Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Homesteading Legal Issues

As a brief introduction for those who may not know this about your local woodsman/blogger I attended West Virginia University College of Law and graduated with a Doctor of Jurisprudence. I have also been working in the oil and gas industry for a little over a decade. So when the prepared bloggers decided they wanted to do a cross promotion of articles I decided that I would change from my normal outdoor skills articles to one which could be universally useful. In this article I will talk about open carry knife and gun laws, water rights law (particularly important these days in the western US), Homesteading and the possibility of Off-Grid Living becoming illegal.

Open Carry Of Guns:

The laws in the United States regarding open carry of handguns vary from state to state. Below is a list of the states which I have completed some research on for this article I highly encourage you to follow the website http://www.opencarry.org/ as they have a ton of information that you can review before going to each state also remember transport laws can be an issue; however,if you are a CC holder with reciprocity in the state to which you are traveling you may wear your concealed weapon so long as you don’t make any stop in a state in between which doesn’t grant reciprocity check your state Attorney General’s website to determine which states allow reciprocity and remember some cities within the state may have different gun laws. Remember that  state gun laws are fluid and can often change whenever a different political party takes over a state legislature so keep up on this subject if you plan to travel:

States permit open carry without requiring the citizen to apply for any permit or license: Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, Kentucky, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, Wyoming

States permit open carry with restrictions: Connecticut, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Jersey, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah

States prohibit open carry: Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, New York, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Washington D.C.

Some Concealed Carry Items You May Be Interested In

Open Carry Of Knives:
Knife laws are equally as complicated as gun laws but the fine people over at http://www.knifeup.com/knife-laws/ have laid out the laws of the various states in a very user friendly medium. Most of my general research for travel has lead to the same exact conclusion as on their website so I will not just repeat state law again and again when I'm not a dedicated site on the topic and wouldn't update this article anywhere as near as they will update their site on this specific topic. Now a word of caution when it comes to knife laws and even gun laws, just because you are acting within your rights doesn't mean you may not have an issue with a law enforcement officer. Many of them get very little legal training and most of that comes from on-the-job learning the police academy in a lot of states just doesn't have the time to deliver a legal education in the matter of a few weeks (I mean honestly a semester of criminal law, criminal procedure, federal evidence and state evidence barley scratched the surface of criminal law and  those were 3-4 hour intensive semester classes in a doctoral program). So what am I saying? Be patient, honest, forthright, and compliant unless you are looking to get arrested (if you will do anything to stand up for your rights be sure to video tape it and have a witness it makes your attorneys life much easier for the better or the worse). I have had on several occasions "conversations" with DNR officers about carrying an AR-15 pistol as my CCW weapon while muzzle loader hunting (predator protection from 2 and 4 leg predators) and even more "conversations" with a variety of officers about carrying a concealed or partially concealed knife. WV law allows for the concealment of a knife with a concealed weapons permit (which I hold); however, most of the counties within my state wrongly publish said permit with the title Concealed Handgun Permit. So where does that leave us? Carry a copy of the state code in which you are referencing when speaking with the officer in your wallet (i.e. get a laminated folding card for your wallet or purse) and use that to show them in a respectful manner the actual state law being mindful that in some agencies they are going to have limited exposure to anything outside of traffic laws, city ordinances and what they usually issue tickets or make arrests for. 
Rainwater Collection & Water Rights:
When living off grid, water rights are one of the most controversial issues that may arise for a homesteader. Unfortunately, much like gun/knife laws these laws are state specific common law issues for the most part and generally are not handled by overarching legislation. With the unprecedented drought in the western portion of the United States I believe water rights and who all water belongs to will become a major issue going forward. Here is a great article that talks about rain water collection and has a great deal of state specific law contained in the article (LINK-HERE). Now granted this area of law is likely to rapidly change if the drought persists (Link to article about new CA legislation in response to drought-HERE). Over the last 15 years I have seen the water table in my home state decreasing (the rivers and creeks in particular seems to be most effected) and when visiting places such as Lake Mead/Hoover damn the western water issues become dramatically clear (Note the picture of lake mead above close to the Hoover Damn the white area is where water once was and has been going down at a dramatic rate). Lake Mead/Rockies and the Sierra Neva Mountain Range supply much of the rain water for the south western states and those sources are all feed mostly by snow fall which has been down over the last few years. Without these water sources Las Vegas and much of southern CA could become ghost towns and our national food supply could be in serious danger.

The majority of the US is split between the Riparian Rights Doctrine (Eastern US) and the Prior Appropriation Doctrine (Western US) with nationally recognized tribal lands having an exemption from both and having their own set of water law.

Riparian rights: The Eastern states (all those east of Texas, except Mississippi), follow the riparian doctrine, which permits anyone whose land has frontage on a body of water to use water from it. These states were the first settled by Europeans and have the most available water.  In United States v. Gerlach The USSC found “The primary natural asset was land, and the run-off in streams or rivers was incidental. Since access to flowing waters was possible only over private lands, access became a right annexed to the shore. The law followed the principle of equality which requires that the corpus of flowing water become no one's property and that, aside from rather limited use for domestic and agricultural purposes by those above, each riparian owner has the right to have the water flow down to him in its natural volume and channels unimpaired in quality. The riparian system does not permit water to be reduced to possession so as to become property which may be carried away from the stream for commercial or non-riparian purposes. In working out details of this egalitarian concept, the several states made many variations, each seeking to provide incentives for development of its natural advantages.”

