Presence of a For Sale sign does not give a stranger the right enter property

Posted by: Sep 14, 2018By Brian Stutheit

Ellyn and David Rucker decided to purchase a house that their daughter, Kristin, would then rent from them. David placed an offer on a house for Kristin after Kristin walked through  the house with the selling realtor. Ellyn had not seen the property, so Kristin took Ellyn to the house. There was a “For Sale” sign in the yard and a small notice on the door warning that trespassers would be prosecuted. After walking around the house and looking through some windows, Ellyn started walking from the house down the sidewalk to return to the car. The sidewalk was uneven. Ellyn tripped and fell and was injured.

Ellyn sued the seller and the listing realtor for damages. She claimed the sidewalk was dangerous. She claimed that the “For Sale” sign constituted an implied invitation to the public  to come onto the property.   “Invitees” are generally people on the property to conduct business with the landowner.  Landowners have a duty to use reasonable care to protect invitees from dangerous conditions about which the landowner knew or should have known.  The trial court ruled Ellyn was a not an invitee, but was a trespasser.  Because she never obtained the consent of the landowner, she did not have an invitation to enter the property. Trespassers have much less protection against dangerous conditions on a property. Landowners only have a duty to refrain from willfully or deliberately injuring a trespasser on their land.

On appeal, Ellyn contended that the “For Sale” sign implied that the public was invited, requested, expected, or intended to enter the premises. The court of appeals disagreed. The court of appeals found that the “For Sale” sign created only an invitation to contact the listing agent, not to enter the property.  The court said, “It is unreasonable to suggest that every time an owner or real estate company places a ‘sale’ sign outside a house, the owner or company [is] ‘inviting’ people to come in . . . . To hold otherwise would mean that anytime an owner puts a property up for sale and posts a simple ‘sale’ sign in front of the property, the public-at-large would be free to enter the property at anytime.”