Legal Definition of Trespassing

Written by steven miller
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Legal Definition of Trespassing
Trespassing signs are posted to keep people and property safe. (posted-no trespassing-keep out sign image by bawinner from

Individuals are guilty of criminal trespassing whenever the individual knowingly enters and unlawfully remains in a building or real property that is designed to keep out of intruders. Individuals commit criminal trespassing whenever they enter or remain on a property. Each state has their own laws pertaining to trespassing, and individuals must check with the local laws in each jurisdiction.

Criminal Trespassing

Trespassing laws usually occur on private property in places such as houses, apartments, automobiles and office buildings. Consent from owners is a very important statutory element (guideline) when it comes to trespassing laws. Without the owners consent, the law will usually assume that a person knew that they didn't have permission to enter onto a particular property. Other laws against criminal trespassing include entering a fenced property, disregarding visible posted non-trespassing signs, or not obtaining permission from an individual who is authorised to act on the owner's behalf.

Civil Trespass

Civil trespassing usually involves property damage. People are usually held liable in a civil trespass case once the damage to the property has taken place. Suing for damages which results from the trespass usually occurs in a civil case. Criminal charges may also be applicable within a civil trespass case if there is evidence that this has occurred. Civil trespass violations are normally brought to courts to be settled by property owners.

Statutory Elements

States may have different laws as to what constitutes criminal trespass, but there are some common statutory elements that usually apply to all trespassing laws. Instances of trespassing when homes are involved occur when a particular home is habitable. Whether or not the particular home is occupied or unoccupied doesn't matter. Depending on the jurisdiction, trespassing may not occur for homes that are not suitable for habitation. Abandonment could also possibly be used as a defence against prosecution for this type of crime.

Various Regulations

Since trespassing laws vary in different jurisdictions, there are many different situations and circumstances that define when trespassing might have transpired. Civil actions can be brought against animal owners when one of their animals enters onto another person's property. Some people called "invitees" (such as policemen, door-to-door salesmen) can have exceptions from needing consent to enter onto private property. Implied consent is when a person goes onto private property to save a life or for some other good reason. Trespassing signs serve as a warning, but they're not all-inclusive.


Normally the police department enforces trespass laws. Most states do not allow property owners to use force in order to dispose of a trespasser. Individuals who unintentionally enter onto private property, but follow the owners request to leave would more than likely not be prosecuted for trespassing. Trespassing normally falls under civil law and is considered a misdemeanour offence. Each jurisdiction has its own penalties and fines that are used for trespassing.

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