Trespassing - Definition, Examples, Cases, Processes (2023)

The act of trespassing is knowingly entering another person’s property without that person’s permission. Trespassing is a criminal offense, with penalties ranging from a violation to a felony. When someone commits a trespass against another person, rather than against his property, then the trespasser can be charged with assault or battery. To explore this concept, consider the following trespassing definition.

Definition of Trespassing


  1. An illegal act that causes injury or damage to another person or property.
  2. The wrongful entry upon another’s property.


  1. To commit a trespass.
  2. To wrongfully enter another’s property.


1250-1300 Middle English trespassen

No Trespassing Signs

It may seem like private property should automatically be protected by the law from trespassing, which makes “No Trespassing” signs, or “Keep Out” signs, seem redundant. However, there are valid reasons as to why a property owner may post No Trespassing signs. For one, the public may consider a wilderness area to be public property, when it is actually owned by a rancher or other property owner. Without No Trespassing signs being conspicuously posted on the grounds, people may think it is otherwise okay to camp, fish, or hunt on that property.

According to the law, No Trespassing signs serve as written notice that the land is private property. Whoever sees such a sign cannot legally enter or stay on the property, nor can they participate in any activities that are occurring on that property. Legally, if someone must enter the property, they should ask the owner of the property for permission to be on the land. However, the owner of the property may not be present at all times, and so the signs are necessary to warn the public to keep out.

If there are no signs posted, no fence put up, and the land has not been obviously worked on, then the land can be assumed to be public property. The law tries to maintain a balance between landowners’ rights and the rights of the public to enjoy land. However, if a piece of land has been improved upon, used, and fenced in, then trespassing on this land is officially illegal. If the owner of the property asks the trespasser to leave either verbally or in writing, then the trespasser must leave. Trespassing laws vary, depending on the state.

Trespassing Laws

Trespassing laws vary, depending on the state, the seriousness ranging from citable offenses to felonies. Following are a few examples of trespassing laws:


California’s trespassing laws dictate that anyone who enters onto private property without permission from the owner is guilty of trespassing. Additionally, a person is guilty of trespassing if he enters onto unrefined and open land where signs are posted that forbid trespassing. Offenders can be fined $75 for a first offense and $250 for a second offense. On the third offense, offenders can be charged with a misdemeanor.


Florida’s trespassing laws are greatly detailed and extend to several circumstances that would constitute trespassing. In the most basic terms, trespassing occurs when someone enters onto a property and remains there without being authorized to be there. It is also a crime in Florida to damage or remove any signs posted with regard to keeping trespassers off of property.

The signage itself must also meet stiff requirements. For instance, signs cannot be placed more than 500 feet apart around the boundaries of the land, and the words “no trespassing” must accompany any of the additional text on the sign. The text must also consist of letters that are no less than two inches in height.


In Minnesota, people entering onto private property and/or staying there without consent are trespassing. Minnesota too has some of the most detailed trespassing laws in the country. They also have specific requirements insofar as trespassing signs are concerned. For example, trespassing signs for locked buildings must be 8.5″ x 11″ in size, and must be placed in a conspicuous location on either the exterior of the building or on the property where the building sits.

The rules change for signs at construction sites. One of those rules is that the number of signs that must be placed increases per every 10 acres of land. The signs must also display use a font that is at least two inches high for maximum visibility. Violators can suffer different penalties, depending on the areas onto which they are trespassing.


Entering and remaining on someone’s private property in Montana without having a license or permission to be there constitutes trespassing. However, unless the landowner specifically posts a sign that explicitly denies others’ entry onto their property, they are effectively giving them permission to enter. Montana also has several detailed rules regarding the proper use of trespassing signs. For instance:

“Notice must be placed on a post, structure, or natural object by marking it with written notice or with not less than 50 square inches of fluorescent orange paint, except that when metal fence posts are used, the entire post must be painted.”

