Tresspassing Laws

Trespassing laws are put into place so that land owners may protect their property and their privacy. As such, property owners are allowed to use a reasonable amount of force to protect against trespassers. In most states, this is limited to fences, signs and security guards. Land owners are generally not allowed to detain trespassing individuals and must rely on police or state officials to remove the offending parties. Other states, such as Texas, give landowners greater leeway such as allowing them to fire upon trespassers after dark.

Trespassing can be avoided by obtaining permission from the landowner before entering their property. Many hunting regulations require that this permission be granted in writing and that the written permit be carried by the hunting party at all times. Some states have specific provisions for trespassing while hunting. In these cases, illegally entering someone”s property with a loaded weapon may carry increased fines and even move the charge from a misdemeanor offense to a felony offense.

Even the best hunting trip can turn sour when an unaware hunter gets caught trespassing. There are many trespassing laws, trespassing regulations and different punishments of trespassing.

Important Trespassing Laws

Below you will find important information on the trespassing laws and trespassing regulations that will keep you on the right side of the law.

  • Animal trespassers. Humans are not the only ones that can be held liable for trespassing. Dogs and other domestic animals or livestock trespassing can lead to a lawsuit in which the owner is held legally accountable.
  • Categories of trespassing laws. As a crime, trespassing can be split into two categories:
    • criminal trespass law
    • civil trespass law.

The first is enforced by law enforcement. The second can be initiated by an owner of private property, and brought to court for settlement.

  • Definition of trespassing. Trespassing can be defined as a criminal act involving the entrance onto land or private property without consent from the owner or person leasing the land.
  • Demonstration of intent. This is usually important in cases stemming from a trespass. For example, someone who unknowingly entered onto unmarked land, but left at the landowner”s request, would not likely be held accountable in court.
  • Exceptions of trespassing laws. Not everyone entering private property without consent is considered a trespasser. For example, a police officer, door-to-door salesman or missionary are all considered “”invitees”” and are not necessarily subject to trespassing laws.
  • Implied consent. This is a caveat which usually permits trespassing for good reason: to save someone”s life, for example. In some states, this does not extend to assisting or saving the life of a hunting dog or wounded animal.
  • Treatment of trespassers. In most places, private property owners are not permitted to dispose of trespassers as they see fit. They may request that a trespasser leave, and then call for law enforcement. Under most circumstances, they are not legally permitted to use force to evacuate the trespasser.
  • Trespassing signs. These are not necessarily all-inclusive. For example, a sign reading “”No Hunters,”” does not necessarily mean that a hiker or jogger is explicitly forbidden entry.
  • Trespassing with hunting. Most states treat trespassing while hunting differently than other kinds of trespassing, although hunters are legally expected to respect trespassing laws.

Trespassing Punishment

Trespassing is a crime that is certainly punishable by law. There are several fines and punishments that will hopefully never apply to the careful and respectful hunter.

  • Firearm possession. In some states, trespassing while holding a firearm of any kind is a felony offense that can lead to imprisonment of up to five years, and a fine of up to $5,000.
  • Types of force. In most states, it is illegal for private property owners to use traps or what is called “”unreasonable force”” to protect private property. However, in Texas, it is legal to use “”deadly force”” on trespassers after sunset.
  • Type of offense. Depending on the area, trespassing is considered an offense, misdemeanor or violation of civil law.

State Variations of Trespassing Regulations

Some states are known for strict enforcement, while others are known to be more lenient.

  • Alaska. This state has notoriously specific laws for identifying private property, from the size of the lettering on signs, address of the private property and placement of the signs.
  • Florida. Trespassing in this state while possessing a firearm is strictly punishable by imprisonment up to five years and a hefty fine of up to $5,000. Trespassing is defined as including “”propelling”” a “”potentially lethal projectile”” (for example, an arrow or bullet) onto private property.
  • Iowa. This state”s trespassing legislation has a caveat that allows the unarmed pursuit of certain prey on private property that was legally injured off the private property.
  • Minnesota. Strict posting requirements give hunters leeway in entering private property, provided the owner has not posted signs according to the state”s specific guidelines. Hunters may also trespass to obtain an errant dog or remove an animal that was legally wounded or killed off the premises.
  • North Carolina. By law, in certain counties, trespassers may not be arrested without the express consent of the owner of the private property.
  • Texas. Hunters need explicit permission from owners to hunt on private property in this state. This requirement extends to a situation where an animal, legally wounded or killed on other property, collapses onto private property. The owner”s consent would still be required to obtain the animal.
  • West Virginia. This state is infamous for its strict trespassing regulations and enforcement. Hunters must carry express, written permission from owners to trespass onto private property. Landowners can arrest trespassers and take them to trial.

Things to Avoid to Stay Safe

To avoid looking down the business end of an angry farmer”s shotgun, read on:

  • Be aware. Look for clear signs that you may be trespassing, such as areas marked “”Private Property,”” “”No Trespassing”” or “”Stay Back.””
  • Know the area. Be aware of private property designations before you leave home.
  • Look for fences. Fences are a clear delineator of private property, although it is useful to know that the law does not require private property to be fenced.


Encyclopedia of Everyday Law (2006). Trespassing. Retrieved November 11, 2006, from the Encyclopedia of Everyday Law Web site: