Virginia: Fast Facts on Trespassing
- Trespass Law Covers: Buildings, Dwellings, Land
- Crime Class: Misdemeanor, some specific violations are felonies.
- Fencing Required?: No.
- Signage Required?: Yes, for protection of law on certain properties.
- Verbal Notice Required?: No, but counts as notice against entry.
Virginia Trespassing Law Overview
- Virginia has many statutes covering trespassing, but the majority are compact, and easy to read and understand.
- Virginia has several specialized trespassing statutes covering everything from hunting to shining a spotlight on someone’s pasture lands.
- Virginia has Peeping Tom and surveillance laws.
- Virginia has a special statute covering drone operations over private property.
Relevant Virginia State Statutes
- 18.2-78. What not deemed dwelling house
- 18.2-119. Trespass after having been forbidden to do so; penalties
- 18.2-119.1. Validity of signs forbidding trespass; penalty
- 18.2-120. Instigating, etc., such trespass by others; preventing service to persons not forbidden to trespass
- 18.2-121. Entering property of another for purpose of damaging it, etc.
- 18.2-121.1. Permitting certain animals to run at large
- 18.2-121.2. Trespass by spotlight on agricultural land
- 18.2-121.3. Trespass with an unmanned aircraft system; penalty
- 18.2-125. Trespass at night upon any cemetery
- 18.2-126. Violation of sepulture; defilement of a dead human body; penalties
- 18.2-128. Trespass upon church or school property
- 18.2-130. Peeping or spying into dwelling or enclosure
- 18.2-130.1. Peeping or spying into dwelling or occupied building by electronic device; penalty
- 18.2-131. Trespass upon licensed shooting preserve
- 18.2-132. Trespass by hunters and fishers
- 18.2-132.1. Trespass by hunters using dogs; penalty
- 18.2-133. Refusal of person on land, etc., of another to identify himself
- 18.2-134. Trespass on posted property
- 18.2-134.1. Method of posting lands
- 18.2-135. Destruction of posted signs; posting land of another
- 18.2-136. Right of certain hunters to go on lands of another; carrying firearms or bows and arrows prohibited
The Virginia state statutes covering trespassing only have a single section with relevant definitions, and it is really more of an anti-definition! Section 18.2-78 defines what a dwelling house is not for purposes of the chapter:
18.2-78. What not deemed dwelling house
No outhouse, not adjoining a dwelling house, nor under the same roof, although within the curtilage thereof, shall be deemed a part of such dwelling house, within the meaning of this chapter, unless some person usually lodge therein at night.
So this is a little bit odd. No outhouse, adjoining structure or outbuilding is considered to be a dwelling house for the purposes of trespassing unless a person typically sleeps there at night, in which case it is granted de facto status as a dwelling house.
In short, if someone sleeps inside a building like a shed on the regular, it is considered a dwelling house. Otherwise it is not.
Next up is trespass after being forbidden:
18.2-119. Trespass after having been forbidden to do so; penalties
If any person without authority of law goes upon or remains upon the lands, buildings or premises of another, or any portion or area thereof, after having been forbidden to do so, either orally or in writing, by the owner, lessee, custodian, or the agent of any such person, or other person lawfully in charge thereof, or after having been forbidden to do so by a sign or signs posted by or at the direction of such persons or the agent of any such person or by the holder of any easement or other right-of-way authorized by the instrument creating such interest to post such signs on such lands, structures, premises or portion or area thereof at a place or places where it or they may be reasonably seen, or if any person, whether he is the owner, tenant or otherwise entitled to the use of such land, building or premises, goes upon, or remains upon such land, (…) he shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor. This section shall not be construed to affect in any way the provisions of §§ 18.2-132 through 18.2-136.
Once you have been specifically forbidden verbally or in writing to stay off of a specific parcel of private property, or out of a privately owned building by the owner or the owner’s authorized agent and you violate that order without any other legal permission you are trespassing, and is a class 1 misdemeanor.
The same also applies if you wantonly trespass on the property that is posted to forbid entry onto the premises or within.