New York

In New York, regardless of the trespasser’s intent, it is a crime to enter and remain on someone’s property when the intruder is neither licensed to be there, nor given the permission to enter. Signage is important here too, as trespassers can be absolved of guilt in certain situations if there are either no signs posted, or if signs are posted that can be considered inefficient in that they are not readily visible. Charges for trespassing can range from misdemeanors to felonies, depending on the situation.

Criminal Trespass

The difference between trespassing and criminal trespass boils down to the individual’s intent. Whether or not a person will be charged with a violation or a misdemeanor all depends on the circumstances in which he was found to be on the property. In New York, for instance, a civil violation for trespassing can be charged as a class B misdemeanor, while first degree trespassing can be charged as a class D felony.

Class B misdemeanors, in this case, can be charged upon the unauthorized entry onto a property that is fenced in, or into a building that is used by the public, such as an elementary school or a public housing project. Class A misdemeanors in New York involve entering someone’s home without permission, while class D felonies are charged upon trespassing with a deadly weapon.

Under Pennsylvania law, criminal trespass occurs when the trespasser knows that he is not licensed or permitted to be on someone’s private property but enters or stays on the property anyway, and commits an additional crime in the process. Examples of trespassing that can be escalated to a more serious charge include instances in which the following actions are committed by the trespasser:

  • Threatening the landowner, or another occupant of the property
  • Starting a fire
  • Defacing the property in any way

Typically, criminal trespass is prosecuted as a misdemeanor. However, it can be prosecuted as a felony if the trespassing results in injuries or damage to a person on the premises, or to the property itself.

Trespassing Example Involving Racial Discrimination

An example of trespassing that was heard by the Supreme Court occurred in 1964. In June of 1960, five black college students were part of a protest that picketed the Glen Echo Amusement Park in Montgomery County, Maryland for its discriminatory policies. The park explicitly excluded blacks from using its facilities, though it did not post signs detailing its exclusionary policy. There was also no requirement that those who wished to visit the park had to purchase tickets for admission. The five students used tickets that others had purchased and boarded one of the park’s carousels.

One of the park’s employees, who also happened to be a deputy sheriff, saw the students and told them that they were not allowed to be on the rides. They were given five minutes in which to leave the premises. The students remained, however, and after their five minutes were up, the park employee/sheriff’s deputy arrested the youths for criminal trespass. The students were all convicted of criminal trespass in the Circuit Court of Montgomery County, and were ordered to pay fines of $100.

The students appealed their convictions to the Maryland Court of Appeals. The Court upheld the convictions, noting that their arrests were “an enforcement by the operator of the park of its lawful policy of segregation,” and that no further action was required by the state.

The Supreme Court disagreed. The Court noted that the pivotal issue in this case was whether or not the students’ exclusion from the park was based on state action. On that note, the Court concluded that the park employee who arrested the students was “exercising his authority as a deputy sheriff,” as opposed to his right as an individual under the law.

The Court held that the sheriff had arrested the students for committing a misdemeanor right in front of him. This made the arrest “no different from what it would have been had the arrests been made by a regular policeman dispatched from police headquarters.” Therefore, the Court ordered that the students’ convictions be vacated inasmuch as they were violations of the students’ rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Felony – A crime, often involving violence, regarded as more serious than a misdemeanor. Felony crimes are usually punishable by imprisonment more than one year.
  • Misdemeanor – A criminal offense less serious than a felony.


What are the elements of trespass on the case? ›

The elements of trespass are: (1) the plaintiff's ownership or control of the property; (2) the defendant's intentional, reckless, or negligent entry onto the property; (3) lack of permission for the entry or acts in excess of permission; (4) harm; and (5) the defendant's conduct was a substantial factor in causing the ...

What is an example of a trespass? ›

Trespass is a single intent tort. You must intend “to enter,” but you do not need to intend “to enter onto the land of another.” Example: I build a shed behind my house, thinking it's on my side of the property line, and it turns out to be on your side of the property line.

