Wisconsin Trespassing Laws: What You Need to Know

Wisconsin: Fast Facts on Trespassing

  • Trespass Law Covers: Buildings, Dwellings, Land
  • Crime Class: Misdemeanor, Felony
  • Fencing Required?: No.
  • Signage Required?: Yes, for certain properties.
  • Verbal Notice Required?: Yes, in absence of signage or to prevent entry with firearm.
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Wisconsin Trespassing Law Overview

  • The bulk of Wisconsin’s state statutes is confusingly written for laymen, and have definitions and exceptions throughout.
  • Wisconsin trespass laws are notable for extensive restrictions on firearms being carried on land and other premises in various circumstances.
  • Most forms of trespassing in Wisconsin constitute a misdemeanor, but trespass onto power facilities can be a felony.

Relevant Wisconsin State Statutes

  • 943.13 Trespass to land
  • 943.14 Criminal trespass to dwellings
  • 943.143 Criminal trespass to an energy provider property
  • 943.145 Criminal trespass to a medical facility
  • 943.15 Entry onto a construction site or into a locked building, dwelling or room

The bulk of Wisconsin’s trespass laws are wrapped up in a lengthy, intricate, and plumb confusingly written section covering trespass upon land. Contained in this section is a variety of definitions, exceptions and special provisions covering all kinds of particular situations.

This is not easy reading so, in the interest of making this a little easier to digest, I will be adding my commentary in -etween breaks in the text. Nothing to do now, except get started:

943.13 Trespass to land.

(1e) In this section:

(aL) “Carry” has the meaning given in s. 175.60 (1) (ag).

(ar) “Dwelling unit” means a structure or that part of a structure which is used or intended to be used as a home, residence or sleeping place by one person or by 2 or more persons maintaining a common household, to the exclusion of all others.

(az) “Implied consent” means conduct or words or both that imply that an owner or occupant of land has given consent to another person to enter the land.

(b) “Inholding” means a parcel of land that is private property and that is surrounded completely by land owned by the United States, by this state or by a local governmental unit or any combination of the United States, this state and a local governmental unit.

(bm) “Licensee” means a licensee, as defined in s. 175.60 (1) (d), or an out-of-state licensee, as defined in s. 175.60 (1) (g).

(c) “Local governmental unit” means a political subdivision of this state, a special purpose district in this state, an instrumentality or corporation of the political subdivision or special purpose district or a combination or subunit of any of the foregoing.

(cm) “Nonresidential building” includes a nursing home as defined in s. 50.01 (3), a community-based residential facility as defined in s. 50.01 (1g), a residential care apartment complex as defined in s. 50.01 (6d), an adult family home as defined in s. 50.01 (1), and a hospice as defined in s. 50.90 (1).

(cr) “Open land” means land that meets all of the following criteria:

1. The land is not occupied by a structure or improvement being used or occupied as a dwelling unit.

2. The land is not part of the curtilage, or is not lying in the immediate vicinity, of a structure or improvement being used or occupied as a dwelling unit.

3. The land is not occupied by a public building.

4. The land is not occupied by a place of employment.


“Open land” is any land that is unimproved, contains no structures used as dwellings or residences, and is distinctly not the surrounding land or “yard” of a residential building or dwelling.


(c) “Out-of-state licensee” has the meaning given in s. 175.60 (1) (g).

(d) “Place of employment” has the meaning given in s. 101.01 (11).

(e) “Private property” means real property that is not owned by the United States, this state or a local governmental unit.

(h) “Special event” means an event that is open to the public, is for a duration of not more than 3 weeks, and either has designated entrances to and from the event that are locked when the event is closed or requires an admission.

(1m) Whoever does any of the following is subject to a Class B forfeiture:

(a) Enters any enclosed, cultivated or undeveloped land of another, other than open land specified in par. (e) or (f), without the express or implied consent of the owner or occupant.

(am) Enters any land of another that is occupied by a structure used for agricultural purposes without the express or implied consent of the owner or occupant.

(b) Enters or remains on any land of another after having been notified by the owner or occupant not to enter or remain on the premises. This paragraph does not apply to a licensee or out-of-state licensee if the owner’s or occupant’s intent is to prevent the licensee or out-of-state licensee from carrying a firearm on the owner’s or occupant’s land.


Entering or remaining upon any agricultural land or undeveloped land other than open land without express permission of the rightful occupant of the land will subject you to a class B forfeiture, as will remaining on the land of anyone else who has specifically notified you to stay off the property.


