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What is Unlawful Entry?

By Christy Bieber
Updated May 16, 2024
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Unlawful entry occurs when an individual enters private property without permission. Generally, it is a crime, and the person who enters without permission can be subject to both criminal and civil sanctions. The owner of a home or piece of property may also be permitted to use force to prevent unlawful entry from occurring, depending on the situation.

Within all developed countries, rights in property are recognized and enforced by the legal systems of the respective jurisdictions. This means when someone buys a given piece of property, he has the sole and exclusive right to its use and enjoyment and he may do anything he wishes with it, within the bounds of the law. No other person can enter that property without the permission of the legal owner.

If someone else tries to enter owned property without the express or implied permission of the legal owner, he is committing unlawful entry. This is considered, at a minimum, trespassing, which is a crime normally punishable by a fine. Often, a person who is committing unlawful entry also commits other crimes, such as breaking and entering, which occurs if the criminal forces his way in, or burglary, which occurs if the person entering unlawfully removes an item from the premises.

A homeowner generally has the right to protect his property from such unlawful entry. He can do so by posting no trespassing signs or by putting up fences or other barriers around his home. He may also be permitted to do so by forcefully preventing the person from entering or by forcing the person to leave.

Limitations are placed on the type of force a homeowner can use, however. For example, the homeowner can only use deadly force to prevent a person from entering his property if he believes that person means to do physical harm and if the use of deadly force is the last resort to protect the property. Otherwise, the homeowner is permitted to use non-deadly force only.

A person who engages in unlawful entry can also be subject to prosecution. Penalties for trespassing are normally limited to monetary fines, while burglary or other types of crimes can lead to jail time. If the person damaged something when he entered the property illegally, the person can also be sued in civil court for the damage that he caused and can be forced to pay monetary restitution to the owner of the property.

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Discussion Comments

By anon989404 — On Mar 04, 2015

I think unlawful entry depends on what your intent in the home could be. If they can prove you entered to commit a felony it becomes a unlawful entry; otherwise its a trespass. I've seen people get burglary charges and say they were just in there making a sandwich.

By myharley — On May 27, 2011

When I think of unlawful entry, I am reminded of the Unlawful Entry movie from the 90's. It was a thriller that kept you on the edge of your seat.

That kind of situation certainly has more consequences than trespassing on somebody's land when you did not know you were not supposed to be there and did not plan to cause any harm.

By bagley79 — On May 26, 2011

I see the similarities between unlawfull entry and no trespassing, but it sounds like unlawful entry carries a more serious penalty - maybe it is just a stronger way of wording it.

Either way you look at it, a person is on another persons property without permission. When you see no trespassing signs on a property, you know that you are not supposed to be there and most people will respect that.

If it is one time occurrence or the person really did not know they were trespassing, there is often just a warning or a small fine to be paid if the property owner pursues the matter.

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