18.2-119.1. Validity of signs forbidding trespass; penalty
If any person knowingly and intentionally posts No Trespassing signs on the land of another without the permission of a person authorized to post such signs on that land, he shall be guilty of a Class 3 misdemeanor.
One interesting Virginia law, above, makes it a class 3 misdemeanor to intentionally, illegally post “no trespassing” signs on the land of anyone else without their explicit permission. This devious bit of social engineering will see you charged with a class 3 misdemeanor.
Another interesting one is that Virginia has a specific law that makes it a crime to instigate or coax another person into trespassing, or preventing people that are not, by law, forbidden from trespassing to go on their way. Virginians leave nothing to chance when it comes to trespass law:
18.2-120. Instigating, etc., such trespass by others; preventing service to persons not forbidden to trespass
If any person shall solicit, urge, encourage, exhort, instigate or procure another or others to go upon or remain upon the lands, buildings, or premises of another, or any part, portion or area thereof, knowing such other person or persons to have been forbidden, either orally or in writing, to do so by the owner, lessee, custodian or other person lawfully in charge thereof, or knowing such other person or persons to have been forbidden to do so by a sign or signs posted on such lands, buildings, premises or part, portion or area thereof at a place or places where it or they may reasonably be seen; or if any person shall, on such lands, buildings, premises or part, portion or area thereof prevent or seek to prevent the owner, lessee, custodian, person in charge or any of his employees from rendering service to any person or persons not so forbidden, he shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.
There is not much more to say about that. Harassing, extorting, or otherwise convincing someone who has been specifically forbidden from trespassing upon a specific premises to trespass on said premises is a class 1 misdemeanor, as is preventing any person not specifically forbidden from trespassing on that property from going about their business on the property or with persons residing thereon.
Next, a trespass statute covering trespassing specifically to inflict damage on the property being entered:
18.2-121. Entering property of another for purpose of damaging it, etc.
It shall be unlawful for any person to enter the land, dwelling, outhouse or any other building of another for the purpose of damaging such property or any of the contents thereof or in any manner to interfere with the rights of the owner, user or the occupant thereof to use such property free from interference.
Any person violating the provisions of this section shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor. However, if a person intentionally selects the property entered because of the race, religious conviction, color or national origin of the owner, user or occupant of the property, the person shall be guilty of a Class 6 felony, and the penalty upon conviction shall include a term of confinement of at least six months, 30 days of which shall be a mandatory minimum term of confinement
Entering unlawfully onto the property of anyone else with the specific intention of damaging that property or interfering with the rights of the owner or any other occupant of that property in any way is a class 1 misdemeanor, unless someone does so with racially-motivated intent, in which case the charges are upgraded to a Class 6 felony.
There is even a trespassing law that covers allowing your pasture animals to run rampant during quarantine conditions, a mishap that will see you charged with another misdemeanor:
18.2-121.1. Permitting certain animals to run at large
The owner or manager of any animal mentioned in § 55-316, who shall knowingly permit such animal to run at large in any county or portion thereof, under quarantine, shall be deemed to be guilty of a Class 4 misdemeanor.
And yet we still have more specialized trespassing laws, this next one covers spotlighting pasture or cropland without the written permission of the owner:
18.2-121.2. Trespass by spotlight on agricultural land
If any person shall willfully use a spotlight or similar lighting apparatus to cast a light upon private property used for livestock or crops without the written permission of the person in legal possession of such property, he shall be guilty of a Class 3 misdemeanor.
The prohibition of this section shall not apply to light cast by (i) permanently installed outdoor lighting fixtures, (ii) headlamps on vehicles moving in normal travel on public or private roads, (iii) railroad locomotives or rolling stock being operated on the tracks or right-of-way of a railroad company, (iv) aircraft or watercraft, (v) apparatus used by employees of any public utility in maintaining the utility’s lines and equipment, (vi) emergency medical services vehicles used by emergency medical services personnel or fire apparatus used by members of fire departments in the performance of their official duties, (vii) apparatus used by any law-enforcement officer in the performance of his official duties, or (viii) farm machinery or motor vehicles being used in normal farming operations.
Barring you are merely driving by in your vehicle along a designated roadway, using any flashlight, spotlight, headlamp or any other lighting apparatus to shine a light up on private property that is used for rearing livestock or the growing of crops without the explicit written permission of the owner or the person and legal charge of that property is a class 3 misdemeanor.
The next statute covers drone usage in Virginia, and specifically prohibits flying too close to a dwelling house:
18.2-121.3. Trespass with an unmanned aircraft system; penalty
A. Any person who knowingly and intentionally causes an unmanned aircraft system to (i) enter the property of another and come within 50 feet of a dwelling house (a) to coerce, intimidate, or harass another person or (b) after having been given actual notice to desist, for any other reason, or (ii) take off or land in violation of current Federal Aviation Administration Special Security Instructions or UAS Security Sensitive Airspace Restrictions is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.
B. This section shall not apply to any person who causes an unmanned aircraft system to enter the property as set forth in subsection A if (i) consent is given to the entry by any person with legal authority to consent or by any person who is lawfully present on such property or (ii) such person is authorized by federal regulations to operate an unmanned aircraft system and is operating such system in an otherwise lawful manner and consistent with federal regulations.
You may not fly any drone within 50 feet of someone’s dwelling with the intention to coerce or harass them, or barring that after you have been given specific notice, verbally or in writing, to stop flying your drone close to their house.
Unless you were doing this with legal sanction from the government or some authority violating this statute will see you charged with a class 1 misdemeanor.
Next up, trespassing in a cemetery. At night. Spooky:
18.2-125. Trespass at night upon any cemetery
If any person, without the consent of the owner, proprietor or custodian, go or enter in the nighttime, upon the premises, property, driveways or walks of any cemetery, either public or private, for any purpose other than to visit the burial lot or grave of some member of his family, he shall be guilty of a Class 4 misdemeanor.
Assuming you are not visiting the grave of a family member by moonlight, stay out of cemeteries, burial plots and other repositories of the dead, be they public or private for any reason. Doing otherwise will see you charged with a class 4 misdemeanor.
Now on to trespassing on church or school facilities:
18.2-128. Trespass upon church or school property
A. Any person who, without the consent of some person authorized to give such consent, goes or enters upon, in the nighttime, the premises or property of any church or upon any school property for any purpose other than to attend a meeting or service held or conducted in such church or school property, shall be guilty of a Class 3 misdemeanor.
B. It shall be unlawful for any person, whether or not a church member or student, to enter upon or remain upon any church or school property in violation of (i) any direction to vacate the property by a person authorized to give such direction or (ii) any posted notice which contains such information, posted at a place where it reasonably may be seen. Each time such person enters upon or remains on the posted premises or after such direction that person refuses to vacate such property, it shall constitute a separate offense.
A violation of this subsection shall be punishable as a Class 1 misdemeanor, except that any person, other than a parent, who violates this subsection on school property with the intent to abduct a student shall be guilty of a Class 6 felony.
C. For purposes of this section: (i) “school property” includes a school bus as defined in § 46.2-100 and (ii) “church” means any place of worship and includes any educational building or community center owned or leased by a church
Going on to any church or school property at nighttime without a specific purpose related to the school or church, or remaining upon the premises of a school or church at any time after being forbidden or asked to leave by authorized personnel or doing so in defiance of a posted notice is a misdemeanor, unless you do so with the intent of abducting a student, in which case it is a felony.
Now we move on to the first of VA’s “Peeping Tom” laws, which covers peering into a dwelling or other enclosure using the eye:
18.2-130. Peeping or spying into dwelling or enclosure
A. It shall be unlawful for any person to enter upon the property of another and secretly or furtively peep, spy or attempt to peep or spy into or through a window, door or other aperture of any building, structure, or other enclosure of any nature occupied or intended for occupancy as a dwelling, whether or not such building, structure or enclosure is permanently situated or transportable and whether or not such occupancy is permanent or temporary, or to do the same, without just cause, upon property owned by him and leased or rented to another under circumstances that would violate the occupant’s reasonable expectation of privacy.