(c)

1. While carrying a firearm, enters or remains at a residence that the actor does not own or occupy after the owner of the residence, if he or she has not leased it to another person, or the occupant of the residence has notified the actor not to enter or remain at the residence while carrying a firearm or with that type of firearm. In this subdivision, “residence,” with respect to a single-family residence, includes the residence building and the parcel of land upon which the residence building is located, and “residence,” with respect to a residence that is not a single-family residence, does not include any common area of the building in which the residence is located or any common areas of the rest of the parcel of land upon which the residence building is located.

1m. While carrying a firearm, enters or remains in a common area in a building, or on the grounds of a building, that is a residence that is not a single-family residence if the actor does not own the residence or does not occupy any part of the residence, if the owner of the residence has notified the actor not to enter or remain in the common area or on the grounds while carrying a firearm or with that type of firearm. This subdivision does not apply to a part of the grounds of the building if that part is used for parking and the firearm is in a vehicle driven or parked in that part.

2. While carrying a firearm, enters or remains in any part of a nonresidential building, grounds of a nonresidential building, or land that the actor does not own or occupy after the owner of the building, grounds, or land, if that part of the building, grounds, or land has not been leased to another person, or the occupant of that part of the building, grounds, or land has notified the actor not to enter or remain in that part of the building, grounds, or land while carrying a firearm or with that type of firearm. This subdivision does not apply to a part of a building, grounds, or land occupied by the state or by a local governmental unit, to a privately or publicly owned building on the grounds of a university or college, or to the grounds of or land owned or occupied by a university or college, or, if the firearm is in a vehicle driven or parked in the parking facility, to any part of a building, grounds, or land used as a parking facility.

3. While carrying a firearm, enters or remains at a special event if the organizers of the special event have notified the actor not to enter or remain at the special event while carrying a firearm or with that type of firearm. This subdivision does not apply, if the firearm is in a vehicle driven or parked in the parking facility, to any part of the special event grounds or building used as a parking facility.

4. While carrying a firearm, enters or remains in any part of a building that is owned, occupied, or controlled by the state or any local governmental unit, excluding any building or portion of a building under s. 175.60 (16) (a), if the state or local governmental unit has notified the actor not to enter or remain in the building while carrying a firearm or with that type of firearm. This subdivision does not apply to a person who leases residential or business premises in the building or, if the firearm is in a vehicle driven or parked in the parking facility, to any part of the building used as a parking facility.

5. While carrying a firearm, enters or remains in any privately or publicly owned building on the grounds of a university or college, if the university or college has notified the actor not to enter or remain in the building while carrying a firearm or with that type of firearm. This subdivision does not apply to a person who leases residential or business premises in the building or, if the firearm is in a vehicle driven or parked in the parking facility, to any part of the building used as a parking facility.


In short, entering in or upon, or remaining in or upon, any place with a firearm or specific type of firearm after having been notified by an authorized person not to do so will subject you to a class B forfeiture.

Notification can take the form of verbal or specific written communication, or posted signs.


(e) Enters or remains on open land that is an inholding of another after having been notified by the owner or occupant not to enter or remain on the land.

(f) Enters undeveloped private land from an abutting parcel of land that is owned by the United States, this state or a local governmental unit, or remains on such land, after having been notified by the owner or occupant not to enter or remain on the land.


It is also trespassing to enter or remain upon any open land that is the inholding of another person after being told to stay off of it, as is entering any private land from an adjacent parcel that is owned by any governmental entity.


(1s) In determining whether a person has implied consent to enter the land of another a trier of fact shall consider all of the circumstances existing at the time the person entered the land, including all of the following:

(a) Whether the owner or occupant acquiesced to previous entries by the person or by other persons under similar circumstances.

(b) The customary use, if any, of the land by other persons.

(c) Whether the owner or occupant represented to the public that the land may be entered for particular purposes.

(d) The general arrangement or design of any improvements or structures on the land.


Implied consent is determined by the above criteria.

If you have a long-standing history of use and access to a privately owned parcel, you might have a case for ducking trespassing charges if the owner of the land suddenly changes their mind, and tries to mudsuck you with a trespassing accusation.


