Exploring abandoned buildings can be fun, exciting, and highly memorable. Vacant buildings with eerie or scary auras are popular as exploration destinations — just watch any true crime or horror channels on YouTube; there are a lot of them.
However, is it legal to explore these abandoned buildings? If not, what are the penalties? In this article, we’ll talk about the legality of exploring abandoned buildings, places, and locations. We’ll also talk about the things you can do to ensure that your trip will be memorable and, most of all, safe and within the bounds of the law. Read on to learn more!
The Quick Answer to the Legality of Exploring Abandoned Buildings
The short answer to this question is: yes, it’s illegal to explore abandoned buildings without permission.
Entering and exploring abandoned buildings, regardless of how deserted or forgotten they look, are still considered trespassing if done without the owner’s permission.
Countries around the world have different laws and penalties for trespassers. Nonetheless, they all require individuals or groups to ask permission before exploring any place or building.
In the UK, you can’t be arrested for trespassing, but the police may be called by the landowner if there’s a chance you’ve broken other laws. Though it’s highly unlikely, the property owner can also sue you in a civil court.
Moreover, criminal damage, breaking and entering, and theft are all illegal. If you’re caught with tools that could help you break and enter the property, the police could consider you “going equipped,” which is also against the law.
What To Do
If you’re caught exploring an abandoned place without permission, the most common scenario is that the security personnel or police will ask you to leave the property. Avoid being rude or arguing — these can convince the authorities you’re there to break the law.
Finding the Owner and Alternatives
If you truly want to explore an abandoned building, find its owner. No matter how dilapidated or abandoned the building looks, it still has an owner — find them and ask permission directly. You can do this in person or through other methods.
Photographers, journalists, and even amateur historians use various methods to ask owners’ permission.
The key is communication: explain your purpose and provide assurances that no damage or criminal activity will be done when on site. Be quick, honest, and direct. Remember that they have no obligation to talk to you, so show appreciation for their time and be courteous.
If you can’t find the owner, then it’s time to explore other avenues. Urban exploration tours are a viable alternative. Taking one of these tours can get you inside some of the most interesting abandoned places in the world.
In the UK, for example, plenty of ticketed sites and non-abandoned locations can be explored legally. Places like the Catacombs of Paris, the Alcatraz Island in California, and the Waverly Hill Sanatorium are all forgotten places that boast a fascinating history — you can visit them through a guided tour.
Should You Risk Exploration Without Permission?
No, you shouldn’t.
But if the prospect of getting caught trespassing doesn’t faze you, then at least be aware of what penalties may apply if you actually get caught. Research your local laws and know who the owner of the building is even if you don’t intend to ask permission from them.
Avoid doing anything that can get you into more trouble, such as further damaging the building. You also can’t take stuff from abandoned places. Doing so is considered theft. Take every precaution possible to ensure you don’t get caught and stay out of trouble.
Again, if you get caught, be nice and respectful. Avoid being confrontational. If you get lucky, the owner may even allow you to continue exploring. But they’ll more likely ask you to leave.
Other Rules to Follow When Exploring Abandoned Buildings
If you do get permission and go on exploring the abandoned place, remember the following tips:
Abandoned places are often separated from the bustling neighborhood or city, and dangers can be found within them. It’s wise to bring some sort of protection just in case you encounter something dangerous.
It’s also advisable to find a travel insurance plan that has trip cancellation and interruption benefits and 24-hour hotline assistance. Download travel apps that help you navigate locations faster, and save local emergency numbers.
Assess the Dangers of Abandoned Buildings
Before embarking on your journey, understand what kinds of danger you’ll be facing. These can range from creaky and crashing floorboards to toxic chemicals within the building (the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone is an example).
Abandoned power plants and ghost towns that have suffered disasters such as mining accidents and lead poisoning often pose these kinds of risks — if you weren’t given permission to explore these areas, then these are the likely reasons.
More often than not, these types of abandoned buildings and places are carefully controlled even if explorers are allowed inside. If you take a tour inside them, follow the guide’s reminders and don’t stray away from your tour group.
Don’t Steal Souvenirs
Again, taking anything from an abandoned building — with or without exploration permission — is illegal. It might be tempting to keep something as a souvenir for the experience, but it’s considered theft. This is a serious matter especially if you’re exploring a historic site. You’ll also be diluting the experience for explorers that come after you.
Don’t Waste Time
Some abandoned places can only be explored for a limited time. Your target location can be off-limits to explorers after some time, while others can succumb to neglect. Some places are also subject to redevelopment, which leaves you with nothing old or abandoned to explore.
Accept Places that are Off-Limits
Sometimes, some places are simply forbidden to explore. While you can decide to take the illegal route, it’s best to just accept the fact as is — try another building or location. There are times when previously abandoned buildings are made available to the public. Usually, these are historic sites taken over by the government from previous owners for preservation.
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About The Author: Michael is an aspiring lawyer who likes to spend his free time researching different topics of law, especially about what is legal and what is not. He enjoys reading articles, watching documentaries, and attending lectures to become more informed about the law. He hopes that one day he will be able to use this knowledge to help people in need. Michael also has a passion for writing which led him to pursue journalism as his minor in college.
Through his studies, he has learned how to write professionally with clarity and precision. He is currently writing a novel about the life of a young lawyer who fights for justice in a world that is filled with corruption. Michael hopes to use his skills in writing and researching to pursue a career as an attorney one day. In addition, he also volunteers at legal aid clinics to gain more experience. From this volunteering experience, he has been able to help people better understand their rights and the legal system.
Michael is a dedicated individual with a passion for law and writing, and these qualities make him an excellent candidate for any legal field. He is eager to use his skillset to prove himself as a lawyer in order to contribute in making the world a better place.