Massachusetts: Fast Facts on Trespassing
- Trespass Law Covers: Buildings, Dwellings, Land, Vehicles
- Crime Class: Misdemeanor, potentially felony
- Fencing Required?: Yes, or other enclosure
- Signage Required?: No, but does constitute specific notice against trespassing
- Verbal Notice Required?: No
Massachusetts Trespassing Law Overview
Massachusetts is known far and wide as being one of the most litigious states in the Union. Laws upon laws stacked upon yet more laws.
What is more, their law books are some of the most difficult to navigate in the land, since they are haphazardly assembled and in nothing resembling an easy-to-follow or intuitive order.
Learning everything you need to know about a specific subject in the eyes of the law means combing through many different chapters with its various sections spread throughout the body, as opposed to one or two sections that are in order and contain everything you need to know.
Massachusetts state statutes covering trespassing do not make for easy reading, but we have done our best to present it in a more accessible and digestible format today.
Relevant Massachusetts State Statutes
- General Laws, Part IV, Title I, Chapter 266, Section 115
- General Laws, Part IV, Title I, Chapter 266, Section 118
- General Laws, Part IV, Title I, Chapter 266, Section 120
- General Laws, Part IV, Title I, Chapter 266, Section 120a
- General Laws, Part IV, Title I, Chapter 266, Section 120b
- General Laws, Part IV, Title I, Chapter 266, Section 121
- General Laws, Part IV, Title I, Chapter 266, Section 121a
- General Laws, Part IV, Title I, Chapter 266, Section 122
- General Laws, Part IV, Title I, Chapter 266, Section 123
- General Laws, Part IV, Title I, Chapter 266, Section 123a
- General Laws, Part IV, Title I, Chapter 266, Section 131
Massachusetts state law covering trespassing is spread throughout chapter 266 in a variety of sections.
Any definitions, if pertinent, are mentioned within those sections and lacking such specific definitions words can be interpreted to have their common meaning, unless precedent or case law would dictate otherwise. Reader beware!
Massachusetts trespassing law begins in general laws, part IV, title I, chapter 266 section 115 with Trespassing in Orchards and Gardens:
Section 115 – Trespass in Orchards and Gardens
Section 115. Whoever wilfully and maliciously enters an orchard, nursery, garden or cranberry meadow, and takes away, mutilates or destroys a tree, shrub or vine, or steals, takes and carries away any fruit or flower, without the consent of the owner thereof, shall be punished by a fine of not more than five hundred dollars or by imprisonment for not more than six months.
A succinct section.
Entering any orchard, nursery, garden, meadow or any other place for the cultivation or growing of plants, flowers or fruit with the intention of mutilating destroying or stealing any plant or fruit therein without the explicit consent of the owner will see you charged with trespass in orchards and gardens and fined up to $500 and imprisoned for up to six months in the state of Massachusetts.
Stay out of your neighbors’ crops, and leave those cranberry bushes alone if they don’t belong to you!
Next, another specific section on trespassing, this time covering trespassing by animals! Well, technically I guess that the animals’ owner is still the one trespassing since they will be the one charged, not the animals, but you take my meaning. See section 118:
Section 118 – Domestic Animals; Trespass on Land
Section 118. Whoever, having the charge or custody of sheep, goats, cattle, horses, swine or fowl, wilfully suffers or permits them to enter or remain on or pass over any orchard, garden, mowing land or other improved or enclosed land of another, after being forbidden so to do in writing or by notice posted thereon by the owner or occupant thereof, or by the authorized agent of such owner or occupant, shall be punished by a fine of not more than ten dollars.
Any person who owns a group of domestic animals, and willfully allows them to enter or remain upon the improved or enclosed land of another person after being specifically forbidden from doing so by the owner of that land or in defiance of a posted notice forbidding the same the owner of those animals who trespass can be charged with domestic animal trespass on land and punished with a fine of up to $10.
