What is the law on trespassing?


By Andrew Hudson Published: September 27, 2011 Updated: October 30, 2013

Trespassing is being on land knowing you do not have consent of the landowner to be there.

The law on trespassing is usually local law (state, county, city), so the actual rules depend on where the land is. (In the U.S., there is no federal trespassing law for private property, just for government property). There is also a wealth of real estate common law. However, most places have similar concepts.

In general:

  • If you are on open public land (such as a street, sidewalk, or park), you are not trespassing and no private person or security guard can ask you to leave or move (unless for special events, and police can make you move for safety).
  • If you are on closed public land (including sanctioned special events and hazardous areas), you are trespassing (when you crossed a barrier or other marked line, or otherwise became informed).
  • If you are on open private property (such as a shopping mall or plaza), you are not trespassing as consent is implied. (But the consent can be revoked by a landowner’s security guard, and you are subject to reasonable noted restrictions.)
  • If you are on open private property and you paid an entrance fee to get there, you are not trespassing as the payment was in exchange for consent to be there. (But, again, the consent can be revoked and you are subject to any terms of entrance.)
  • If you are on closed private property but do not know it is closed and/or private (i.e. a reasonable person would not know), you are not trespassing. (But once told it is private, you are trespassing).
  • If you are on closed private property and you know it, you are trespassing. Any reasonable demarcation line or notice counts as knowledge. Thus, if you cross a fence, wall, gate, barrier, tape, or see a “No Trespassing” or similar sign, you are trespassing as you know you do not have consent.

So what?

If you are caught trespassing, you can be asked to leave. Depending upon the local law and the circumstances, a private security guard may not force you to leave, but they can call the police and the police can compel you to leave. If you leave upon request, you likely would not get into trouble.

Can I be sued?

If you do not leave upon request, and you interfere with the owner’s use of the property (or you have intent to cause harm), you could be sued by the landowner. This depends upon the local law.

Can they take my camera?

No. All a private landowner can do is ask you to leave. If they ask for your camera, or tell you to delete your photos, or demand to see your I.D., you do not have to comply — just leave. If they forcibly take your camera, that is theft. They cannot seize, search, harass, or do anything that could not be done on a public street.

Trespassing and photography

The law on trespassing usually does not directly affect photography, which is a separate right (in the U.S.). A landowner can ask you to leave their property but they cannot otherwise directly prevent you from taking photos. If you have consent to be somewhere, you have a right to photograph what you see.

If you sell (or otherwise distribute) your photos when the terms of consent stated you could not, or you were trespassing when you took the photos, then the landowner may have a legal argument if they can show harm (such as loss of potential income). This gets murky. For more information, see trespassing and photography.


For more information, see trespassing.

Comments


Reply by Anonymous

November 5, 2017

Can a land owner hold a person by implied threat of violence that they found on their property? They never asked them to leave, just demanded money in exchange for letting them leave. Wouldn’t this be considered unlawful restraint?


Reply by Email (optional)

October 5, 2017

What are your sources for this info?


Reply by

October 2, 2017

If I’m staying in a house and there aren’t any no trespassing signs and it’s on private property as someone with a house and land lives here but also next to an airport can I go to jail for trespassing?


Reply by Anonymous

August 13, 2017

I live in the country so cops don’t often come fast enough. I think I’ve heard I can do a warning shot. What else can I do if they refuse to leave? There’s a no trespassing sign on our fence but we leave the gate open during the day.


Reply by Anonymous

July 22, 2017

Is it trespassing if I walk through a neighborhood that’s open, meaning there are no fences, but has no trespassing signs posted?


Reply by Anonymous

July 20, 2017

My neighbor filed a no trespass notice on me while cutting grass the rideing mower crossed the invisable line does private property have to be marked to know where it is?


Reply by Anonymous

July 11, 2017

Hello,

I’m a truck driver (18 wheeler) who stops to shop at a full size shopping center in NJ.

Can the landlord prevent me from entering to shop there simply based on a fact that he doesn’t want trucks there. Is he obligated to provide sufficient parking area for customers operating buses, RV’s, trucks?

Does zoning require him to designate parking area for such vehicles?

I don’t come there after hours or stay overnight. No idling of my truck. Just park in the back completely out of the way, while I shop which is usually not longer than an hour.


Reply by Julius Christian

June 24, 2017

Hi,

A neighbour we share fences with plants a tree which overhangs our premises and always gets our compound dirty. Do i have any legal right to cut down the tree or go to court?


