If someone won’t respect your property rights, you might need to charge them with trespassing. Pretty much everyone knows what trespassing is, but what should you do when you are dealing with a trespasser that just won’t quit?
You’ll need to have them charged, of course, and depending on the circumstances and the severity of the trespassing you might need to pursue a criminal or a civil case.
It’s going to be a little intimidating if you aren’t fluent in the process. So, how do you charge someone with trespassing?
Getting someone charged with trespassing typically begins with notifying the trespasser verbally or in writing, and then contacting the police or your attorney if they trespass again. After that, criminal or civil charges can be filed. Collecting evidence of the trespass is always helpful.
The bottom line is that you have rights as a property owner or legal tent, and people can disrespect those rights at their own peril.
Charging someone with trespassing is pretty simple, but you’ll have some homework to do before it gets that far because you must make sure that you understand the law and that your property is posted or enclosed in accordance with state law.
Keep reading, and I’ll tell you everything you need to know…
Know the Law Before You Begin!
Before you go any further, it is imperative to get a good briefing on the laws of your state.
Though trespassing laws are mostly similar from state to state, there can be some significant differences.
These differences usually pertain to the severity of trespassing depending on the type of property, the requirements for posting no trespassing signage or placing markings around the perimeter of your property, and also the standards for notifying a trespasser.
For instance, you might have to notify a trespasser only verbally, or your posted signage may count as notification enough. In some places, you may need to notify a trespasser in writing.
Understanding what the laws say in your state ensures that you will have the confidence to go forward with charges whatever they may be, and also that you won’t be wasting the time of your attorney or police if it comes down to it.
Do You Know Exactly Where Your Property Line Is?
It sounds like a small thing, and it is, but you’d be surprised how many people fall flat on their faces when it comes time to press charges.
If you don’t know precisely where your property line is, and have it marked in a way that’s easy to reference, you might be getting in a huff over nothing.
Assuming someone is not encroaching on your property line with the building of a structure, they can be just on the other side of your property and be free as a bird to travel where they will.
You can’t afford to get this wrong: find out exactly where your property line is and mark it, or at least have high-quality surveys or maps made that you can reference.
Assuming you do know precisely where the bounds of your property lie, and someone is trespassing on your property, proceed.
Is Your Property Marked or Posted in Accordance with State Law?
Depending on the type of property, be it vacant land, agricultural land or a residential parcel, there might be prerequisites when it comes to actually marking your property to notify trespassers that they are in fact trespassing…
The most common way to do this is with signs. Many states also have specific requirements for signage, including the overall size of the sign, the font and sometimes required language.
You may also be required to post your mailing address or phone number on the sign along with your name.
Also, spacing matters and pretty much every state will mandate that the signs be placed close together enough on conspicuously visible surfaces or posts so that there is no real chance someone could slip between them without seeing them.
But you might not have to use signs. Some states allow the use of purple or other colors of paint placed conspicuously on similar surfaces to notify would-be trespassers that they are entering someone else’s property.
For other kinds of property, specifically smaller residential properties and agricultural properties, any sort of fence or other barricade is considered notification enough for the purposes of trespassing.
Whatever is required, make sure you follow this part of the law to the letter so that some trespasser cannot weasel out of punishment when it goes to court; invariably cleaning that they didn’t see the sign because your spacing, height or style of sign did not meet requirements.
Notify Trespasser, if Necessary
Depending on the circumstances, and also depending on your state laws, you might have to notify the trespasser that they are trespassing.
Meaning, let them know that they are trespassing and that you as the property owner are telling them to leave and not come back.
If you’re lucky, and it’s safe to do so, this might be the only thing you need to do to put an end to your trespassing problem.
Especially in remote areas with large, undeveloped parcels someone genuinely might not know that they are trespassing.
Assuming the person doesn’t look like they are up to no good, or an obvious danger, let them know politely but firmly that they are trespassing and then let them go on their way.
But do make a note of the encounter, both of the date, time and the description of the person.
If you’re dealing with a repeat offender or a known trouble maker it is best to let the police deal with it.
Call the police, preferably a non-emergency line, and let them know what you are dealing with.
The police will come out and try to make contact with the person or, barring that, get a report from you and then start the notification process if they are able.
As always, if someone seems deranged or dangerous call 911; you can get the trespassing notification started afterward.
If you know the person, if this is a neighbor or someone else that is known to you, you might decide to notify them in writing via certified letter and delivery.
Make sure you keep a copy, receipt and record of this when the time comes to actually file charges.
Collect Evidence, if Possible
If someone is trespassing repeatedly, or is it routinely using the same approach to your property, it is worth trying to collect evidence of their trespass.
Security cams, trail cameras and the trusty cell phone camera can help you collect actual and virtually unbeatable evidence that someone is indeed trespassing.
If you are dealing with a larger parcel that is harder to monitor, you might consider the use of a drone to get good still images or video of a person and any vehicle they are traveling.
Before you go that far, make sure you look up your state’s laws on drone photography and recording.
Some are getting quite stringent, but you should be okay as long as you’re only filming over your own property.
Call Police or Attorney
Assuming you were dealing with a non-threatening trespasser and the police haven’t been called yet, it’s time to call them and file a report.
Give them all the information you’ve collected, and any evidence in the form of photographs or video recordings.
Before you think this is too far, remember that it is your right to call the police over these things.
Trespassing, even trespassing without legitimate criminal intent, is still a misdemeanor pretty much everywhere.
The police will let you know what to do from here and how to press charges if you want to press charges.
As an alternative, you might consider calling your attorney to press civil charges.
This can sometimes be a better way to go if you are in a place that has very light punishments for trespassing on vacant land or in the absence of other crimes or damage.
Any competent attorney should be able to advise you how to go about this process.
Lastly, you’ll have to follow through. You might need to make statements to the police and it’s possible you’ll need to go to court as the plaintiff.
It all depends on the circumstances and whether the state is dealing with it or your attorney is filing civil charges.
It can be long, laborious, stressful and potentially expensive, but if you followed all of the steps above and you know the law, you stand a very good chance of putting the smackdown on the trespasser.
Whether they go to jail or prison, or just get slapped with a fine or probation, hopefully this is the last time you’ll have to deal with them.
Tom Marlowe practically grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, Tom has the experience to help civilian shooters figure out what will work best for them.