California Trespassing Laws: What You Need to Know

  • Trespass Law Covers: Structures, dwellings, land
  • Crime Class: Misdemeanor
  • Fencing Required? No.
  • Signage Required? Yes, if vacant land is unfenced.
  • Verbal Notice Required? No.
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California Trespassing Law Overview

California trespassing laws, just like all the other laws of that land, are byzantine, spread out, occasionally difficult to understand and inundated with gotchas, riders and exceptions.

Of particular note is California’s classification of crimes other than the dictionary definition of trespassing as trespassing.

Threatening someone and then approaching them at their home or place of business is constituted as trespass as are several others revolving around vandalism or property destruction.

In keeping with their typically soft-on-crime approach to law enforcement, no level of trespass is ever anything worse than a misdemeanor, with a standout example being only an aggravated misdemeanor accompanied by a hefty fine.

Trespassing laws in California are spread out widely across the California Penal Code. The ones that are the most pertinent to you are revealed below with discussion to follow.

Relevant California State Statutes

  • Title 14 Section 601
  • Title 14 Section 602
  • Title 14 Section 602.1
  • Title 14 Section 602.2
  • Title 14 Section 602.5
  • Title 14 Section 602.6
  • Title 14 Section 602.7
  • Title 14 Section 602.8

ll of the relevant state statutes regarding trespassing in California are covered in Title 14 throughout various sections.

We begin with section 602. Section 602 is extremely long and meandering regarding what constitutes trespassing and similarly related crimes.

I have included only the most pertinent sections below. As agonizing as it is, make sure you read up on it if you’ll be living or traveling in California:

Except as provided in subdivisions (u), (v), and (x), and Section 602.8, every person who willfully commits a trespass by any of the following acts is guilty of a misdemeanor:

TITLE 14 – MALICIOUS MISCHIEF Section 602.

(a) Cutting down, destroying, or injuring any kind of wood or timber standing or growing upon the lands of another.

(b) Carrying away any kind of wood or timber lying on those lands.

(c) Maliciously injuring or severing from the freehold of another anything attached to it, or its produce.

(d) Digging, taking, or carrying away from any lot situated within the limits of any incorporated city, without the license of the owner or legal occupant, any earth, soil, or stone.

(h) (1) Entering upon lands or buildings owned by any other person without the license of the owner or legal occupant, where signs forbidding trespass are displayed, and whereon cattle, goats, pigs, sheep, fowl, or any other animal is being raised, bred, fed, or held for the purpose of food for human consumption; or injuring, gathering, or carrying away any animal being housed on any of those lands, without the license of the owner or legal occupant; or damaging, destroying, or removing, or causing to be removed, damaged, or destroyed, any stakes, marks, fences, or signs intended to designate the boundaries and limits of any of those lands.

(2) In order for there to be a violation of this subdivision, the trespass signs under paragraph (1) shall be displayed at intervals not less than three per mile along all exterior boundaries and at all roads and trails entering the land.

(1) Refusing or failing to leave the lands immediately upon being requested by the owner of the land, the owner’s agent, or by the person in lawful possession to leave the lands.

(m) Entering and occupying real property or structures of any kind without the consent of the owner, the owner’s agent, or the person in lawful possession.

(t) (1) Entering upon private property, including contiguous land, real property, or structures thereon belonging to the same owner, whether or not generally open to the public, after having been informed by a peace officer at the request of the owner, the owner’s agent, or the person in lawful possession, and upon being informed by the peace officer that he or she is acting at the request of the owner, the owner’s agent, or the person in lawful possession, that the property is not open to the particular person; or refusing or failing to leave the property upon being asked to leave the property in the manner provided in this subdivision.

Sections (a) through (d) are the first mentions of crimes other than trespassing that are considered trespassing in the state of California.

Under these state statutes picking an apple on a tree that does not belong to you or even taking a scoop of soil is considered trespassing.

Doesn’t particularly make sense to me, I think that would be theft or something similar, but this is California we’re talking about, not Earth.

The remainder of the highlighted headings in this section illustrate clearly that if you are asked or told to leave by any owner of any property, land or structure, or their agent or a police officer acting on their behalf if you do not leave at once you are trespassing.

Also note that merely entering any Private Structure that you do not have permission to be in is trespassing at once; you do not have to be caught and you do not have to be asked to leave to be charged.

Also make note of subsection (h) paragraphs 1 and 2. Here we see the mention of trespassing on land, in this case farmland, along with the provision that signs must be posted in accordance with state statute for unimproved and unfenced land to have trespass protections under the law.

There will be more on that to come in the following sections.
Section 601 explains trespassing as activity related to threatening or stalking, be it at a person’s home or workplace:

TITLE 14 – MALICIOUS MISCHIEF Section 601.

(a) Any person is guilty of trespass who makes a credible threat to cause serious bodily injury, as defined in subdivision (a) of Section 417.6, to another person with the intent to place that other person in reasonable fear for his or her safety, or the safety of his or her immediate family, as defined in subdivision (l) of Section 646.9, and who does any of the following:

(1) Within 30 days of the threat, unlawfully enters into the residence or real property contiguous to the residence of the person threatened without lawful purpose, and with the intent to execute the threat against the target of the threat.

(2) Within 30 days of the threat, knowing that the place is the threatened person’s workplace, unlawfully enters into the workplace of the person threatened and carries out an act or acts to locate the threatened person within the workplace premises without lawful purpose, and with the intent to execute the threat against the target of the threat.

(b) Subdivision (a) shall not apply if the residence, real property, or workplace described in paragraph (1) or (2) that is entered is the residence, real property, or workplace of the person making the threat.

Simply stated, if you threaten someone or their family and then approach them at or inside their home or their place of business you are guilty of trespassing.

