In the United States, individuals have the right to own property. U.S. laws of ownership date back to the colonial period when British property ownership and property protection laws were gradually incorporated into colony law. Following the U.S. revolution and separation from British rule, U.S. laws pertaining to property ownership and property rights became major components of the U.S. Constitution and state laws.

There are three tiers of property law enforcement in the U.S.: federal, state, and local. When property rights are violated in some manner, it is the responsibility of U.S. law enforcement agencies to address these violations and bring the violators to justice. It is the duty of the U.S. legal system to prosecute the violators in accordance with federal, state, and local laws.

Property Rights Protections

The Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states that individuals have the right to own and sell property and that this property may not be taken from them from the government. It reads “Nor shall [anyone] be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law; Nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.” 

The states, not the federal government, are the primary protectors and regulators of property ownership and protection of the “bundle of rights” that come with property ownership. Article 1 of the Tenth Amendment prohibits states from passing any law that impairs a person’s contractual right to acquire or use property. To ensure that state governments also protect the right of individuals to own property, the Constitution includes the Fourteenth Amendment, which makes the following assurance, “…nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

With regard to forest land ownership, it is state law that protects landowners from such things as trespass (the unauthorized entry or use of someone else’s property) and the unlawful removal of timber and other non-timber forest products.

Today, there are approximately 11 million individuals and families that own forest land in the United States. Click here to learn more about forest ownership in the U.S.