(2)

(am) A person has received notice from the owner or occupant within the meaning of sub. (1m) (b), (e) or (f) if he or she has been notified personally, either orally or in writing, or if the land is posted. Land is considered to be posted under this paragraph under either of the following procedures:

1. If a sign at least 11 inches square is placed in at least 2 conspicuous places for every 40 acres to be protected. The sign must provide an appropriate notice and the name of the person giving the notice followed by the word “owner” if the person giving the notice is the holder of legal title to the land and by the word “occupant” if the person giving the notice is not the holder of legal title but is a lawful occupant of the land. Proof that appropriate signs as provided in this subdivision were erected or in existence upon the premises to be protected prior to the event complained of shall be prima facie proof that the premises to be protected were posted as provided in this subdivision.

2. If markings at least one foot long, including in a contrasting color the phrase “private land” and the name of the owner, are made in at least 2 conspicuous places for every 40 acres to be protected.


The requirements for posting land are in the above paragraphs. Notable requirements are the overall size of the sign and the name of the owner or legal occupant of the land, followed by the title, “owner” or “occupant”.


(bm)

1. In this paragraph, “ sign” means a sign that states a restriction imposed under subd. 2. that is at least 5 inches by 7 inches.

2.

a. For the purposes of sub. (1m) (c) 1m., an owner of a residence that is not a single-family residence has notified an individual not to enter or remain in a part of that building, or on the grounds of that building, while carrying a firearm or with a particular type of firearm if the owner has posted a sign that is located in a prominent place near all of the entrances to the part of the building to which the restriction applies or near all probable access points to the grounds to which the restriction applies and any individual entering the building or the grounds can be reasonably expected to see the sign.

am. For the purposes of sub. (1m) (c) 2., 4., and 5., an owner or occupant of a part of a nonresidential building, the state or a local governmental unit, or a university or a college has notified an individual not to enter or remain in a part of the building while carrying a firearm or with a particular type of firearm if the owner, occupant, state, local governmental unit, university, or college has posted a sign that is located in a prominent place near all of the entrances to the part of the building to which the restriction applies and any individual entering the building can be reasonably expected to see the sign.

b. For the purposes of sub. (1m) (c) 2., an owner or occupant of the grounds of a nonresidential building or of land has notified an individual not to enter or remain on the grounds or land while carrying a firearm or with a particular type of firearm if the owner or occupant has posted a sign that is located in a prominent place near all probable access points to the grounds or land to which the restriction applies and any individual entering the grounds or land can be reasonably expected to see the sign.

c. For the purposes of sub. (1m) (c) 3., the organizers of the special event have notified an individual not to enter or remain at the special event while carrying a firearm or with a particular type of firearm if the organizers have posted a sign that is located in a prominent place near all of the entrances to the special event and any individual attending the special event can be reasonably expected to see the sign.


Posting requirements for the barring of firearms from other properties are in (2)(a) through (2)(c) above. Generally, a sign posted at all probable access points to the property or building is sufficient.


(3) Whoever erects on the land of another signs which are the same as or similar to those described in sub. (2) (am) without obtaining the express consent of the lawful occupant of or holder of legal title to such land is subject to a Class C forfeiture.


Posting signs on any property without legal permission or right is a crime in itself, a Class C forfeiture in Wisconsin.


(3m) An owner or occupant may give express consent to enter or remain on the land for a specified purpose or subject to specified conditions and it is a violation of sub. (1m) (a) or (am) for a person who received that consent to enter or remain on the land for another purpose or contrary to the specified conditions.

(4) Nothing in this section shall prohibit a representative of a labor union from conferring with any employee provided such conference is conducted in the living quarters of the employee and with the consent of the employee occupants.

(4m)

(am) This section does not apply to any of the following:

1. A person entering the land, other than the residence or other buildings or the curtilage of the residence or other buildings, of another for the purpose of removing a wild animal as authorized under s. 29.885 (2), (3) or (4).

2. A hunter entering land that is required to be open for hunting under s. 29.885 (4m) or 29.889 (7m).

3. A person entering or remaining on any exposed shore area of a stream as authorized under s. 30.134.


(5) Any authorized occupant of employer-provided housing shall have the right to decide who may enter, confer and visit with the occupant in the housing area the occupant occupies.


The exceptions to this section are above in (4)(m) through (4)(am)(5): Generally, if you have permission from the owner of posted land to be on that land for a specific purpose, you still do not have blanket permission to be on it for any other purpose.

Whew. Glad that is over. Did you catch all that? It is a good idea to read that one a few times until you have it well in hand. Next is Wisconsin’s statute on criminal trespass in dwellings, a far more succinct section than the previous one on land:

943.14 Criminal trespass to dwellings

(1) In this section, “dwelling” means a structure or part of a structure that is used or intended to be used as a home or residence by one or more persons to the exclusion of all others. For the purposes of this section, a dwelling meets that definition regardless of whether the dwelling is currently occupied by a resident.

