Rhode Island Trespassing Laws: What You Need to Know

Rhode Island: Fast Facts on Trespassing

  • Trespass Law Covers: Buildings, Dwellings, Land, Vehicles
  • Crime Class: Misdemeanor, Felony
  • Fencing Required?: No.
  • Signage Required?: Sometimes, see below.
  • Verbal Notice Required?: No, but does qualify statute Willful Trespass (11-44-26).
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Rhode Island Trespassing Law Overview

  • Rhode Island is notable for significant fines, sentencing, and even considerable amounts of community service for some types of trespassing.
  • Rhode Island also affords under law punishment even in the case of failed attempted trespass or illicit entry.
  • Rhode Island is very liberal when it comes to wording of posted signage, with the only major requirement being the presence of the word “posted” prior to the prohibition.

Relevant Rhode Island State Statutes

  • 11-8-1.1. Attempted breaking and entering
  • 11-8-2 Unlawful breaking and entering of dwelling house
  • 11-8-2.2 Breaking and entering of a dwelling when resident on premises
  • 11-8-2.3. Breaking and entering of dwelling house of persons 60 years of age or older when resident on premises
  • 11-8-3 Entry of building or ship with felonious intent
  • 11-44-1 Vandalism – Obstruction of lawful pursuits
  • 11-44-26. Willful trespass – Remaining on land after warning – Exemption for tenants holding over
  • 11-44-26.1 Mandatory minimum fine for willful trespass within school buildings
  • 11-44-28 Trespass upon premises of private recreational facilities
  • 11-44-30. Posting of signs – Types

Rhode Island does not feature a section on definitions relevant to the rest of the chapter, so unless otherwise specified elsewhere in the statutes or in the sections themselves, all words are assumed to have their common meaning.

We begin in 11-8-1.1 with attempted breaking and entering, a statute that might be relevant in case one is investigating a structure presumed abandoned that turns out not to be:

11-8-1.1. Attempted breaking and entering.

(a) Whoever attempts to commit the breaking and entering of any structure as set out in §§ 11-8-2, 11-8-2.1, 11-8-2.2, 11-8-2.3, 11-8-3, 11-8-4 or 11-8-5.1 by doing any overt act toward the commission of the offense while in the curtilage of the structure, but fails in its perpetration, shall, unless otherwise provided, suffer the same punishment which might have been imposed if the attempted offense had been committed.

(b) An “overt act” is defined as any act of an individual by which the individual physically attempts to gain entrance into a type of structure set forth in the sections listed in subsection (a) of this section.


This seems redundant considering the rest of the sections are highly specific about the activities they prohibit, but look closely at (a): notice how it says offense while in the “curtilage” of the structure?

The curtilage is basically any part of the property that surrounds the structure itself, and if you have crossed a fence or some other barrier to get their it may be easily construed that one is now attempting to overtly gain access to the structure itself since it was manifestly enclosed in a way to exclude intruders in the first place.

11-8-2. Unlawful breaking and entering of dwelling house.

(a) Every person who shall break and enter at any time of the day or night any dwelling house or apartment, whether the dwelling house or apartment is occupied or not, or any outbuilding or garage attached to or adjoining any dwelling house, without the consent of the owner or tenant of the dwelling house, apartment, building, or garage, shall be imprisoned for not less than two (2) years and not more than ten (10) years for the first conviction, and for the second and subsequent conviction shall be imprisoned for not less than four (4) years and not more than fifteen (15) years, or fined not more than ten thousand dollars ($10,000), or both.

(b) Every person convicted pursuant to subsection (a) of this section shall be ordered to make restitution to the victim of the offense or to perform up to five hundred (500) hours of public community restitution work, or both, or any combination of them approved by the sentencing judge. The court may not waive the obligation to make restitution and/or public community restitution work. The restitution and/or public community restitution work shall be in addition to any fine or sentence which may be imposed and not in lieu of the fine or sentence.


Normally I do not include most breaking and entering law in these articles since they are often distinct from trespassing, but in this case I felt inclined to since Rhode Island’s is notable for including all outbuildings, and also for its steep fines and prison terms for violation.

If you are not 100% sure you are allowed access into a dwelling house as defined above under the law, don’t dare risk it; up to 10 years in prison for the first offense!

