Property owners often have the right to both privacy and to prevent public access to their property. In order to assert these rights, a property owner may post a no trespassing sign. Although the definition of trespass may change by jurisdiction, it generally includes interference with possessory rights in property. The consequences of ignoring such a sign can lead to criminal charges against the trespasser and/or civil liability for any damages caused by the trespasser while on the property.
When someone intentionally trespasses on the property of another, despite the presence of a no trespassing sign, the individual may be liable through the tort of trespass. In most jurisdictions, the trespasser is clearly liable when the trespass was intentional; however, jurisdictions differ on their treatment of unintentional trespass. When a person trespasses without intending to do so, the court may look at whether or not the trespass was negligent as well as the actions of the trespasser while on the land to determine whether or not he or she is liable. When a no trespassing notice was posted, the court may also look at how prominent the sign was and whether the trespasser should have seen the sign. If found liable, the trespasser may be ordered to pay monetary damages for the act of trespassing.
In addition to possible civil liability for ignoring a no trespass sign, a trespasser may face criminal charges. In many jurisdictions, entering the property of another without permission or in violation of a no trespassing notice may be a criminal offense. Often, the presence of the sign alone can make the action a crime and therefore subject the trespasser to criminal penalties.
The criminal penalties for ignoring a no trespassing sign will depend on the jurisdiction. In most cases, trespassing is considered a misdemeanor. A misdemeanor is typically punishable by up to a year in jail and/or a term of probation. In addition, court costs and fines as well as restitution for any damages to the property may be ordered by the judge.
A property owner who wishes to protect his or her property against trespassers should consult local ordinances or laws before posting signs. In many jurisdictions, certain colors are associated with no trespassing, which allow the property owner to paint trees or tie cloth of that color on the trees or fences to warn potential violators to stay away. No trespassing signs may also be used and should be placed prominently to assure that they can be seen at potential points of entry.