B. It shall be unlawful for any person to use a peephole or other aperture to secretly or furtively peep, spy or attempt to peep or spy into a restroom, dressing room, locker room, hotel room, motel room, tanning bed, tanning booth, bedroom or other location or enclosure for the purpose of viewing any nonconsenting person who is totally nude, clad in undergarments, or in a state of undress exposing the genitals, pubic area, buttocks or female breast and the circumstances are such that the person would otherwise have a reasonable expectation of privacy.
C. The provisions of this section shall not apply to a lawful criminal investigation or a correctional official or local or regional jail official conducting surveillance for security purposes or during an investigation of alleged misconduct involving a person committed to the Department of Corrections or to a local or regional jail.
D. As used in this section, “peephole” means any hole, crack or other similar opening through which a person can see.
E. A violation of this section is a Class 1 misdemeanor
Being a total creep and attempting to spy on someone in their home or in any other public or private place where they have an expectation of privacy for some purpose is a misdemeanor. You definitely shouldn’t do that!
The next section covers much the same activity, only this time when you use modern technology to accomplish it:
18.2-130.1. Peeping or spying into dwelling or occupied building by electronic device; penalty
It is unlawful for any person to knowingly and intentionally cause an electronic device to enter the property of another to secretly or furtively peep or spy or attempt to peep or spy into or through a window, door, or other aperture of any building, structure, or other enclosure occupied or intended for occupancy as a dwelling, whether or not such building, structure, or enclosure is permanently situated or transportable and whether or not such occupancy is permanent or temporary, or to do the same, without just cause, upon property owned by him and leased or rented to another under circumstances that would violate the occupant’s reasonable expectation of privacy. A violation of this section is a Class 1 misdemeanor. The provisions of this section shall not apply to a lawful criminal investigation.
Planting, inserting or otherwise entering any electronic recording device into the habitation or dwelling of another person, or any other building, is a misdemeanor crime. Surreptitious recording or viewing is not okay in VA!
And now, trespass upon a licensed shooting preserve:
18.2-131. Trespass upon licensed shooting preserve
It shall be unlawful for any person to trespass on a licensed shooting preserve. Any person convicted of such trespass shall be guilty of a Class 4 misdemeanor and shall be responsible for all damage. Owners or keepers of dogs trespassing on preserves shall be responsible for all damage done by such dogs.
Just that simple. Violating this law will net you a class 4 misdemeanor charge in addition to making you responsible for damages caused by your passage.
A similar law that covers hunters and fishermen specifically is next:
18.2-132. Trespass by hunters and fishers
Any person who goes on the lands, waters, ponds, boats or blinds of another to hunt, fish or trap without the consent of the landowner or his agent shall be deemed guilty of a Class 3 misdemeanor.
If you don’t have permission to be on someone else’s lands or waterways don’t dare be hunting or fishing on them! Aside from being rude it is a crime!
Trespass by hunters specifically using dogs is in its own section:
18.2-132.1. Trespass by hunters using dogs; penalty
Any person who intentionally releases hunting dogs on the lands of another which have been posted in accordance with the provisions of § 18.2-134.1 to hunt without the consent of the landowner or his agent is guilty of a Class 3 misdemeanor. A second or subsequent violation of this section within three years is a Class 1 misdemeanor and, upon conviction, the court shall revoke such person’s hunting or trapping license for a period of one year. The fact that hunting dogs are present on the lands of another alone is not sufficient evidence to prove that the person acted intentionally
Releasing hunting dogs on posted land in pursuit of hunting is a crime unto itself, though the statute notes that the mere presence of the dogs alone is not sufficient evidence to constitute intent.
If you do, however, have permission to be on someone’s land for the purposes of hunting, fishing or trapping, make sure you identify yourself when asked by the landowner or their authorized agent:
8.2-133. Refusal of person on land, etc., of another to identify himself
Any person who goes on the lands, waters, ponds, boats or blinds of another to hunt, fish, or trap and willfully refuses to identify himself when requested by the landowner or his agent so to do shall be deemed guilty of a Class 4 misdemeanor.