Prior appropriation: Most western states (drier in nature) generally follow the prior appropriation doctrine, which gives a water right to whoever first puts water to beneficial use. Colorado, where the prior appropriation doctrine first developed, was generally looked to as the model by other Western states that adopted the prior appropriation doctrine. Water law in the western United States is defined by state constitutions statutes and case law. Each state exhibits variations upon the basic principles of the prior appropriation doctrine. Texas and the states directly north of it; the West Coast states, and Mississippi have a mixture of systems. Hawaii uses a form of riparian rights, and Alaska uses appropriation-based rights. In some states Surface water, lakes, rivers, and springs, are treated differently from ground water underground water that is extracted by drilling wells; however, In other states surface and ground water are managed together. A variety of federal, state, and local laws govern water rights. 

Still want a little more information on rain water collection in the various states? Here is a website that specializes in that particular area (LINK-HERE)

Homestead Exemption:
The Homestead law in the United States was one of several United States Federal laws that gave an applicant freehold title up to 160 acres of undeveloped land outside of the original 13 colonies.  The new law required three steps: file an application, improve the land, and file for deed of title.  Anyone who had never taken up arms against the U.S. Government, including freed slaves, could file an application and improvements to a local land office. The Homestead law therefore allow an individual to register a portion of his real and personal property as “homestead,” thereby making that portion of the individual’s estate off-limits to most creditors.  The idea behind these homestead laws is the preservation of the family farm, home, or other assets in the face of severe economic conditions. These laws still exist today in some variation and often exempt your  property from some amount of taxation and also provide it with some protection if you suffer through a bankruptcy (Find more information here- LINK)

Off-Grid Living Now Illegal?:
There has been a great deal of talk about California, Florida and Texas making it Illegal to live off the grid within their state. So far this has not become a wide-spread state regulation or state statute where it would take effect state-wide. These issues are mostly held to a few small jurisdictions who are reaching to fulfill local residents or politicians agendas. These politicians are utilizing the international property maintenance code, fire code and public health codes and whatever else they can stretch a little to “deal with a problem.” The issue with this is they are putting the burden of proof on the homesteader to show that their home isn’t a public safety, public health or other safety issue instead of actually having the burden of proof placed on the state. Unfortunately, this style of living is under attack and we must fight for our rights to practice this life style against major corporations and their politicians. Hoops will have to be jumped through until someone is able to make this a federal court issue and get the matter to the USSC, until then it will be an uphill battle for us all if more municipalities or God forbid states start to attack this self-sufficient way of life.

Off-Grid living and the things that go along with it are under attack on a daily basis and unfortunately you must be more educated than those whom make the attacks. You must allow the law to work for you and to do so you will have to learn and know the law better than those around you. While I will be glad to answer any questions you may have many of the answers will be very state specific or even municipality specific and my knowledge is generally within WV, Federal, Oil/Gas, and Property law. So feel free to comment here and I will try answer your questions or try to at least point you in the right direction if the legal issue is something I can't answer easily (i.e. isn't something covered within my legal database). Have other legal issues you would like me to speak about? Feel free to post those topics in the comments as well and I will try to address them. This article is meant to be the beginning of your research into the laws that may effect your off-grid or traditional lifestyle and does in no way establish an attorney-client relationship (as I only deal with oil/gas clients). So get out there do your research ask questions and if you need representation seek out an attorney in your local jurisdiction. 

Have something outdoor/bushcraft/trapping/preparedness/hiking/camping/fishing/hunting related you want me to make a post about? Leave me a comment and I will see what I can do! As always feel free to leave your questions and comment below! Also if you enjoy the blog please vote for us on the following websites to help us reach a wider audience:
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 30 Ways of Homesteading

The Prepared Bloggers Network is at it again! We're glad you've found us, because the month of April is all about homesteading. Homesteading is a lifestyle of self-sufficiency. It is characterized by growing your own food, home preservation of foodstuffs, and it may even involve the small scale production of textiles, clothing, and craftwork for household use or sale. Most importantly homesteading is not defined by where someone lives, such as the city or the country, but by the lifestyle choices they make. The Prepared Bloggers are passionate about what they do and they each have their own way of achieving self-sufficiency. Grab your favorite drink and enjoy reading about the 30 Ways of Homesteading!

Crops on the Homestead

Straw Bale Gardening from PreparednessMama
Benefits of Growing Fruit from SchneiderPeeps
Crops to Grow for Food Storage from Grow A Good Life
Winter Gardening Series from Our Stoney Acres
How To Build a Raised Garden Bed For Under $12 from Frugal Mama and The Sprout
How to Save Carrot Seeds from Food Storage and Survival

Animals on the Homestead

Getting Your Bees Started from Game and Garden
Homesteading How-To: Bees from Tennessee Homestead
How to Get Ready for Chicks from The Homesteading Hippy
Selecting a Goat Breed for Your Homestead from Chickens Are a Gateway Animal
Adding New Poultry and Livestock from Timber Creek Farm
How to Prepare for Baby Goats from Homestead Lady
Tips to Raising Livestock from Melissa K. Norris

Making the Homestead Work for You - Infrastructure

DIY Rainwater Catchment System from Survival Prepper Joe
Finding Our Homestead Land from Simply Living Simply
I Wish I Was A Real Homesteader by Little Blog on the Homestead
Endless Fencing Projects from Pasture Deficit Disorder
Homesteading Legal Issues from The 7 P's Blog

Preserving and Using the Bounty from the Homestead

How to Make Soap from Blue Yonder Urban Farms
How to Render Pig Fat from Mama Kautz
How to Make Your Own Stew Starter from Homestead Dreamer
Why You Should Grow and Preserve Rhubarb! from Living Life in Rural Iowa

30 Ways of Homesteading
30 Ways of Homesteading


  1. http://www.ncsl.org/research/environment-and-natural-resources/rainwater-harvesting.aspx

  2. I agreed that. These issues are very important, we need to care a lot about them.

  3. That's really interesting. Riparian and water rights laws are very different out here in Oregon. Thanks for sharing.