In this case, you should be guilty of trespassing alongside assault, terroristic threatening and other charges but never mind that.

I am not an attorney and I don’t play one on TV. Plus, again, this is California, so who knows.


The next section, 602.1, makes it clear in excruciating detail that you cannot remain in any private or public business enterprise after being asked to leave by the owner, an agent of the owner which you can read as an employee, or a police officer is guilty of trespass:

TITLE 14 – MALICIOUS MISCHIEF Section 602.1.

(a) Any person who intentionally interferes with any lawful business or occupation carried on by the owner or agent of a business establishment open to the public, by obstructing or intimidating those attempting to carry on business, or their customers, and who refuses to leave the premises of the business establishment after being requested to leave by the owner or the owner’s agent, or by a peace officer acting at the request of the owner or owner’s agent, is guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable by imprisonment in a county jail for up to 90 days, or by a fine of up to four hundred dollars ($400), or by both that imprisonment and fine.

(b) Any person who intentionally interferes with any lawful business carried on by the employees of a public agency open to the public, by obstructing or intimidating those attempting to carry on business, or those persons there to transact business with the public agency, and who refuses to leave the premises of the public agency after being requested to leave by the office manager or a supervisor of the public agency, or by a peace officer acting at the request of the office manager or a supervisor of the public agency, is guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable by imprisonment in a county jail for up to 90 days, or by a fine of up to four hundred dollars ($400), or by both that imprisonment and fine.

Not much explanation needed for this one. You cannot raise hell in a place and then refuse to leave when asked by the owner, a manager or a police officer. If you do, that’s trespassing.

Section 602.5 spells out what trespassing is regarding apartments, noncommercial dwelling houses and residential property. Pay attention to the second subsection; trespassing while the owner/occupant is home escalates the crime to aggravated trespass:

(a) Every person other than a public officer or employee acting within the course and scope of his or her employment in performance of a duty imposed by law, who enters or remains in any noncommercial dwelling house, apartment, or other residential place without consent of the owner, his or her agent, or the person in lawful possession thereof, is guilty of a misdemeanor.

(b) Every person other than a public officer or an employee acting within the course and scope of his employment in performance of a duty imposed by law, who, without the consent of the owner, his or her agent, or the person in lawful possession thereof, enters or remains in any noncommercial dwelling house, apartment, or other residential place while a resident, or another person authorized to be in the dwelling, is present at any time during the course of the incident is guilty of aggravated trespass punishable by imprisonment in a county jail for not more than one year or by a fine of not more than one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both that fine and imprisonment.

One Interesting statute is contained in section 602.2, and defines the specifics of county laws where written signs are required to constitute trespassing on private land:

TITLE 14 – MALICIOUS MISCHIEF Section 602.2.

Any ordinance or resolution adopted by a county which requires written permission to enter vacant or unimproved private land from either the owner, the owner’s agent, or the person in lawful possession of private land, shall not apply unless the land is immediately adjacent and contiguous to residential property, or enclosed by fence, or under cultivation, or posted with signs forbidding trespass, displayed at intervals of not less than three to a mile, along all exterior boundaries and at all roads and trails entering the private land.

Section 602.8 is the section pertaining to the unlawful entering of the land referred to in 602.2:

TITLE 14 – MALICIOUS MISCHIEF Section 602.8.

(a) Any person who without the written permission of the landowner, the owner’s agent, or the person in lawful possession of the land, willfully enters any lands under cultivation or enclosed by fence, belonging to, or occupied by, another, or who willfully enters upon uncultivated or unenclosed lands where signs forbidding trespass are displayed at intervals not less than three to the mile along all exterior boundaries and at all roads and trails entering the lands, is guilty of a public offense.

(b) Any person convicted of a violation of subdivision (a) shall be punished as follows:

(1) A first offense is an infraction punishable by a fine of seventy-five dollars ($75).

(2) A second offense on the same land or any contiguous land of the same landowner, without the permission of the landowner, the landowner’s agent, or the person in lawful possession of the land, is an infraction punishable by a fine of two hundred fifty dollars ($250).

(3) A third or subsequent offense on the same land or any contiguous land of the same landowner, without the permission of the landowner, the landowner’s agent, or the person in lawful possession of the land, is a misdemeanor.

You can read in subsection (a) about the necessary posting of signs along the entire perimeter of the parcel of land in question for it to be considered trespassing. Subsection (b) paragraphs 1 through 3 detail the fee and penalty schedule for simple trespassing in California.

Please note that only third and following offenses are even considered as misdemeanors. Otherwise it is a simple violation with an accompanying fine.

Lastly, public grounds and spaces that are otherwise freely open to citizens do come with their own restrictions regarding trespassing. You can read about them in section 602.6 which is mercifully brief.

Note that any such violation and charge of trespassing under the provisions of this section constitutes a misdemeanor on the first offense:

TITLE 14 – MALICIOUS MISCHIEF Section 602.6.

Every person who enters or remains in, or upon, any state, county, district, or citrus fruit fair buildings or grounds, when the buildings or grounds are not open to the general public, after having been ordered or directed by a peace officer or a fair manager to leave the building or grounds and when the order or direction to leave is issued after determination that the person has no apparent lawful business or other legitimate reason for remaining on the property, and fails to identify himself or herself and account for his or her presence, is guilty of a misdemeanor.

Conclusion

California is a state with some fairly extensive laws on the books about trespassing, but the walls are scattered, difficult to collate and the fines for doing so range from powderpuff to nearly inconsequential.

Of most concern to the average person is trespassing upon land that is otherwise bordered or marked by signs all remaining in public or private business concerns after being asked to leave.

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