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

Comments


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: