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What is Trespassing Law?

Lainie Petersen
Updated May 16, 2024
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When someone enters the property of another without permission, or legal authority, he or she is trespassing. Trespassing law is a part of both civil and criminal codes in the United States, but this is not always true in other countries. For example, in the United Kingdom, trespassing law is most often a civil matter, with a few exceptions, and property owners cannot always rely on the police to enforce trespass laws.

Trespassing does not have to be a matter of one person walking onto someone's property: Building an addition on a home that crosses a property boundary line, dumping garbage into a neighbor's yard, or parking in another's driveway all can qualify. Animals, such as dogs, can also trespass on a neighbor's property, making the pet-owner liable for the pet's conduct.

In the United States, a property owner is generally obligated to enforce trespassing law on his or her private property. If a neighbor builds onto his property or routinely uses the property for storage, walking, or vehicle parking, the owner risks losing his or her rights over his property, or even the property itself. If a property owner wishes to come to an understanding with a neighbor or anyone else who wants or needs to enter or build on the owner's property, the property owner can enter into a written agreement with that individual that sets out the terms of the encroachment. This agreement can include a time frame along with other terms that can protect the property owner's rights.

Hunters should be aware that in some regions, trespassing law prescribes harsher penalties for someone carrying a firearm. Laws may also protect a hunter against a charge of trespassing if the hunter enters private property in pursuit of a dead or wounded animal.

A property owner, or his or her employee, can use reasonable force to protect his property against trespassers in both the United States and the United Kingdom. However, the definition of "reasonable" can vary, and a homeowner who uses force, particularly deadly force, against a trespasser can be subject to criminal and civil liability. For example, using a booby trap to discourage trespassers is generally against the law. Shooting at a neighbor's pet who has not posed a threat to the safety of the property owner is also likely to be frowned upon by law enforcement and the courts. Calling upon law enforcement and using the civil courts is likely a safer way to resolve a conflict with a trespasser.

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Lainie Petersen
By Lainie Petersen , Former Writer
Lainie Petersen, a talented writer, copywriter, and content creator, brings her diverse skill set to her role as an editor. With a unique educational background, she crafts engaging content and hosts podcasts and radio shows, showcasing her versatility as a media and communication professional. Her ability to understand and connect with audiences makes her a valuable asset to any media organization.

Discussion Comments

By anon964752 — On Aug 06, 2014

You all are all off. I'm currently being prosecuted for trespassing without intent to burglarize. I simply went over and asked the neighbors to turn music down before I called the cops. When the cops arrived, I allowed them into my house and was arrested for it.

On the same note, no, not all cases where someone getting hurt on your property results in being able to sue and win. I was attacked on the same neighbor's property, stabbed three times with an ax, hit several times with a hammer, and beaten with a broom stick after being let into their house and I cannot sue at all because it was intended by them.

So note to self for those who read this; if someone gets hurt on your property, say you accidentally bumped them and they fell, and you will not be liable for anything

By anon334160 — On May 10, 2013

Although it is good to be a nice neighbor, remember that liability for injury that occurs on your property falls on you. So for those that don't believe that it is necessary to keep unknown people from "cutting" across your lawn, keep in mind that if they are injured, they can sue you and win, whether they were trespassing or not.

By MissMuffet — On Aug 08, 2011

@Potterspop - I studied law at university and the guidelines you mentioned are spot on. They were largely created to deal with things like rave parties and also political gatherings.

In other situations it only really becomes a matter of interest to the police if there are suspicious circumstances. Say someone was seen in the private grounds of a business, then they could be about to commit a burglary.

Personal actions count for something too. As has been mentioned, if you are abusing or threatening people then your trespassing becomes aggravated and much more serious.

By Potterspop — On Aug 07, 2011

@Acracadabra - I'm sorry to hear about your uncle having to deal with that nuisance. Many civil laws seem to have little clout behind them.

Here in the UK all property is subject to trespassing laws, but as in your case it seems hit and miss what is enforced.

There are a number of conditions that have to be met before the police will try to move people off your land. If they cause damage, threaten you or have more than six vehicles with them then there's a better chance of help.

I don't think there's much interest in someone who cuts across your garden as a shortcut or decided to sleep in a farmer's field. it's a sad state of affairs in my opinion. Whoever said an Englishman's home was his castle?

By Acracadabra — On Aug 07, 2011

I think the trespassing laws are pretty much a waste of time.

Last year my uncle called the police because people set up a campsite on his farmland. The people involved were polite enough about it but basically told him that they were staying, and would leave only when they had finished their 'vacation'!

The authorities didn't do anything, though I think if there had been any abusive language on the squatters part it may have been different.

To be fair they did eventually up and go, and left the area reasonably neat and tidy. But it just seems ridiculous that you can't easily force people to get off your land.

Lainie Petersen

Lainie Petersen

Former Writer

Lainie Petersen, a talented writer, copywriter, and content creator, brings her diverse skill set to her role as an...
Learn more
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