The curtilage is an important legal term to define the land immediately surrounding a house
A house is a building or structure that has the ability to be occupied for dwelling by human beings or other creatures. The term house includes many kinds of different dwellings ranging from rudimentary huts of nomadic tribes to free standing individual structures...

 or dwelling
Dwelling, as well as being a term for a house, or for living somewhere, or for lingering somewhere, is a philosophical concept which was developed by Martin Heidegger. Dwelling is about making yourself at home where the home itself is a building that is a house...

, including any closely associated buildings and structures, but excluding any associated 'open fields beyond'. It defines the boundary within which a home owner can have a reasonable expectation of privacy and where 'intimate home activities' take place. It is an important legal concept in some jurisdictions for the understanding of burglary
Burglary is a crime, the essence of which is illicit entry into a building for the purposes of committing an offense. Usually that offense will be theft, but most jurisdictions specify others which fall within the ambit of burglary...

, trespass
Trespass is an area of tort law broadly divided into three groups: trespass to the person, trespass to chattels and trespass to land.Trespass to the person, historically involved six separate trespasses: threats, assault, battery, wounding, mayhem, and maiming...

, and in relation to planning controls
Town and country planning in the United Kingdom
Town and Country Planning is the land use planning system governments use to balance economic development and environmental quality. Each country of the United Kingdom has its own planning system that is responsible for town and country planning devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly, the...


In urban properties the location of the curtilage may be evident from the position of fences, wall and similar; within larger properties it may be a matter of some legal debate as to where the private area ends and the 'open fields' start.

Curtilage in United States law

This distinction is important in United States law  for cases dealing with burglary
Burglary is a crime, the essence of which is illicit entry into a building for the purposes of committing an offense. Usually that offense will be theft, but most jurisdictions specify others which fall within the ambit of burglary...

 and with self-defense
Self-defense, self-defence or private defense is a countermeasure that involves defending oneself, one's property or the well-being of another from physical harm. The use of the right of self-defense as a legal justification for the use of force in times of danger is available in many...

 under the "Castle Doctrine." In some state law, such as Florida
Florida law
The Florida law is based on the Florida Constitution , which defines how the statutes must be passed into law, and defines the limits of authority and basic law that the Florida Statutes must be complied with...

, burglary
Burglary is a crime, the essence of which is illicit entry into a building for the purposes of committing an offense. Usually that offense will be theft, but most jurisdictions specify others which fall within the ambit of burglary...

 encompasses the English
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 common law
Common law
Common law is law developed by judges through decisions of courts and similar tribunals rather than through legislative statutes or executive branch action...

 definition and adds (among other things) curtilage to the protected area of the dwelling into which intrusion is prohibited. Similarly, under Florida's Castle Doctrine a home-owner does not have to retreat within the curtilage.

The boundary between the home and the curtilage that surrounds it, on the one hand, and the open fields beyond the curtilage, on the other, is also important for the application of the prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution
Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution
The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution is the part of the Bill of Rights which guards against unreasonable searches and seizures, along with requiring any warrant to be judicially sanctioned and supported by probable cause...

. The warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment applies only to the "home," which courts have construed to include the area immediately surrounding the house in which the intimate home activities occur, but not to the open fields beyond. The requirement that law enforcement officers obtain a warrant before searching a suspect's home extends, therefore, to the curtilage, but not to private property beyond the curtilage, even if their access to such "open fields" without the owner's permission would constitute a trespass.

In United States v. Dunn
United States v. Dunn
United States v. Dunn, 480 U.S. 294 , is a U.S. Supreme Court decision relating to the open fields doctrine limiting the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.-Investigation:...

, the Supreme Court
Supreme Court of the United States
The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest court in the United States. It has ultimate appellate jurisdiction over all state and federal courts, and original jurisdiction over a small range of cases...

 identified four factors as critical when assessing the limits of curtilage: "the proximity of the area claimed to be curtilage to the home, whether the area is included within an enclosure surrounding the home, the nature of the uses to which the area is put, and the steps taken by the resident to protect the area from observation by people passing by."

In UK listed-building legislation

In the UK, listed building legislation uses the concept of curtilage. The consideration afforded to a listed building may extend to other structures or landscape within the curtilage of the primary structure, if the item(s) in the curtilage is old enough, and physically attached to the main building or otherwise important to the setting of the structure. Current legislation uses a cut-off date of 1947, so that later additions, while they may be within the curtilage, are not included in the listing designation.

The listing of a building or structure does not define its specific curtilage, and so this can become a matter of interpretation and contention. Various factors need to be taken into account, such as the way that the setting works with the primary object, the ownership of the land, the historic use of the land, and physical or visual boundaries, such as fences, walls and hedges.

Curtilage is frequently undefined until someone wishes to make a change to a structure or landscape in the immediate vicinity of a listed building. Some Local Planning Authorities (such as Bournemouth Borough Council) publish provisional curtilages, to assist property owners; but frequently the curtilage is left undefined until such time as it may be challenged in the planning process or in law.

In fiction

Curtilage is rarely mentioned by name in fiction; however, in the television show Dirty Sexy Money
Dirty Sexy Money
Dirty Sexy Money is an American prime time drama series created by Craig Wright, which ran on the ABC from September 26, 2007 to August 8, 2009. The series was produced by ABC Studios, Bad Hat Harry Productions, Berlanti Television and Gross Entertainment...

in the episode "The Facts", one of the characters, Letitia, is under house arrest and is arrested after being transported to the hospital, for violating her house arrest. A mention is made of a previous violation and her lawyer defends her right to be outside on her lawn, since it is covered under curtilage.

It is also mentioned in Law & Order Episode 17 (1991) "Sonata for Solo Organ." In this case the DA worries that curtilage is going to affect the admissibility of evidence found outside a suspect’s apartment in garbage bags (on the street ready for pick-up). Although it is a bit confusing why this would be an issue because the detectives entered the suspect's apartment building with a warrant, the episode was just a few years after a Supreme Court decision regarding this issue, so the writers may have just been playing around with the script to make it sound dramatic.
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