11-8-2.2. Breaking and entering of a dwelling when resident on premises.

(a) Every person who shall break and enter into any dwelling house or apartment without the consent of the owner or tenant at a time when the resident or residents of the dwelling house or apartment are on the premises, after having been previously convicted of such an offense, shall be imprisoned for not less than one year and not more than ten (10) years and shall not be afforded the provisions of suspension or deferment of sentence nor probation and may in addition be fined not more than five thousand dollars ($5,000).

(b) Every person convicted pursuant to subsection (a) of this section shall be ordered to make restitution to the victim of the offense, or to perform up to five hundred (500) hours of public community restitution work, or both, or any combination of them approved by the sentencing judge. The court may not waive the obligation to make restitution and/or public community restitution work. Restitution and/or public community restitution work shall be in addition to any fine or sentence which may be imposed and not in lieu of the fine or sentence; provided, that nothing contained in this section shall be construed to require the payment of restitution while the convicted person is imprisoned.


Same as above, for the most part, only the dwelling house must specifically be occupied under this statute. The penalty is similarly severe, and is up to 10 years in prison along with a $5,000 fine.

11-8-2.3. Breaking and entering of dwelling house of persons 60 years of age or older when resident on premises.

(a) Every person who shall break and enter any dwelling house or apartment, without the consent of the owner or tenant at a time when a resident of the dwelling house or apartment who is sixty (60) years of age or older is on the premises, shall be imprisoned for not less than four (4) years and not more than twenty (20) years for the first conviction, and for the second and subsequent convictions shall be imprisoned for not less than six (6) years and not more than twenty (20) years, and may in addition be fined not more than fifteen thousand dollars ($15,000) for a first conviction and not more than twenty thousand dollars ($20,000) for second and subsequent convictions.

(b) Every person convicted pursuant to subsection (a) of this section shall be ordered to make restitution to the victim of the offense, or to perform up to five hundred (500) hours of public community restitution work, or both, or any combination of them imposed by the sentencing judge. The court may not waive the obligation to make restitution and/or public community restitution work. Restitution and/or public community restitution work shall be in addition to any fine or sentence which may be imposed and not in lieu of the fine or sentence; provided, that nothing contained in this section shall be construed to require the payment of restitution while the convicted person is imprisoned.


If one were to “break and enter” a dwelling house when the occupant, aged 60 years or older, is present at the time you might be facing 20 years (!) in prison, and a fine of $15,000 for the first offense.

Not a joke, and lest any of you think I am being overly cautious you can refer back to the first section in this set of statutes; the bounds for “attempted entry” and the requirement the attempted entry be treated as successful entry should give anyone pause if you are not 100% certain you have a right to be somewhere, especially near someone’s dwelling.

11-8-3. Entry of building or ship with felonious intent.

Every person who, with intent to commit murder, sexual assault, robbery, arson or larceny, shall enter any dwelling house or apartment at any time of the day or night, or who with such intent shall, during the daytime, enter any other building, or ship or vessel, shall be imprisoned not more than ten (10) years, or be fined not more than five hundred dollars ($500), or both.


If it can be reasonably proven beyond doubt that you entered any building or ship illegally with intent to commit murder, sexual assault, robbery, arson, or larceny will result in you facing a sentence in prison of up to 10 years or a $500 fine, potentially both.

11-44-1. Vandalism – Obstruction of lawful pursuits.

(a) Every person who shall willfully and maliciously or mischievously injure or destroy or write upon, paint, or otherwise deface the property of another, or obstruct the use of the property of another, or obstruct another in the prosecution of his or her lawful business or pursuits, in any manner, the punishment of which is not specifically provided for by statute, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and shall be fined not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000) and/or be imprisoned not exceeding one year, and shall be liable to make restitution for the injury or damage caused. Every person convicted of a first offense under this section shall be required to perform up to one hundred (100) hours of public community restitution work, and for a second or subsequent conviction shall be required to perform up to two hundred (200) hours of public community restitution work. Provided, further that every person who shall willfully and maliciously or mischievously injure or destroy or write upon, paint or otherwise deface government property, or obstruct the use of that property, shall be punished in accordance with this statute. Jurisdiction for matters involving government property shall be concurrent with the district court or the respective city or town police or municipal court.