What is trespass cause of action? ›

Here are the elements you must show in order to prove trespass: You owned or controlled the property (e.g., house, condo, apartment); Defendant intentionally, recklessly, or intentionally entered the property; You didn't give defendant permission to enter; You were harmed; and.

What are the three types of trespass? ›

Trespass is an area of tort law broadly divided into three groups: trespass to the person, trespass to chattels, and trespass to land.

What is the basic defense to a claim of trespass? ›

If an individual has interfered with another individual's land or chattel based on a public necessity, they may have a defense to trespass. To use this defense, the situation that triggered the action must be: An immediate and imperative necessity; An act that is done in good faith for the good of the public.

What is an example of a tort of trespass case? ›

I can be trespassing on your land without even touching the surface of the land. If I enter into the space above your land, I have trespassed. For example, if I have thrown a ball across your land, I have trespassed.

What defines trespass against us? ›

: an unlawful act committed on the person, property, or rights of another. especially : a wrongful entry on real property. : the legal action for injuries resulting from trespass. : a violation of moral or social ethics : transgression. especially : sin.

What is the law of trespass us? ›

(a) A person commits an offense if, knowing that he or she is not licensed or privileged to do so, he or she enters or surreptitiously remains in any building or occupied structure. An offense under this subsection is a misdemeanor if it is committed in a dwelling at night. Otherwise it is a petty misdemeanor.

What are three examples of a nuisance? ›

Common nuisances include junk accumulation, animals, noise, dangerous buildings, sewage and unsanitary conditions, and encroachments on the public right-of-way that interfere with pedestrian passage.

What is the difference between trespassing and intrusion? ›

Intrustion is different than trespass

In addition to unauthorized physical entry, eavesdropping, and wiretapping, an intrusion claim can be brought for lying or misrepresenting circumstances in order to obtain entry, or exceeding the consent given for entry.

What are the elements of negligence? ›

Four elements are required to establish a prima facie case of negligence:
  • the existence of a legal duty that the defendant owed to the plaintiff.
  • defendant's breach of that duty.
  • plaintiff's sufferance of an injury.
  • proof that defendant's breach caused the injury (typically defined through proximate cause)

Is an invasion of privacy? ›

Invasion of privacy is the unjustifiable intrusion into the personal life of another without consent.

What is the most common defense to trespass? ›

One of the most common defenses to criminal trespass is consent. In other words, you would argue that the person gave you consent to be on their property or to use their chattel.

What is an example of trespassing to personal property? ›

Going back to our example, trespass to chattel means that a person intended to possess and use personal property, not real estate, like your magazine and your lemonade. So, if the person ran off and took your stuff, this may qualify as intentional trespass to chattel.

What are some examples of invasion of privacy? ›

Types and examples of invasion of privacy
  • Misappropriating a person's name or likeness. This occurs when a business uses a person's name or image in marketing materials without consent. ...
  • Intruding on someone's seclusion. ...
  • Portraying someone in a false light. ...
  • Publicly disclosing private facts.
Apr 29, 2022

What must a plaintiff in a trespass on the case action have experienced? ›

A plaintiff in a trespass on-the-case action must show injury and damage. A tort is a civil wrong in which a victim is compensated in the form of damages for the injuries he or she suffers.

Is mistake a defense to trespass? ›

Mistake is another legal defense against criminal trespassing. If you entered the property by mistake or accident, you may be able to use this defense.

Which of the following is required for a trespass to land? ›

Trespass to land occurs when a person intentionally enters someone else's property without permission. The only intent required for this claim is the intent to enter the property.

What is the measure of damages for trespassing land? ›

In case of a trespass that dispossesses an owner, damages would be an amount that would compensate for its use and occupation, that is, the fair rental value. The proper measure of damages in such a trespass action would be made considering the rental value of the area actually occupied by the trespasser.

What are the 5 writ of trespass torts? ›

Assault, battery, false imprisonment, trespass to land, and trespass to chattels are all traceable to the writs of trespass (not case).

