Pennsylvania: Fast Facts on Trespassing
- Trespass Law Covers: Buildings, Dwellings, Land, Vehicles
- Crime Class: Misdemeanor, Felony
- Fencing Required?: No, but trespassing over/past fencing qualifies certain trespassing crimes.
- Signage Required?: No, but trespassing in disregard of posted warnings qualifies certain trespassing crimes.
- Verbal Notice Required?: No.
Pennsylvania Trespassing Law Overview
- Pennsylvania’s statutes covering trespassing are lengthy, and sometimes use cumbersome verbiage.
- All genuine trespassing crimes in Pennsylvania are misdemeanors, though some related crimes covered in the same statutes are felonies.
- Pennsylvania has extensive laws covering the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) for surveillance
- Pennsylvania allows a broad interpretation on acceptable signage used for posting a property against trespassing.
Relevant Pennsylvania State Statutes
- Section 3501 – Definitions
- Section 3503 – Criminal trespass
- Section 3504 – Railroad protection, railroad vandalism and interference with transportation facilities
- Section 3505 – Unlawful use of unmanned aircraft
Like most states, PA has a section of definitions detailing the specifics of the language used in the following statutes. Unlike most states, PA also laboriously includes the rest of the definitions scattered throughout their attendant sections.
Normally we would cover all of these first, but since there are so many across these rather lengthy sections, we will hit 3501 – Definitions first, then proceed normally.
Also note that, due to the length of PA’s statutes, I will be interrupting them with commentary and explanation where appropriate between breaks:
Subject to additional definitions contained in subsequent provisions of this chapter which are applicable to specific provisions of this chapter, the following words or phrases when used in this chapter shall have, unless the context clearly indicates otherwise, the meanings given to them in this section:
“Occupied structure.” Any structure, vehicle or place adapted for overnight accommodation of persons, or for carrying on business therein, whether or not a person is actually present.
An important distinction from some other states with similar verbiage. An “occupied structure” in PA is really any building or vehicle intended for the lodging of persons therein (what is typically called a “dwelling”), and meets this definition whether or not someone is actually present inside at the time! A building can be “occupied” even if empty of people!
Now on to the first of Pennsylvania’s huge statutes, 3503, which covers the nuts and bolts of various forms of trespass. Be on the lookout for my commentary throughout.
3503. Criminal trespass.
(a) Buildings and occupied structures.–
(1) A person commits an offense if, knowing that he is not licensed or privileged to do so, he:
(i) enters, gains entry by subterfuge or surreptitiously remains in any building or occupied structure or separately secured or occupied portion thereof; or
(ii) breaks into any building or occupied structure or separately secured or occupied portion thereof.
(2) An offense under paragraph (1)(i) is a felony of the third degree, and an offense under paragraph (1)(ii) is a felony of the second degree.
(3) As used in this subsection:
“Breaks into.” To gain entry by force, breaking, intimidation, unauthorized opening of locks, or through an opening not designed for human access.
This is referring specifically to breaking and entering or “catburglaring” into any building or occupied structure. More commonly encountered in law as a “breaking and entering”. Here it is a felony in any case.
(b) Defiant trespasser.–
(1) A person commits an offense if, knowing that he is not licensed or privileged to do so, he enters or remains in any place as to which notice against trespass is given by:
(i) actual communication to the actor;
(ii) posting in a manner prescribed by law or reasonably likely to come to the attention of intruders;
(iii) fencing or other enclosure manifestly designed to exclude intruders;
(iv) notices posted in a manner prescribed by law or reasonably likely to come to the person’s attention at each entrance of school grounds that visitors are prohibited without authorization from a designated school, center or program official;
(v) an actual communication to the actor to leave school grounds as communicated by a school, center or program official, employee or agent or a law enforcement officer; or
(vi) subject to paragraph (3), the placement of identifying purple paint marks on trees or posts on the property which are:
(A) vertical lines of not less than eight inches in length and not less than one inch in width;
(B) placed so that the bottom of the mark is not less than three feet from the ground nor more than five feet from the ground; and
(C) placed at locations that are readily visible to a person approaching the property and no more than 100 feet apart.
(2) Except as provided in paragraph (1)(v), an offense under this subsection constitutes a misdemeanor of the third degree if the offender defies an order to leave personally communicated to him by the owner of the premises or other authorized person. An offense under paragraph (1)(v) constitutes a misdemeanor of the first degree. Otherwise it is a summary offense.
(3) Paragraph (1)(vi) shall not apply in a county of the first class or a county of the second class.
Defiant trespass is a crime in which the trespasser enters any place they are not supposed to be in disregard of a personal notice, a posted sign of some type, a fence, or other enclosure surrounding the property, or specific, purple markings on trees or posts.
This is a charge that will net you a third degree misdemeanor in most cases, or a first degree misdemeanor if you commit the crime in flagrant disregard of school officials on school grounds.