Please keep your comments to yourself on this one! I’m just reporting on the law, I did not make the law.
I promise the very next section we are going to cover is getting close to the most important stuff as far as the trespassing laws are concerned in the state of Massachusetts. Moving swiftly along to section 120:
Section 120 – Entry Upon Private Property After Being Forbidden as Trespass; Prima Facie Evidence; Penalties; Arrest; Tenants or Occupants Excepted
Section 120. Whoever, without right enters or remains in or upon the dwelling house, buildings, boats or improved or enclosed land, wharf, or pier of another, or enters or remains in a school bus, as defined in section 1 of chapter 90, after having been forbidden so to do by the person who has lawful control of said premises, whether directly or by notice posted thereon, or in violation of a court order pursuant to section thirty-four B of chapter two hundred and eight or section three or four of chapter two hundred and nine A, shall be punished by a fine of not more than one hundred dollars or by imprisonment for not more than thirty days or both such fine and imprisonment. Proof that a court has given notice of such a court order to the alleged offender shall be prima facie evidence that the notice requirement of this section has been met. A person who is found committing such trespass may be arrested by a sheriff, deputy sheriff, constable or police officer and kept in custody in a convenient place, not more than twenty-four hours, Sunday excepted, until a complaint can be made against him for the offence, and he be taken upon a warrant issued upon such complaint.
This section shall not apply to tenants or occupants of residential premises who, having rightfully entered said premises at the commencement of the tenancy or occupancy, remain therein after such tenancy or occupancy has been or is alleged to have been terminated. The owner or landlord of said premises may recover possession thereof only through appropriate civil proceedings.
A person who does not otherwise have a lawful right to enter and remain inside or upon anyhow, dwelling, building, boat, enclosed land, improved land, wharf, pier or dock of another person who does so after being verbally forbidden, barred in writing or in defiance of a posted notice is guilty of trespassing upon private property, and can be fined up to $100 or imprisoned for up to 30 days or both.
I will point out here that the state of Massachusetts has no published guidelines on what form, size, colors, proportions or dimensions they posted notice must take in order for it to have the force of law forbidding trespassing.
It is therefore assumed, but is not a guarantee, that any common posted “No Trespassing” sign should be adequate to the cause.
The next section, 120a in the same chapter, covers trespass by way of illegally parking a motor vehicle on the land or private way of another:
Section 120a – Motor Vehicle; Parking on Private Way; Prosecution; Evidence
Section 120A. In any prosecution for committing the crime of trespass by parking a motor vehicle upon a private way or upon improved or enclosed land, proof that the defendant named in the complaint was at the time of such parking the registered owner of such vehicle shall be prima facie evidence that the defendant was the person who parked such vehicle upon such way or land at such time.
No explanation needed, although it might be good advice to not let shifty, shady friends and cousins borrow your vehicle since if they park it illegally on someone else’s property you’ll be blamed for it.
Next is an exception to the charge of trespass on someone else’s property that is as full of gotchas, stooping and bowing as you might expect for a state like Massachusetts:
Section 120b – Entry on Land by Abutting Property Owners Not Constituting Trespass
Section 120B. Whoever, being the owner of land abutting that of another, the building or buildings on which are so close to the land of such other person as to require an entry on said abutting land for the purpose of maintaining or repairing said building or buildings in order to prevent waste, shall not be deemed guilty of trespass or liable civilly for damages, provided that such entry is made expeditiously and in the exercise of due care and that no damage is caused by such entry to the land or buildings of said abutting owner. Before such entry said owner shall notify the chief or other officer in charge of the police department of the city or town in which the land is located that he has requested permission to enter on adjoining land from the owner or occupants thereof for the purpose of maintaining or repairing a building or buildings and that such permission has been refused, and that he intends to enter under the provisions of this section. Before entering on said land, said owner shall post bond with the chief of police in the amount of one thousand dollars to protect the adjoining land owner from damage caused by said entry. No person so entering on land of another shall store material or tools thereon for more than eight hours in any one day nor shall he continue to enter thereon for more than thirty days in the aggregate in any calendar year. After said entry, said owner shall in all respects restore said adjoining land to the condition in which it was prior to said entry.