Reply by Dilan Mendez

June 19, 2017

Hi what happens if I climb on top of a school and just chill on the roof what can cops do if they spot me


Reply by Anonymous

June 15, 2017

Do I have legal right of way into a national park entrance


Reply by Email (optional)

May 26, 2017

If you are in an apartment complex, can the police out u on trespass even if u wasn’t told to leave?


Reply by Anonymous

March 15, 2017

Hello

I have a question about trespassing. I am wondering if I go over a fence for a place that you have to pay to get in can I be sent to juvenile hall. Or pay any fines.


Reply by Xavier

February 26, 2017

So I jumped a fence of a school on the weekend but I then left like seconds later because I saw a cop. Then I went through the other side and saw 3 kids inside and I ask them to open the door I ride bmx so I was just riding then I left. Then I came with my friends and I check if the locker room door was open. It was open the I waited outside couple minutes see if a cop comes because i didn’t know if there was silent alarm so then a cop came and we left then after like 5 minutes 2 more came. Then I went to Panera with my family we pass by there and there was no cops like 10 minutes after. If they check the cameras can I get in trouble because I go to that school? And if I put the video on YouTube can I get in trouble too if they see it?


Reply by Anonymous

September 11, 2016

The manager of a Target store called the police while I was shopping since he does not like people who know some of their legal rights. I was asked to leave no reason given.

How long does a hand written No Trespass order last? (One year two year?) My wife needs to pick up my medication from store causing a hardship at times. This is only store my insurance covers.


Reply by Andrew Hudson, PhotoSecrets

September 12, 2016

There is generally not an expiration period for “no trespass orders”. Generally, if a property owner advises you that you are trespassing, then you should not go on the property. Trespassing is a state/local law so consult your area’s laws, and/or a local attorney.


Reply by Anonymous

June 17, 2016

There is a no trespassing sign in front of my house and the owner or the landlord had to go to court for not keeping the house up to code can I be on the property?


Reply by Andrew Hudson, PhotoSecrets

June 20, 2016

I’m confused by “your” house. If this is a rental house and you are the renter, then yes you can be on the property, as that is the agreement with the owner and/or landlord.


Reply by Anonymous

June 13, 2016

Hi.

This might be a rather long story but here it goes. I live in California and when I was walking home, I bumped into one of my classmate on the street that I dislike and that I didn’t feel safe being around with. He walked with me to my house and as I went onto my property he followed me up the walkway. He was telling me that he wanted to go into my home, but I told him no and to get off my property. He refused to do so. We were at my porch and I was just trying to get inside to my home but I felt unsafe opening my door with him next to me. He left eventually before I entered, but did I have the legal right to call the cops? If he were to showed up knocking on my front door and I answered and told him to leave but he refused, can I call the cops then? If I was ever to call the cops because of him what should I say to them?

Note: Not sure if it matters or not but there is a sign in front of my house saying “Private Property: Do Not Trespass”.

Sorry for all the questions, I just want to make sure what can and can’t do and if you answer them then thank you for your time and effort.


Reply by Andrew Hudson, PhotoSecrets

June 13, 2016

Yes you can call the cops. If someone is on your property, and you ask them to leave, and they don’t, then they are trespassing. You can call the police to get the person to leave. If the situation repeats, you can ask the police and/or a lawyer for advice.


Reply by Jo

June 8, 2016

Hi,

We live right behind a church that is also a school. They have a soccer field and their goal is right on the other side of our back yard. My issue is that when the soccer balls get kicked into our back yard, people just come into our private property. There are two fences, one from the church and our fence, and people jump both fences and come onto our private property and take their balls and others. We have complained many times to the church and have even filed complaints with the police and it still happens. Legally, what can I do to prevent this from happening? We also have a pool which is no longer in use and I am concerned that people can get hurt and of course it’s vey inconvenient. Thanks in advance!


Reply by Andrew Hudson, PhotoSecrets

June 9, 2016

Hi.

This is clearly trespassing. You could put up a sign saying something like “Please do not trespass on our property, we will return the soccer balls later.” You could also talk with a local attorney to see what legal options are available, such as prosecuting someone and/or the church.

Best wishes,

Andrew


Reply by Anonymous

March 26, 2016

I have a no trespassing sign, so if someone came into my yard, after me telling them not to, can I do anything legal about this????????


Reply by Andrew Hudson, PhotoSecrets

March 28, 2016

Hi.

You always do anything legal. What is legal depends upon where you live. Trespassing is usually a local (state) law. In California, for example, trespassing is a “public offense” punishable by a fine of $75, for the first offense (Title 14 602.8(b)(1)). Generally, you first ask the person to leave, and, if that doesn’t work, call the police.


Add Your Comment

Comment:

Name:

Email (optional):

Submit your comment: