In every state, private property is any property not government-owned. This means private businesses, privately owned land, offices, and houses. When someone enters someone else’s property without permission, this is legally trespassing. When someone enters someone else’s property in spite of being denied access or being told not to enter, that is also trespassing. Whether trespassing was done intentionally, maliciously, or by accident, it is up to you to take action.
What Is Trespassing?
State laws define trespassing as a situation where someone intentionally enters or remains on another person’s property without permission. Unfortunately, this is not all it takes to charge someone with trespassing. There are a few other factors that have to exist for you to pursue criminal charges
- Someone has to trespass using their free will, and they have to do it on purpose. If they’re just exploring or on a hike and your property happens to abut a state park, accidentally entering your land is not trespassing. It’s just an accident. It can become trespassing if you find them, ask them to leave, and they don’t.
If someone assaults or kidnaps another and forces them onto your property, or they are held there against their will, it’s an entirely different type of crime.
- People have to be warned there is private property, or it must be reasonably expected that it’s private property. This is a little bit more complicated.
For example, if you have private property, you need to reasonably inform people that it is private with something like having your house locked, having a fence, setting up a date, or posting signs. For very large areas of land you can’t expect people to know where the lines are between private property and public property, which is why it’s sufficient to put up no trespassing signs or to inform people when you find them trespassing and allow them the chance to leave.
- Individuals must have intent to trespass, and that intent has to be a little bit nefarious, meaning someone who accidentally comes onto your property in the middle of a hike doesn’t intend to disrupt your daily life. However, a trespasser might come onto your property with the intention of interfering with any activity on your property.
For a business this can mean interfering with your business operations or bothering your customers. For a private home, this can mean interfering with how you go about your day.
- Someone who is trespassing must be doing so with the intent of damaging your property, interfering with your property, or causing you physical harm. This can extend to causing harm to your landscape; your home, garage, or shed, even to the animals living on your property.
To charge someone with trespassing, in addition to meeting the specifications above, they don’t necessarily need to have completed the harm they intended. If someone comes to your property with the intention of setting fire to your land or hurting your family, but the police can apprehend them before they follow through, they can still be charged with trespassing.
What to Do If Someone Is Trespassing on Your Property
If someone is trespassing on your property, call the police. If you feel unsafe or afraid for your life, secure your safety before you call the police. This might mean locking yourself in your car, hiding behind a locked door, or going to a neighbor’s property before you place the call.
You legally have the option to confront anyone who is trespassing and tell them to leave. If the person seems dangerous, this might not be worth the risk. However, in situations where you might find someone walking through your field or a group of children cutting across your property to get home, you might find that it’s a friendly situation and there are no threats in which case you can approach them.
What Is the Penalty for Trespassing?
Penalties for trespassing vary based on whether the crime is a misdemeanor trespass or a felony. This is really based on what transpires during the criminal trespassing. For example, if somebody is told not to come onto your property, but they still do, and all they do is harass your dog for a few minutes before the cops show up, it will likely be a minor incident. This is generally prosecuted as an infraction, which is often just a monetary fine of a few hundred dollars.
Slightly more serious trespassing like misdemeanor trespassing means there is interference in your business or your daily life without any threats to your safety and well-being or any physical harm. These typically result in up to six months in county jail and a fine.
The most serious of cases are felony cases that are referred to as aggravated trespassing. This involves not only trespassing but direct harm or threats. This can come with multiple years of incarceration.
How to Charge Someone With Trespassing on Your Property
To charge someone with trespassing, they need to meet the requirements listed above for it to be a criminal offense. The police handle the criminal offense for trespassing. The police will help you determine whether there’s enough evidence to charge someone with trespassing, and if there is, then you can pursue criminal charges.
Can you call the police for trespassing?
Yes, you can, and you should if there is a threat. That said, there are plenty of situations where a property owner or a business owner might have a group of kids cutting across your property on their way to or from school without realizing they are trespassing. In these situations it is obviously best to talk with the trespassers yourself and give them a warning, let them know they are on private property. If they continue to ignore the trespass warnings, then, of course, you can follow through with calling the police.
In situations where it’s not a minor offense, someone repeatedly trespasses or you feel threatened, you have a legal right to protect your property and call the police at any time.
How to report someone for trespassing
Start by filing a report with the police. When someone trespasses, it is a criminal offense, and you should always call the police when it happens.
When a police officer arrives at your private property, they will ask you, as the property owner, questions about what happened.
- Police will ask you for specifics like time and day.
- Police will ask you to identify the person you are charging with criminal trespassing.
- Police will ask you to provide any evidence you have associated with the criminal trespass.
After they collect your statement and any available evidence, they will review it to decide whether there is enough evidence to support an official charge of trespassing.
If someone trespassed on your property, you are under no obligation to file charges against them immediately. You might decide not to press charges the moment the incident transpires but then change your mind later. You might even give someone a trespass warning telling them they committed an unlawful act by crossing your private business or your private property without permission, but you don’t call the police. You can choose later to call the police if you change your mind; at which point, a police officer will come to your property and go over the same questions.
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How to file trespassing charges in civil court
You can file a civil lawsuit against anyone who trespasses on your property. Civil lawsuits are a way for you to get compensation for any damages the trespassing causes. This is something you would do in addition to filing charges against someone for criminal trespassing.
To successfully bring about a lawsuit for trespassing, you might consider getting legal advice from an attorney to verify that:
- You did your part to make it clear to the trespasser they were not allowed to enter your property.
- They knowingly and intentionally entered your property in spite of all warnings or knowledge.
- As a result of entering your property, they damaged your property, you, or your family.
Overall, trespassing charges can range in severity and include criminal or civil charges based on the situation. The penalty for criminal trespassing will also vary based on the situation.
The accused can hire criminal defense lawyers for first-degree trespassing and assault just as a criminal defense attorney can offer information on minor cases, too. If you are dealing with a trespass case, you might consider reviewing attorney listings after which you can enter into a confidential relationship and review your case.