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.
- 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.
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.