Is it illegal to explore abandoned buildings?

The world is one giant adventure. Whether climbing Everest or exploring the renowned haunted house in your city, there is more than one way to satisfy your quest for adventure. But there are limits too. So, is it illegal to explore abandoned buildings?

Exploring an abandoned building could amount to trespassing if you don’t have permission to be there. In that case, it would become illegal. But if you still plan to explore, it’s important to ask for permission, be safety conscious, not take anything from the building, and be as fast as possible.

However, it’s not every abandoned building that you can find its owner. This means that you may have to enter it without permission. This isn’t advisable, but you might be able to wiggle your way out of it in some cases. Here, we discuss whether you can legally explore an abandoned building.

When Does Exploring an Abandoned Property Amount to Trespassing?

It might be illegal to explore an abandoned or vacant building. In most cases, it amounts to trespassing since the property belongs to someone else who isn’t around to permit you to come on the property. While you might be able to identify regular trespassing in your daily affairs, it could become a bit complicated with abandoned property. For a normal building, as long as the owner denies you permission to enter the property, entering will amount to trespassing. Since abandoned buildings don’t have an owner around to deny you permission, you may wonder how to determine whether the laws against trespassing apply. To determine that, you’ll have to establish the following:

What is Trespassing

Each city or state has laws that define what qualifies as trespassing. In order to determine whether your exploration of an abandoned building is illegal, you need to know what amounts to trespassing in the area. This might differ slightly from one place to another. However, some clues could help you establish that you’re trespassing. For example, it’ll be trespassing if:

  • You climbed a fence to get into the property.
  • You ignore a sign that says No trespassing or any of its variation
  • You break the lock to enter the property

What is an Abandoned Building?

Beyond knowing what trespassing is, you also need to be sure that the building is abandoned under law. Because the building looks abandoned doesn’t necessarily mean it is. Legally, the abandonment of a property will depend on the vacancy for a specific period, the level of upkeep on the property, and the owner’s intention. It might not be easy to establish all these. But even if you’re able to, there might still be an owner paying abandonment fees to the government. If there’s no owner or the owner isn’t fulfilling requirements for abandonment, the property transfers to the government by default as the caretaker. Thus, it’s rare for there to be a property that’s completely abandoned without any individual or entity having a vested interest in it.

Is It Advisable to Explore an Abandoned Building Without Permission?

The risks of exploring an abandoned building without permission are significant. So, it’s best not to try it. But risk has never stopped the adventurous. So, if you’re planning to do that, you could still claim not to have trespassed. There are cases where the knowledge about abandonment could play to your favor if you trespass. In such cases, you’ll have to argue that you were unaware that the building had an owner and was off-limits. This might serve as an exception to the abandonment rule, and there have been cases where a person has been able to use it.

But it’s not a sure defense which means it’s better to avoid an abandoned property even if there’s any chance of trespass due to presence on the property. If found liable for trespass, you could face penalties ranging from community service and fines to jail time. Most people are usually aware of this, and it doesn’t stop them from taking the risk and exploring the property.

What To Do When Exploring an Abandoned Building

It’s not advisable to explore an abandoned building, but if you still want to do it. Here are the things to note:

1.  Ask For Permission

You must ask for permission before entering an abandoned property. Sneaking in might seem tempting since no one might see you. But it’s likely someone still owns the property, leading to trespassing charges. So, find the owner if you can and ask for permission. You can describe yourself as a photographer taking images of a previous era or anything else that would encourage the owner to let you in. asking for permission could save you a lot of property.

2.  Be Safety Conscious

When exploring an abandoned property, be protected. These properties may be off the grid, so you need to be extra careful. Depending on the location, you might want to get travel insurance before you head out. Beyond that, it helps to go with others and wear protective gear when inside the property. For example, you may not know why it was abandoned, and the last thing you want is your health being affected. This is why asking for permission is essential. If you find the owner, they’ll likely tell you what to beware of. Most insurance companies won’t also give coverage to anyone visiting a site without permission. 

Also, make sure you know all the dangers of a particular location you want to explore. For example, Pripyat in Ukraine was abandoned due to the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. The town of Picher, Oklahoma, was abandoned due to mining that made the grounds unstable and the level of lead found in children from the town. This is why it also helps to go to only abandoned buildings and places accessible to the public. Those places are safer even if they might have their dangers.

3.  Don’t Take Anything from An Abandoned Property

When you eventually explore an abandoned building, limit yourself to viewing and taking pictures. Don’t take anything from these buildings as that will amount to stealing, and if you’re already trespassing, stealing could make it more challenging to defend yourself and claim that you’re just a sightseer. Even in places sanctioned for the public to visit, taking an artifact or object reduces the experience for others.

4.  Don’t Spend Too Much Time

When visiting an abandoned building or place, the goal should be to see all you can see and get out as soon as possible. This could be because you’re trespassing and don’t want to be caught or because the place is dangerous and you don’t want to be harmed. There is a good reason for the abandonment of most buildings and places, and you surely don’t want to stay long enough to find out.

In Conclusion

It’s usually illegal to explore an abandoned building. But there are times when it’s possible to sidestep these laws. However, even in such cases, it’s not advisable.