(b.1) Simple trespasser.–
(1) A person commits an offense if, knowing that he is not licensed or privileged to do so, he enters or remains in any place for the purpose of:
(i) threatening or terrorizing the owner or occupant of the premises;
(ii) starting or causing to be started any fire upon the premises; or
(iii) defacing or damaging the premises.
(2) An offense under this subsection constitutes a summary offense.
A sort of catch all for trespassing with malicious intent that does not fit the other categories, simple trespass is trespassing done with the intent to threaten, terrorize, or otherwise harass an owner or occupant of said premises being trespassed upon, damaging or defacing said premises, or starting a fire. Yikes! Doing so is a summary offense.
Next, a more specific type of trespass, agricultural trespass.
(b.2) Agricultural trespasser.–
(1) A person commits an offense if knowing that he is not licensed or privileged to do so he:
(i) enters or remains on any agricultural or other open lands when such lands are posted in a manner prescribed by law or reasonably likely to come to the person’s attention or are fenced or enclosed in a manner manifestly designed to exclude trespassers or to confine domestic animals; or
(ii) enters or remains on any agricultural or other open lands and defies an order not to enter or to leave that has been personally communicated to him by the owner of the lands or other authorized person.
(2) An offense under this subsection shall be graded as follows:
(i) An offense under paragraph (1)(i) constitutes a misdemeanor of the third degree and is punishable by imprisonment for a term of not more than one year and a fine of not less than $250.
(ii) An offense under paragraph (1)(ii) constitutes a misdemeanor of the second degree and is punishable by imprisonment for a term of not more than two years and a fine of not less than $500 nor more than $5,000.
(3) For the purposes of this subsection, the phrase “agricultural or other open lands” shall mean any land on which agricultural activity or farming as defined in section 3309 (relating to agricultural vandalism) is conducted or any land populated by forest trees of any size and capable of producing timber or other wood products or any other land in an agricultural security area as defined in the act of June 30, 1981 (P.L.128, No.43), known as the Agricultural Area Security Law, or any area zoned for agricultural use.
(b.3) Agricultural biosecurity area trespasser.–
(1) A person commits an offense if the person does any of the following:
(i) Enters an agricultural biosecurity area, knowing that the person is not licensed or privileged to do so.
(ii) Knowingly or recklessly fails to perform reasonable measures for biosecurity that by posted notice are required to be performed for entry to the agricultural biosecurity area.
(3) (i) Except as set forth in subparagraph (iii), an offense under paragraph (1)(i) constitutes a misdemeanor of the third degree.
(ii) Except as set forth in subparagraph (iii), an offense under paragraph (1)(ii) constitutes a summary offense.
(iii) If an offense under paragraph (1) causes damage to or death of an animal or plant within an agricultural biosecurity area, the offense constitutes a misdemeanor of the first degree.
(4) For purposes of this subsection, the terms “agricultural biosecurity area” and “posted notice” shall have the meanings given to them in 3 Pa.C.S. § 2303 (relating to definitions).
Entering unlawfully onto any farm or area for the containment of livestock or any biosecurity area, be it graded for animals or plants, is a second or third degree misdemeanor according to the method of entry and the deterrents in place.
(c) Defenses.–It is a defense to prosecution under this section that:
(1) a building or occupied structure involved in an offense under subsection (a) of this section was abandoned;
(2) the premises were at the time open to members of the public and the actor complied with all lawful conditions imposed on access to or remaining in the premises; or
(3) the actor reasonably believed that the owner of the premises, or other person empowered to license access thereto, would have licensed him to enter or remain.
(c.1) Applicability.–This section shall not apply to an unarmed person who enters onto posted property for the sole purpose of retrieving a hunting dog.
(d) Definition.–As used in this section, the term “school grounds” means any building of or grounds of any elementary or secondary publicly funded educational institution, any elementary or secondary private school licensed by the Department of Education, any elementary or secondary parochial school, any certified day-care center or any licensed preschool program.
Lastly, there are affirmative defenses for the charge of trespassing under any of these paragraphs, namely that a building being entered was abandoned, that the premises being entered was open to the public (business, public space, etc.), and the person entering was otherwise complying with all conditions of lawful behavior or the person trespassing sincerely believed that the owner or owner’s authorized agent would have licensed them to enter or stay on the premises.
Affirmative defenses are not something that will allow you to duck out of trespassing charges; they must be heard in court after you have been charged. Also note the specific definition of “school grounds” as used above.
Next, on to another lengthy and specific section, this time covering railroads:
3504. Railroad protection, railroad vandalism and interference with transportation facilities.
(a) Damage to railroad or delay of railroad operations.–
(1) A person commits an offense if, without lawful authority or the railroad carrier’s consent, he causes damage to property that he knows or reasonably should have known to be railroad property, including the railroad right-of-way or yard, or causes a delay in railroad operations by an act including, but not limited to:
(i) Knowingly, purposefully or recklessly disrupting, delaying or preventing the operation of any train, jitney, trolley or any other facility of transportation.