While only applicable in very specific circumstances, this statute does bear some unpacking.
Let us say that you have a piece of property that is improved, that is to say with buildings on it, and it is so close to the land of another person, also improved with buildings upon it, that you cannot practically access the side of your building that is immediately adjacent to the other person’s land without being upon their land.
This law states that if you are refused permission by the owner of the other parcel of land to do so in order to maintain or repair your buildings, you may notify the chief of police in your area and place with them a $1,000 bond in the event you damage your neighbor’s property.
Then you can go ahead and do what you need to do, so long as you do not unduly tear up their land, and also restore it to the way you had it when you are done.
It would seem that this is a necessary preventative to effectively being landlocked off of accessing your own property for work purposes due to proximity with someone else’s.
The next section is 121, and codifies entry or remaining on the land of another person while you are carrying a firearm with the intent to fire it on that land. Probably not that relevant in a gun-hating state like Massachusetts, but at least they are thorough:
Section 121 – Entry on Land With Firearms
Section 121. Whoever, without right, enters upon the land of another with firearms, with intent to fire or discharge them thereon, and, having been requested by the owner or occupant of such land or by his agent to leave such land, remains thereon, shall be punished by a fine of not more than two hundred dollars or by imprisonment for not more than two months, or both.
If you enter or remain upon someone else’s land while carrying a firearm, and are carrying a firearm with the intention of discharging it while on that other person’s land, you may be charged with trespassing if you remain on that land after being requested by the owner or any authorized occupant to leave the property.
This will result in a $200 fine or imprisonment for up to two months or even both.
Next up is trespass involving motorized vehicles, completely different and conspicuously placed after trespass via parking your vehicle on another person’s property:
Section 121a – Trespasses Involving Motor Vehicles and Other Powered Devices
Section 121A. Whoever, without right, enters upon the private land of another, whether or not such land be posted against trespass, and in so entering makes use of or has in his immediate possession or control any vehicle, machine, or device which includes an internal combustion engine or other source of mechanical power, shall be punished by a fine of not more than $500.
The provisions of this section shall not apply to such an entry at the junction of a public way with a paved private roadway, unless said private roadway is distinguished from the public way by a sign, gatepost, or the display of a street number or the name of the occupant of the premises, or by the improvement of adjacent land, the type of construction of the roadway, or other distinguishing feature, or unless such entry has been forbidden by the person having lawful control of said private roadway.
Nothing herein shall in any way restrict the operation of power boats on waterways not otherwise restricted.
This section at least makes no bones about it. If you enter or remain upon the private land of any other person while operating a vehicle without the right to do so and no matter if a “no trespassing” sign or notice is posted, you’re committing trespass by motor vehicle, and will be fined up to $500.
Interestingly, there is no schedule for a term in jail for trespassing in this way.
The next section, 122, is notable for quantifying the defacing of a “No Trespassing” notice as a crime, but otherwise it provides no other guidance on said signage:
Section 122 – Notice Against Trespassers; Defacement; Penalty
Section 122. Whoever wilfully tears down, removes or defaces any notice posted on land, or other property described in section one hundred and twenty, by the owner, lessee or custodian thereof, warning persons not to trespass thereon, shall be punished by a fine of not more than twenty-five dollars.