What are nominal damages? ›

A trivial sum of money awarded to a plaintiff whose legal right has been technically violated but who has not established that they are entitled to compensatory damages because there was no accompanying loss or harm.

Can you go to jail for trespassing in USA? ›

Trespass is not a criminal offense. If you have been convicted of simple trespass, this is a noncriminal violation which has a maximum penalty of up to 15 days in jail.

What is the punishment for trespassing in us? ›

The potential jail sentences for most trespassing convictions range from several days to several months in jail. More serious offenses could result in jail sentences closer to a year. Fines. A person convicted of trespassing most often faces a fine as a penalty.

Is trespassing a felony in America? ›

Criminal trespass may be charged as a felony, a misdemeanor, or an infraction. If the defendant enters someone else's home, rather than another type of property, they may face a higher level of charge and harsher penalties.

What is tort negligence? ›

According to Winfield and Jolowicz “Negligence is the breach of a legal duty to take care which results in damage, undesired by the defendant to the plaintiff.”

What is trespass to chattel tort? ›

Trespass to chattels and conversion are both intentional torts that refer to a wrongful, intentional interference with the possession of someone's personal property. Trespass to chattels and conversion deal only with personal property. They do not apply to the interference of real property or any interest in land.

What is a tort legal? ›

A tort is an act or omission that causes legally cognizable harm to persons or property. Tort law, in turn, is the body of rules concerned with remedying harms caused by a person's wrongful or injurious actions.

What are the two types of trespass? ›

Generally, a trespass refers to a wrongful use of another person's property without his or her permission. Under intentional torts, there are two types of trespass: (1) trespass to chattels and (2) trespass to land.

What is disparagement of property? ›

1. : the publication of false and injurious statements that are derogatory of another's property, business, or product. called also business disparagement, commercial disparagement, disparagement of property, slander of goods, trade libel.

What is the difference between trespassing and conversion? ›

Conversion occurs when one person takes another's tangible personal property on purpose. Trespass occurs when one person intentionally interferes with another's right of possession of tangible personal property without taking it away.

Is it against the law to force someone to do something? ›

The statutory definition of coercion is fairly uniform among the states: the use of intimidation or threats to force (or prevent) someone to do something they have a legal right to do (or not to do). Charges typically are enhanced if physical force was used or threatened.

What is the difference between encroach and trespass? ›

Encroachment happens when someone traverses boundaries outlined in a survey, violating the property rights of another property owner. Encroaching on someone else's property is akin to trespassing—that is, entering another person's grounds without their express permission.

What is the synonym of trespassing? ›

Some common synonyms of trespass are encroach, infringe, and invade. While all these words mean "to make inroads upon the property, territory, or rights of another," trespass implies an unwarranted or unlawful intrusion.

What are the 4 things to prove negligence? ›

A negligence claim requires that the person bringing the claim (the plaintiff) establish four distinct elements: duty of care, breach, causation, and damages.

What is the most difficult element of negligence to prove? ›

In medical malpractice cases, causation is usually the most difficult element to prove. To prove causation in any type of negligence action, you must prove two things: 1)The negligent action was the actual cause of harm, and 2)The negligent action was the proximate cause of harm.

What four things prove negligence? ›

To win in a negligence lawsuit, the victim must establish 4 elements: (1) the wrongdoer owed a duty to the victim, (2) the wrongdoer breached the duty, (3) the breach caused the injury (4) the victim suffered damages.

What are the 4 types of invasion of privacy? ›

Those four types are 1) intrusion on a person's seclusion or solitude; 2) public disclosure of embarrassing private facts about a person; 3) publicity that places a person in a false light in the public eye; and 4) appropriation, for the defendant's advantage, of the person's name or likeness. 1.

What is illegal invasion of privacy? ›

Invasion of privacy involves the infringement upon an individual's protected right to privacy through a variety of intrusive or unwanted actions. Such invasions of privacy can range from physical encroachments onto private property to the wrongful disclosure of confidential information or images.

