California trespassing laws protect the sanctity of private property.
It is a crime to enter or remain on private property without permission and violators can be charged with trespassing under California Penal Code Section 602 PC.
Today, we’re going to take a closer look at California trespassing laws so you can make an informed decision regarding how to protect your property and family. Feel free to give us a call if you’re looking for legal help – we’ll connect you with an attorney in your area.
Let’s get started …
What Is Trespassing?
Trespassing is an area of law that is divided into three groups:
- trespass to the person
- trespass to chattels
- trespass to land
If you intentionally enter private property, you are trespassing.
If you refuse to leave private property after being asked to leave by the property owner or police officer, you are trespassing.
Note that this has to be intentional – you have to be on the property in order to interfere with it, damage it, or occupy it against the owner’s will. That includes things like going onto the property and cutting down trees or to interfere with a business on the property. Accidentally wandering onto someone else’s property isn’t trespassing, as long as you leave when asked.
California Trespassing Laws And Your Property
So, in order for a person to be trespassing, they have to know that the property is private. If you’re living in a neighborhood with a bunch of other homes and yards, that’s pretty obvious. However, it’s not a bad idea to post a “No Trespassing” sign anyway. You may want to post a sign in front of your garage or driveway stating that it’s private parking and listing the name of a tow company – otherwise you can’t have the vehicle towed even if it’s blocking you in.
If you’re out in a rural area, you’ll need to have “No Trespassing” signs posted at least every 1/3 mile around the exterior of your property and at any roads or paths onto your property. If you don’t have those signs, it’s not trespassing unless you ask them to leave and they don’t.
If you live in LA, you can file a No Trespass Authorization Form with the LAPD. Without that form, they can’t actually arrest a trespasser – they can only kick them off your property. You’ll have to file a new form every year. Also, note that in order for the form to be valid, you’ll need to post signs that forbid trespassing, soliciting, and loitering. The sign should state that violators will be prosecuted and must include the relevant code section – LAMC § 41.24.
Once you have your signs up and your form filed, the police will be able to arrest and charge trespassers on your property.
You should never engage with a trespasser on your own unless it’s absolutely necessary – it’s always safer to let the police handle the matter.
What If I’ve Been Charged With Trespassing?
If you’ve been charged with trespassing, there are several defenses you may use to fight the charges. For example, you can show that you had permission to be on the property – maybe you were invited for an event or something similar. If you’re being charged with interfering with a business on the property, you can show that you did not actually do that. In some cases, your right to be on private property may be protected even if it would otherwise be considered trespass; most commonly, that comes up when unions stage protests or pickets.
You can also prove that you didn’t know the land was private; perhaps the owner didn’t have signs up at the right intervals and you simply wandered onto the land by accident.
Some minor instances of trespassing will be treated as infractions and you’ll end up paying a small fine. If you’re convicted of criminal trespass, however, it’s a misdemeanor and you may face up to 6 months in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000. If you’re convicted of “aggravated trespass” (which involves threatening someone and then showing up at their property seemingly intending to make good on the threat), that’s a felony with up to 3 years of jail time, depending on your criminal record.
If you’ve been charged with trespassing, we can help match you with an experienced local attorney to defend you and your rights.