Washington D.C.: Fast Facts on Trespassing
- Trespass Law Covers: Buildings, Dwellings, Land
- Crime Class: Misdemeanor
- Fencing Required?: No.
- Signage Required?: Only for abandoned properties if not otherwise secured.
- Verbal Notice Required?: Yes, if someone refuses to leave property.
Washington D.C. Trespassing Law Overview
- Washington D.C. laws are surprisingly clear and concise when it comes to trespassing.
- Abandoned properties must be secured or posted against entry for unlawful entry laws to have effect.
- Trespassing in D.C. is a misdemeanor.
Relevant Washington D.C. State Statutes
- Chapter 8 – 22–801. Definition and penalty
- Chapter 33 – 22–3301. Forcible entry and detainer
- Chapter 33 – 22–3302. Unlawful entry on property
- Chapter 33 – 22–3309. Destroying boundary markers
- Chapter 33 – 22–3320. Obstructing public road; removing milestones
- Chapter 33 – 22–3321. Obstructing public highway
Washington DC statutes do not have a specific section of definitions covering unlawful entry, and instead any relevant definitions are referenced elsewhere in the statutes, or contained within the individual sections.
We will begin in chapter 8, section 22 – 801. This is a burglary statute and one that is not normally covered and he’s legal breakdown articles, but whenever a burglary statute is worded in such a way that one might conceivably be charged for it in accidental circumstances for a non-forcible entry, I like to include them for completeness sake:
Chapter 8 – Burglary 22–801. Definition and penalty.
(a) Whoever shall, either in the nighttime or in the daytime, break and enter, or enter without breaking, any dwelling, or room used as a sleeping apartment in any building, with intent to break and carry away any part thereof, or any fixture or other thing attached to or connected thereto or to commit any criminal offense, shall, if any person is in any part of such dwelling or sleeping apartment at the time of such breaking and entering, or entering without breaking, be guilty of burglary in the first degree. Burglary in the first degree shall be punished by imprisonment for not less than 5 years nor more than 30 years.
(b) Except as provided in subsection (a) of this section, whoever shall, either in the night or in the daytime, break and enter, or enter without breaking, any dwelling, bank, store, warehouse, shop, stable, or other building or any apartment or room, whether at the time occupied or not, or any steamboat, canalboat, vessel, or other watercraft, or railroad car, or any yard where any lumber, coal, or other goods or chattels are deposited and kept for the purpose of trade, with intent to break and carry away any part thereof or any fixture or other thing attached to or connected with the same, or to commit any criminal offense, shall be guilty of burglary in the second degree. Burglary in the second degree shall be punished by imprisonment for not less than 2 years nor more than 15 years.
(c) In addition to any other penalty provided under this section, a person may be fined an amount not more than the amount set forth in § 22-3571.01.
You can take away from this section that any non-forcible entry, that is entering without breaking, into a dwelling that is occupied can be construed as burglary if it can be reasonably proven in court that you were there to commit some other crime.
Generally, one should not expect to be charged with this in case of simple accident, or mishap, but this being Washington D.C. (and since we are all living and some of the most litigious times in recorded history) it is better to be safe than sorry.
We will move briskly on to the next section, chapter 33, section 22-3301 which starts us off into trespass laws proper:
Chapter 33 – Trespass; Injuries to Property. 22–3301. Forcible entry and detainer.
Whoever shall forcibly enter upon any premises, or, having entered without force, shall unlawfully detain the same by force against any person previously in the peaceable possession of the same and claiming right thereto, shall be punished by imprisonment for not more than 1 year or a fine of not more than the amount set forth in § 22-3571.01, or both.
Entering unlawfully on to any premises, by force or not, and then detaining or preventing any person previously claiming legal possession of that property come is a misdemeanor, and can be punished by up to a year in jail along with a fine.
Next is a section on unlawful entry on to property:
Chapter 33 – Trespass; Injuries to Property. 22–3302. Unlawful entry on property.
