ownership. The sheriff’s office would then call the owner, explain the trespassing situation and with permission, deal with it.

Frieze also explained that it is best for a private property owner to leave vacant campsites or belongings alone until permission to clean it up has been granted by the sheriff’s office. He gave an example of a city that was successfully sued after it cleaned up and disposed of an illegal campsite without permission.

He said the sooner the landowner engages law enforcement in the situation, the less mess there’ll be to clean up.

Douglas County Commissioner Tim Freeman also encouraged property owners to immediately call with trespass issues, but to also have patience regarding a call back or a deputy’s response because other events may be ongoing or take precedent.

“It is still best to call early and often before people are able to establish residency for a period of time,” he said. “People might be reluctant to get involved, but don’t be afraid to engage. Our D.A. office, our sheriff, they want you to be able to enjoy your property. The sooner you get law enforcement involved, the better it’ll be for you.”

When asked about thefts of such property as equipment, fence or building materials or hay from rural properties, Frieze said there had been very few, if any, reports of that in his 22 years in law enforcement in Douglas County.

“Items that take work don’t get stolen,” he said.

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