If hunting on lands with permission, you must produce ID when asked, essentially. Failure to do so is a misdemeanor.
Arriving somewhat late in this chapter is a section covering trespassing on posted property specifically.
18.2-134. Trespass on posted property
Any person who goes on the lands, waters, ponds, boats or blinds of another, which have been posted in accordance with the provisions of § 18.2-134.1, to hunt, fish or trap except with the written consent of or in the presence of the owner or his agent shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.
If a land is posted “no hunting/fishing/trapping/whatever” you must obey the signs. Doing so without explicit written permission of the landowner is a serious misdemeanor.
Speaking of posting on property…
18.2-134.1. Method of posting lands
A. The owner or lessee of property described in § 18.2-134 may post property by (i) placing signs prohibiting hunting, fishing or trapping where they may reasonably be seen; or (ii) placing identifying paint marks on trees or posts at each road entrance and adjacent to public roadways and public waterways adjoining the property. Each paint mark shall be a vertical line of at least two inches in width and at least eight inches in length and the center of the mark shall be no less than three feet nor more than six feet from the ground or normal water surface. Such paint marks shall be readily visible to any person approaching the property.
B. The type and color of the paint to be used for posting shall be prescribed by the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.
For a property to be considered posted against activity, it must feature signs prohibiting the activity placed in such a way that they are reasonably likely to be seen by intruders or instead marks can be made instead according to the criteria above. The color and type of paint are specified according to VA’s Dept. of Game and Inland Fisheries.
Continuing on the subject of signs, don’t tear them up when they are on other people’s property:
18.2-135. Destruction of posted signs; posting land of another
Any person who shall mutilate, destroy or take down any “posted,” “no hunting” or similar sign or poster on the lands or waters of another, or who shall post such sign or poster on the lands or waters of another, without the consent of the landowner or his agent, shall be deemed guilty of a Class 3 misdemeanor and his hunting, fishing, and trapping license and privileges shall be revoked for a period of one to five years from the date of conviction.
Don’t try to be slick and take down any posted signage prohibiting any activity or trespassing. Doing so is a misdemeanor and will get your relevant licenses revoked.
Lastly, hunters do have some specific rights when it comes to entering the private property of others in quest of collecting their hunting animals:
18.2-136. Right of certain hunters to go on lands of another; carrying firearms or bows and arrows prohibited
Fox hunters and coon hunters, when the chase begins on other lands, may follow their dogs on prohibited lands, and hunters of all other game, when the chase begins on other lands, may go upon prohibited lands to retrieve their dogs, falcons, hawks, or owls but may not carry firearms or bows and arrows on their persons or hunt any game while thereon. The use of vehicles to retrieve dogs, falcons, hawks, or owls on prohibited lands shall be allowed only with the permission of the landowner or his agent. Any person who goes on prohibited lands to retrieve his dogs, falcons, hawks, or owls pursuant to this section and who willfully refuses to identify himself when requested by the landowner or his agent to do so is guilty of a Class 4 misdemeanor.
How to Obtain a Trespassing Order in Virginia
If someone is trespassing on your property in Virginia, and you have proof of it, contact your local police or sheriff’s department. They can handle investigating or, in the case of a known individual, making contact with them directly. They can also guide you through the process of taking care of any necessary paperwork to issue the order of no trespass.
If you suspect someone’s trespassing on your property but can’t prove it, you may need to reach out to your local district attorney’s office for a temporary restraining order to the same effect.
Rules for Posting No-Trespassing Signs in Virginia
Virginia has no specific posting requirements for no-trespassing signage, but it’s always a good idea to put it up at regular intervals around the perimeter of your property: it serves as notification to everyone that entry is forbidden, which makes things easier for you if you do have to do trespasser.
Any generic no-trespassing sign will do, so pick something big, bold and durable.
Virginia seems to have an intimidating amount of trespassing laws, but the majority of them are bite-sized and easy to understand even with a casual reading. Barring some surprisingly intricate regs on hunting and fishing access, there are no curveballs awaiting the unwary wanderer in Virginia.
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.