(a)(1) Any person who, without lawful authority, shall enter, or attempt to enter, any private dwelling, building, or other property, or part of such dwelling, building, or other property, against the will of the lawful occupant or of the person lawfully in charge thereof, or being therein or thereon, without lawful authority to remain therein or thereon shall refuse to quit the same on the demand of the lawful occupant, or of the person lawfully in charge thereof, shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and on conviction thereof shall be punished by a fine of not more than the amount set forth in § 22-3571.01, imprisonment for not more than 180 days, or both.
The presence of a person in any private dwelling, building, or other property that is otherwise vacant and boarded-up or otherwise secured in a manner that conveys that it is vacant and not to be entered, or displays a no trespassing sign, shall be prima facie evidence that any person found in such property has entered against the will of the person in legal possession of the property.
(2) For the purposes of this subsection, the term “private dwelling” includes a privately owned house, apartment, condominium, or any building used as living quarters, or cooperative or public housing, as defined in section 3(1) of the United States Housing Act of 1937, approved August 22, 1974 (88 Stat. 654; 42 U.S.C. § 1437a(b)), the development or administration of which is assisted by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, or housing that is owned, operated, or financially assisted by the District of Columbia Housing Authority.
(b) Any person who, without lawful authority, shall enter, or attempt to enter, any public building, or other property, or part of such building, or other property, against the will of the lawful occupant or of the person lawfully in charge thereof or his or her agent, or being therein or thereon, without lawful authority to remain therein or thereon shall refuse to quit the same on the demand of the lawful occupant, or of the person lawfully in charge thereof or his or her agent, shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and on conviction thereof shall be punished by a fine of not more than the amount set forth in § 22-3571.01, imprisonment for not more than 6 months, or both.
Simply stated, if you unlawfully enter or remain upon any private property against the will of the legal owner, occupant or agent thereof, you’re committing a misdemeanor and face up to six months in jail.
Abandoned properties might be an exception, but if the property is obviously secured against entry, or has posted signage against trespassing that is still unlawful entry.
Note in paragraph 2 that the term “private” dwelling means essentially any living quarters of any kind. It has a specific definition but you can look up if you really want to, but generally speaking, in Washington D.C. a private dwelling is a place where a person is a logically expected to live or lodge, be it on a permanent or temporary basis.
Chapter 33 – Trespass; Injuries to Property. 22–3309. Destroying boundary markers.
Whoever maliciously cuts down, destroys, or removes any boundary tree, stone, or other mark or monument, or maliciously effaces any inscription thereon, either of his or her own lands or of the lands of any other person whatsoever, even though such boundary or bounded trees should stand within the person’s own land so cutting down and destroying the same, shall be fined not more than the amount set forth in § 22-3571.01 and imprisoned not exceeding 180 days.
This is a short and simple section, one that codifies the law saying that you are not allowed to cut down, destroy, remove or otherwise deface any boundary tree, boundary stone or any other mark or monument that indicates the boundary between lands. Doing so is worth a fine, and potentially up to six months in jail.
Chapter 33 – Trespass; Injuries to Property. 22–3320. Obstructing public road; removing milestones.
If any person shall alter or in any manner obstruct or encroach on a public road, or cut, destroy, deface, or remove any milestones set up on such road, or place any rubbish, dirt, logs, or make any pit or hole therein, such person may be indicted, and, upon conviction thereof before the proper court, shall be fined or imprisoned, in the discretion of the court, according to the nature of the offense.
Chapter 33 – Trespass; Injuries to Property. 22–3321. Obstructing public highway.
Any person who, without lawful authority, shall obstruct the free use of any of the public highways, which had been used and recognized as public county roads for 25 years prior to May 3, 1862, and which were thereafter duly surveyed, recorded, and declared public highways according to law, shall be subject to a fine for each offense of not less than $100 nor more than $250 and be imprisoned till the fine and the costs of suit and collection of the same are paid.
Obstructing any public roadway or public highway or obscuring or otherwise defacing any marker pertaining to them is a punishable offense that can result in a fine or imprisonment.
Washington DC’s trespassing laws are mainly concerned with entering or remaining on a property knowing you do not have legal authorization, or remaining after being told to leave.
There are also a few miscellaneous trespassing laws related to the blocking of public roadways and highways and the removal or defacing of any roadway markers or property boundary markers or monuments.