Section 123 codifies trespassing on any state-owned land, institution or facility:
Section 123 – State Land; Public Institutions; Trespass; Penalty
Section 123. Whoever willfully trespasses upon land or premises belonging to the commonwealth, or to any authority established by the general court for purposes incidental to higher education, appurtenant to a public institution of higher education, any correctional institution of the commonwealth, Tewksbury hospital, Soldiers’ Home in Massachusetts, Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke, any public institution for the care of mentally ill and developmentally disabled persons, any Massachusetts training school or state charitable institution, or upon land or premises belonging to any county and appurtenant to a jail, house of correction or courthouse, or whoever, after notice from an officer of any of said institutions to leave said land, remains thereon, shall be punished by a fine of not more than fifty dollars or by imprisonment for not more than three months.
Illegal entry onto any of the named places in section 123 or remaining on the property or premises of those named places after being told to leave by authorized personnel is trespassing upon state land or public institutions, and will result in a fine of up to $50, and imprisonment for no longer than three months.
I think I will take the fine and go on my way, thank you very much.
Next up, the big one. Violate this section and you can get hit with felony charges:
Section 123a – Willful Trespass Upon Public Source of Water, Water Supply Facility or Land
Section 123A. (a) Whoever willfully trespasses upon any public source of water or public water supply facilities or land after having been forbidden to do so by a person who has lawful control of the water, facilities or land, or an agent of such a person, whether directly or by notice posted on such water supply facility or land, shall be punished by a fine of not less than $250 nor more than $1,000.
(b) Whoever commits any offense described in subsection (a) with the intent to corrupt, pollute or defile such public source of water shall be punished by a fine of not less than $1,000 nor more than $5,000 or by imprisonment in the house of correction for not more than 2 years or in state prison for not more than 5 years or by both such fine and imprisonment. Whoever is convicted of a second or subsequent violation of this subsection shall be punished by a fine of not less than $1,000 nor more than $10,000 or by imprisonment in state prison for not less than 5 years nor more than 10 years or by both such fine and imprisonment.
(c) In addition to the punishments outlined in subsections (a) and (b), restitution in the amount of costs associated with water quality analysis and any subsequent investigation to determine water safety and security of the facilities or land may be ordered by a court after a hearing relative to such restitution.
(d) A law enforcement officer may arrest, without a warrant, any person that the officer has probable cause to believe has violated this section.
Lastly, perhaps the most peculiar of the state statutes, which covers Sunday Trespassers, of all things:
Section 131 – Sunday Trespassers; Arrest and Detention Without Warrant
Section 131. Whoever is discovered in the act of wilfully injuring a fruit or forest tree or of committing any kind of malicious mischief on Sunday may be arrested without a warrant by a sheriff, deputy sheriff, constable, police officer or other person, and detained in jail or otherwise until a complaint can be made against him for the offence, and he be taken upon a warrant issued upon such complaint; but such detention without warrant shall not continue beyond the following day.
So there you have it. If you steal fruit or get up to malicious mischief on any given Sunday you can be arrested and jailed without a warrant until such time someone gets around to making an official complaint against you.
Serves all you fruit thieves right, trying to take produce while people are at church!
How to Obtain a Trespassing Order in Massachusetts
To get an order of no trespass against someone in Massachusetts, the violator must have trespassed and defiance of any written or verbal notice against doing so. State statutes specify that posted notice against trespassing fulfills this requirement.
Assuming you’ve given the trespasser such notice, one way or the other, contact your local police department or sheriff’s department for assistance and follow their instructions for obtaining any necessary evidence and filing the appropriate forms.
Rules for Posting No-Trespassing Signs in Massachusetts
Massachusetts state statutes don’t specify any specific size or type of no-trespassing sign, so anything should work, including a generic one, as long as it’s reasonably likely to come to the attention of an intruder. This means that posting it at the expected entrance or entrances of your property is a good idea, as well as posting it in intervals along the perimeter of your property.
Massachusetts continues their proud tradition of excessively bloated laws and regulations with statutes on trespassing that are spread out, difficult to access and peculiarly worded.
Most forms of trespassing in the state are misdemeanors with small fines and minimal jail terms, but trespassing on public water sources or water works property could see you hit with a heavy fine and several years in jail.
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.