(ii) Driving or operating a recreational vehicle or nonrecreational vehicle, including, but not limited to, a bicycle, motorcycle, snowmobile, all-terrain vehicle, car or truck.
(iii) Knowingly, purposefully or recklessly damaging railroad property, railroad infrastructure or railroad equipment or using railroad property to access adjoining property to commit acts of vandalism, theft or other criminal acts.
(2) An offense under this subsection constitutes a misdemeanor of the third degree.
The specific paragraphs of interest are (a)(1)(i) and (a)(1)(ii), since trespass of any kind on foot or by any other vehicle will certainly entail a delay of railroad operations, and prevents operation of related railway equipment. Doing so is a third degree misdemeanor.
(b) Stowaways prohibited.–
(1) A person commits an offense if, without lawful authority or the railroad carrier’s consent, he rides on the outside of a train or inside a passenger car, locomotive or freight car, including a box car, flatbed or container.
(2) An offense under this subsection constitutes a misdemeanor of the third degree.
This part at least is simple. Stowing away on any part of any train constitutes a third degree misdemeanor. Come on! Don’t do that.
Some relevant definitions below. I have abridged this section to include only the most relevant. Make sure you investigate Pennsylvania’s full set of definitions in this statute if, for whatever reason, you have cause to be moving around very near railroad property often.
(c) Definitions.–As used in this section, the following words and phrases shall have the meanings given to them in this subsection:
“Railroad.” Any form of nonhighway ground transportation that runs on rails or electromagnetic guideways, including, but not limited to:
“Railroad property.” All tangible property owned, leased or operated by a railroad carrier, including a right-of-way, track, bridge, yard, shop, station, tunnel, viaduct, trestle, depot, warehouse, terminal or any other structure, appurtenance or equipment owned, leased or used in the operation of any railroad carrier, including a train, locomotive, engine, railroad car, work equipment, rolling stock or safety device. The term does not include a railroad carrier’s administrative building or offices, office equipment or intangible property such as computer software or other information.
“Right-of-way.” The track or roadbed owned, leased or operated by a railroad carrier which is located on either side of its tracks and which is readily recognizable to a reasonable person as being railroad property or is reasonably identified as such by fencing or appropriate signs.
“Yard.” A system of parallel tracks, crossovers and switches where railroad cars are switched and made up into trains and where railroad cars, locomotives and other rolling stock are kept when not in use or when awaiting repairs
Next up, the final section on our examination of Pennsylvania’s trespass laws, this one covering the use of drones for surveillance, an increasingly common sight in the law books of many states and municipalities. Be warned!
3505. Unlawful use of unmanned aircraft.
(a) Offense defined.–A person commits the offense of unlawful use of unmanned aircraft if the person uses an unmanned aircraft intentionally or knowingly to:
(1) Conduct surveillance of another person in a private place.
(2) Operate in a manner which places another person in reasonable fear of bodily injury.
(3) Deliver, provide, transmit or furnish contraband in violation of section 5123 (relating to contraband) or 61 Pa.C.S. § 5902 (relating to contraband prohibited).
(b) Grading.–The offense of unlawful use of unmanned aircraft shall be graded as follows:
(1) An offense under subsection (a)(1) or (2) is a summary offense punishable by a fine of up to $300.
(2) An offense under subsection (a)(3) is a felony of the second degree.
(c) Exceptions for law enforcement officers.–Subsection (a) shall not apply if the conduct proscribed under subsection (a) is committed by any of the following:
(2) the person did not knowingly or intentionally conduct surveillance of another person in a private place.
(f) Definitions.–As used in this section, the following words and phrases shall have the meanings given to them in this subsection unless the context clearly indicates otherwise:
“Bodily injury.” As defined in section 2301 (relating to definitions).
“Private place.” A place where a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy.
“Surveillance.” Using or causing to be used an unmanned aircraft to observe, record or invade the privacy of another.
“Unmanned aircraft.” An aircraft that is operated without the possibility of direct human intervention from within or on the aircraft.
If you operate a drone and can, using its optical or other sensors, see someone in their private place, meaning a place where they should have a reasonable expectation of privacy as defined in (f) above, you can be fined.
There is an exception for all LEOs and most other officials, as well as people who did not intend to conduct surveillance on a person in their private place. Once again, you’ll need to prove that in court.
Pennsylvania is a mostly agreeable state when it comes to trespass laws, and they are easy enough to understand and logical assuming you can burrow through their lengthy and laborious wording.
The state is also noteworthy for its strong laws against trespassing on railroad property and use of drones to surveil people in places where they have an expectation of privacy.
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.