(2) Whoever intentionally enters or remains in the dwelling of another without the consent of some person lawfully upon the premises or, if no person is lawfully upon the premises, without the consent of the owner of the property that includes the dwelling, under circumstances tending to create or provoke a breach of the peace, is guilty of a Class A misdemeanor.


Not much to this one. Entering any structure that people reside in as their personal, private space without explicit permission is a class A misdemeanor.

Now on to a more serious type of trespassing, which is trespassing on the property of any energy provider:

943.143 Criminal trespass to an energy provider property.

(1) In this section:

(a) “Energy provider” means any of the following:

1. A public utility under s. 196.01 (5) (a) that is engaged in any of the following:

a. The production, transmission, delivery, or furnishing of heat, power, or light.

b. The transmission or delivery of natural gas.

2. A transmission company under s. 196.485 (1) (ge).

3. A cooperative association organized under ch. 185 for the purpose of producing or furnishing heat, light, or power for its members.

4. A wholesale merchant plant under s. 196.491 (1) (w), except that “wholesale merchant plant” includes an electric generating facility or an improvement to an electric generating facility that is subject to a leased generation contract, as defined in s. 196.52 (9) (a) 3.

5. decommissioned nuclear power plant.

(b) “Energy provider property” means property that is part of an electric generation, distribution, or transmission system or part of a natural gas distribution system and that is owned, leased, or operated by an energy provider.

(2) Whoever intentionally enters an energy provider property without lawful authority and without the consent of the energy provider that owns, leases, or operates the property is guilty of a Class H felony.


Boom. No mincing words, here. If you enter any property related to the production, transport or storage of any of the utilities listed above you are guilty of a felony. Not a misdemeanor. Stay off of all energy provider property and away from any of their installations, especially posted ones!

In section 943.145 we can see Wisconsin’s law covering trespass on or in a medical facility. This is another mercifully short one:

943.145 Criminal trespass to a medical facility.

(1) In this section, “medical facility” means a hospital under s. 50.33 (2) or a clinic or office that is used by a physician licensed under ch. 448 and that is subject to rules promulgated by the medical examining board for the clinic or office that are in effect on November 20, 1985.

(2) Whoever intentionally enters a medical facility without the consent of some person lawfully upon the premises, under circumstances tending to create or provoke a breach of the peace, is guilty of a Class B misdemeanor.

(3) This section does not prohibit any person from participating in lawful conduct in labor disputes under s. 103.53.


Generally, if you enter any hospital or clinic (which is a fairly broad definition under chapter 448) that you don’t have proper consent to be, and with intent of causing a ruckus, you’ll be breaching the proscriptions of this section and charged with a class B misdemeanor.

Lastly, we come to 943.15 which covers entry into a construction site or any locked building, dwelling or room:

943.15 Entry onto a construction site or into a locked building, dwelling or room.

(1) Whoever enters the locked or posted construction site or the locked and enclosed building, dwelling or room of another without the consent of the owner or person in lawful possession of the premises is guilty of a Class A misdemeanor.

(…)

(2) In this section:

(a) “Construction site” means the site of the construction, alteration, painting or repair of a building, structure or other work.

(b) “Owner or person in lawful possession of the premises” includes a person on whose behalf a building or dwelling is being constructed, altered, painted or repaired and the general contractor or subcontractor engaged in that work.

(c) “Posted” means that a sign at least 11 inches square must be placed in at least 2 conspicuous places for every 40 acres to be protected. The sign must carry an appropriate notice and the name of the person giving the notice followed by the word “owner” if the person giving the notice is the holder of legal title to the land on which the construction site is located and by the word “occupant” if the person giving the notice is not the holder of legal title but is a lawful occupant of the land.


Entering any construction site that is posted (with signs) or locked unlawfully is a misdemeanor, as is entering any building or dwelling. Interestingly, even entering a locked room unlawfully, absent any other restrictions and assuming permission to be in the building exists, is still a misdemeanor.

In (c) we can see the requirements for posting signs at construction sites.

Conclusion

With the exception of one mammoth section on criminal trespass upon land, Wisconsin trespassing laws are generally short, easy to understand and absent any surprises, with the possible exception of a steep felony charge for trespass upon the land or the facilities of any power supply or generation company.

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