Curtilage is an area immediately surrounding a dwelling which is considered part of the dwelling in the eyes of the law in many regions, despite the fact that it is actually outdoors. Especially in the United States, where the law is very specific about the right to privacy in the home, curtilage is an important legal concept. Legal definitions of this term vary from nation to nation, and if people are not sure about the specifics if a particular case, they should consult a lawyer for advice.
Generally, several characteristics must be met in order for an area to be considered curtilage. The first is that it must be enclosed in some way, as for example with hedges or fencing. It should be clear that the tenant is also taking steps to protect privacy within the outdoor area, such as building high fences, using trellising vines to block views, and so forth. Furthermore, it should be clear that the space is used for domestic activities, and thus could be considered an extension of a house.
The area must generally be immediately adjacent to a home in order to be viewed as curtilage. Structures within the curtilage such as outbuildings, sheds, guest houses, and so forth are also considered protected spaces because they are considered, in a sense, part of the home. This type of outdoor area differs from, for example, an open field which may be located next to a home, but is not considered part of the area protected by privacy laws.
In nations where private dwellings are given special privacy protections under the law, the curtilage is also protected. This becomes critically important for law enforcement because the curtilage is subject to search and seizure laws and other protections. If a law enforcement officer does not observe the law carefully, there is a potential that evidence gathered from the area will be considered “fruit of the poisonous tree,” meaning that it will not be accepted in court because it was collected illegally.
Curtilage laws are one good reason to fence property and to create clearly private areas around a home. By making it clear that a home has curtilage, people can access the protections associated with it. People should be aware that some of the laws in this area are very open to interpretation, and that different law enforcement agencies, judges, and legal authorities may have different views of disputes involving curtilage.