(b) Where the provisions of The Domestic Violence Prevention Act, chapter 29 of title 12, are applicable, the penalties for violation of this section shall also include the penalties as provided in § 12-29-5.


The loose, broad wording of this section makes it likely it could apply to simple trespass as easily as anything else, potentially resulting in a $1,000 fine or a year in jail.

“Mischievous” obstruction or injury of property, or obstruction of a person’s use thereof, could be almost anything if you are caught where you are not supposed to be.

11-44-26. Willful trespass – Remaining on land after warning – Exemption for tenants holding over.

(a) Every person who willfully trespasses or, having no legitimate purpose for his or her presence, remains upon the land of another or upon the premises or curtilage of the domicile of any person legally entitled to the possession of that domicile, after having been forbidden to do so by the owner of the land or the owner’s duly authorized agent or a person legally entitled to the possession of the premises, shall be punished by a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year, or both.

(b) This section shall not apply to tenants or occupants of residential premises who, having rightfully entered the premises at the commencement of the tenancy or occupancy, remain after that tenancy or occupancy has been or is alleged to have been terminated. The owner or landlord of the premises may recover possession only through appropriate civil proceedings.

(c) Where the provisions of The Domestic Violence Prevention Act, chapter 29 of title 12, are applicable, the penalties for violation of this section shall also include the penalties as provided in § 12-29-5.


Assuming you are not a legal tenant or leasee of the property in question, remaining on the property of another after being told to leave or vacate is another charge that fill result in a $1,000 fine, a year in the pokey, or both.

This is notable because the termination or expiration of a tenancy does not apply here, and in the aftermath of such a period of tenancy the owner/landlord must seek appropriate civil remedy in court to evict and remove them.

11-44-26.1. Mandatory minimum fine for willful trespass within school buildings.

Every person who willfully trespasses or, having no legitimate purpose for his or her presence, or having been suspended from attendance at any school, remains within a building used for a public or private school, college, university, junior college, or other public or private educational institution, or on the school grounds or campus grounds of any public or private school, college, university, junior college, or other public or private educational institution after having been forbidden so to do by a local or state police officer or a guard, security officer, or an official of the school, college, university, junior college or other educational institution, shall for the first offense be punished at least by a fine of not less than fifty dollars ($50.00) nor more than five hundred dollars ($500), and shall for the second offense be punished by a fine of not less than one hundred dollars ($100) nor more than five hundred dollars ($500), and for the third or any subsequent offense by a fine of not less than one hundred fifty dollars ($150) nor more than five hundred dollars ($500), and may in addition, be imprisoned not exceeding six (6) months.


If you have no legitimate purpose being on school grounds or, having been told to vacate and stay away by any school personnel, then enter or remain upon said school grounds you can be charged fines, with the fine amount growing for subsequent violations and potentially result in jail time; up to 6 months.

11-44-28. Trespass upon premises of private recreational facilities.

Every person who willfully trespasses and remains upon the land or premises of private recreational facilities, after having been forbidden to do so by the owner or the person having control over the facility, shall be punished by a fine not exceeding five hundred dollars ($500); provided, the existing rights of fishers shall not be infringed. “Facilities” as used in this section means private property used for games, sports, or entertainment, including, without limitation, golf courses, beaches, and bathing facilities.


A catchall section for trespass upon any privately-owned place of recreation to include fisheries, violation will result in a fine of up to $500. Note that it specifically mentions that the existing rights of fishers will not be infringed as a result of this section.

11-44-30. Posting of signs – Types.

Whenever any signs are required to be posted to indicate no trespassing, shooting, trapping, fishing, or the like, it shall be sufficient to post the land conspicuously with clear and legible signs which signs can be affixed with cloth, metal, or paperboard, or by conspicuously stencil-painting the word “Posted.”

Rhode Island requires very little in the way of specifics for posted signage for them to have the force of law. Any sign for the purposes of notifying persons that no trespassing, hunting, shooting, four-wheeling or whatever must only be stencil painted with the word “Posted.”

Conclusion

Rhode Island’s trespassing laws are easy enough to follow, but some broad wording and fairly liberal definitions mean that it is not out of the question one could be, under the right circumstances, be charged with a significant crime for a comparatively minor act.

This is most relevant around dwellings, especially those that are fenced or otherwise have their curtilage enclosed.

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