What amendment protects against trespassing? ›

In the landmark decision of Boyd v. United States,24 the Court stated that the fourth amendment protected an individual's "indefeasible right of personal security, personal liberty and private property."' And two years after Katz in Davis v. Mississippi?

What is intentional infliction of emotional distress? ›

Intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED) is a tort that occurs when one acts in a manner that intentionally or recklessly causes another to suffer severe emotional distress, such as issuing the threat of future harm.

Which of the following would not constitute trespass to land? ›

Which of the following would not constitute trespass to land? With permission, you walk across your neighbor's land.

Can you shoot a person trespassing in Texas? ›

Texas law states that property owners are able to use force to terminate trespassing or theft if they deem it necessary; however, force and deadly force are two different actions. Shooting the trespasser is considered deadly force since the bullet can easily end the person's life.

Is trespass to personal property the invasion of personal property without the permission of the owner? ›

Trespass to Personal Property: Taking or harming another's personal property, in such a way as to interfere with the other person's right to exclusive possession of his or her personal property, without the owner's permission or legal authorization.

Can you sue someone for trespassing in Texas? ›

Property owners can sue a trespasser for damages if they occur. Filing a successful trespassing claim requires the plaintiff to prove several things: Lawful ownership of the property. Physical, intentional, unauthorized and voluntary entry.

What qualifies as an invasion? ›

An invasion is a military offensive in which large numbers of combatants of one geopolitical entity enter territory owned by another such entity, generally with the objective of either: conquering; liberating or re-establishing control or authority over a territory; forcing the partition of a country; altering the ...

What happens when privacy is violated? ›

CalOPPA (California): Civil penalties of up to $2,500 per violation. Private claims for actual damages.

What is an example of false light invasion of privacy? ›

A few common examples of false light include: A company publishes a picture of a married couple with a message stating that their only interest in one another is sex. John posts on his Facebook newsfeed a false claim that his ex-girlfriend Tyra has filed for bankruptcy.

What are the 5 writs of trespass? ›

Assault, battery, false imprisonment, trespass to land, and trespass to chattels are all traceable to the writs of trespass (not case).

What are the elements of trespass on property or in a structure or conveyance as provided in the Florida statutes? ›

Under Florida law, a criminal Trespass occurs where a person willfully enters or remains upon property without authorization, or, if initially allowed on to the property, refuses to depart upon request of the rightful owner or occupant.

What are the elements of trespassing in PA? ›

Section 3503 of the Statutes of Pennsylvania state that a person commits a simple trespassing offense if he or she knowingly enters, gains entry by subterfuge, breaks into, or remains in any structure or building. Breaking into a property refers to gaining entry by force or intimidation.

What is an action on the case? ›

In pleading an action on the case, the plaintiff sets forth the circumstances of the entire case. In pleading an action on the case, the complaint differed from the forms used in pleading other actions because other actions generally had highly stylized and rigid forms that had to be followed word for word.

What is tort of trespass? ›

Tort Law. Trespass to Land: If an individual physically (e.g., light or smell doesn't count) invades an owner's real property or causes an object or a third person to invade it, he or she may be liable for trespass to land. As an intentional tort, the intent is required.

What is the structure of trespass to the person? ›

There are three main forms of trespass to a person, namely, assault, battery and false imprisonment and their common element is that the wrong must be committed by “direct means”. Any direct invasion of a protected interest from a positive act was actionable subject to justification.

What are the two types of trespass to land? ›

Under intentional torts, there are two types of trespass: (1) trespass to chattels and (2) trespass to land. Trespass to land is an unlawful entry or use of another person's land without the owner's permission or reasonable excuse.

What are the elements of cause of action for trespass to chattels? ›

In sum, the basic elements of a claim of trespass to chattels are: 1) the lack of the plaintiff's consent to the trespass, 2) interference or intermeddling with possessory interest, and 3) the intentionality of the defendant's actions. Actual damage is not necessarily a required element of a trespass to chattels claim.


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