California Trespassing Laws

California trespassing laws protect the sanctity of private property. 

Trespassing Laws in California

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.

16 replies
  1. Derek Horizumi says:

    If a family member has been evicted (unlawful detainer)from the family property, afterwards, the evicted family member was given permission to use that address for mailing purposes and later the evicted family member and the property owner/ family member agreed to let the evicted family member return to the family property? Afterwards, the owner changes his/her mind and calls the police and the family member is cited by the police for trespassing, then 3 days later is asked to come back to clean something up on the property, having permission to be on the property(sent by email), 24hours later the owner/ family member sends a second email, a notice to disregard the first email, that gave permission to be on the property? Is the evicted family member guilty of trespassing, due to the indecisiveness of the owner/ family member?

    Reply
    • SFVB Attorney Referral Service says:

      Derek,

      We would be more than happy to help you, but we need a little more information. Please give us a call at 818-340-4529 so we can help.

      Reply
  2. Anita says:

    A mother owns a home. One of the daughter’s friends is married with two kids and had to leave her home in Missouri. Mother doesn’t know the family but stated they could stay at her house rent free while they look for a job and get a place to live. The family has gotten comfortable at the Mother’s house, worked a temp job for 2 weeks but doesn’t look like they are moving any time soon. They don’t clean up after themselves and are damaging the Mother’s house. Can the Mother treat them as unwelcomed guests/trespassers who are not leaving as agreed upon and get law enforcement to escort them out?

    Reply
    • SFVB Attorney Referral Service says:

      Anita,

      These can be tricky situations. It’s always good to start with clear communication, so we recommend discussing the situation with the family staying temporarily. If they refuse to listen and insist on staying, it may be time to hire an attorney for help.

      We will be happy to connect you with an attorney who may be able to provide up to 30 minutes of free consultation if you’re interested.

      Give us a call at 818-340-4529

      Reply
    • Gg says:

      Not without a written notice to terminate guest status. 30-days should be provided to avoid legal issues like a squatter. Depends what priveledges they were given while there- they can claim legal tenancy dependendibg on how long they were there & if any bills were paid by them on a regular basis with no rental contract signed.

      Reply
    • Attorney Referral Service of San Fernando Valley says:

      Richard,

      The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution requires police officers to obtain a search warrant from a court of law before conducting a search. With that said, police officers are not required to obtain a warrant in order to knock on your door.

      You may want to talk to a real estate attorney regarding property gates, installing a speaker box, and buying a dog and placing signs on your property.

      Let us know if we can help!

      Reply
  3. Rafael says:

    Can the power or utility companies (the Gas Company or third party vendors) lawfully enter into private property without prior notice to the property owner?

    If there is a locked gate on the driveway, and one of these utility employees hop over it to enter into your backyard and work on the power lines… would this be considered trespassing?

    Reply
    • SFVBA Attorney Referral Service says:

      Rafael,

      Some properties have an easement, also known as a right-of-way, that grants utility companies access to specific areas of your property. This ensures utility companies are able to access their equipment and resolve urgent matters, like gas leaks or power outages.

      Reply
    • Anonymous says:

      attach to your deed a notarized ‘”RIGHT TO PASS BY OWNER PERMISSION ONLY SECTION 813 OF THE CIVIL CODE ” send a copy to the utility companies and post sign stating section 813 cv
      if the utility company do not have a easement then they are trespasser and you are in control of your property .

      Reply
  4. Anonymous says:

    Hi,

    I know of an ongoing neighbor dispute. One neighbor is building an apartment complex on his own land, but is building on the other neighbor’s land (knowingly). The victim has acquired a criminal trespass restraining order and today the builder violated it. The builder said to police on site that they got the judge to rescind the order somehow, but their was no notice given to the victim. The builder neighbor supposedly saw the same judge that issued the restraining order in the first place, but failed to produce documents to the police when they arrived on scene… Is it possible/legal for a judge to issue this type of restraining order, then rescind the same order within a few days, and all without notifying the other party involved?

    This is happening in Northern California, in Yolo County.

    Reply
    • SFVBA Attorney Referral Service says:

      For the most accurate answer, the property owner should contact the agency that issued the order and confirm its status.

      Reply
    • SFVBA Attorney Referral Service says:

      The right to assemble under the First Amendment and Article 1, § 3 of the California Constitution generally doesn’t extend to private property. Privately-owned shopping malls are a common exception to this, as most offer common areas where the public can meet, congregate, and engage in other activities typical of a public forum. However, shopping malls can still enact reasonable regulations and restrictions on assemblies.

      If you have been charged with a crime relating to the participation of an assembly, we may be able to help you find an attorney and schedule a free consultation.

      Reply
  5. AlamedaResident says:

    I live in an apartment building and my next door neighbors own another apartment building next door to us. They frequently trespass onto our property to use our driveway, because they often park their big SUVs in their own driveway forcing them to swerve into our driveway (which is adjacent, separated by a fence that ends a few feet away from the sidewalk) to get around the obstruction. This driveway is not their property and they have been intentionally using it for years to get around obstructions they create in their own driveway. Furthermore, it creates a collision hazards for tenants coming out of our carport as we have no way of seeing them from behind the fence, and they will rapidly swerve out from behind it into our driveway sometimes while we’re pulling out, narrowly almost causing an accident. I’ve documented them doing this on video multiple times and even contacted our local police department, (I live in Alameda, California) but the officer replied telling me that they’re legally allowed to block their own driveway, that they’re not blocking their driveway (which doesn’t make sense, since they clearly art) and that them using our driveway without our permission every day is not trespassing. Can someone please explain to me how that can possibly be? How are my neighbors not trespassing by using our driveway without our permission? PS we have no “easement” and they have absolutely no legal right to this property whatsoever. The driveway is private property owned by my landlord who has never given them permission to use it. Why did the police tell me they’re not trespassing? Are they wrong? Do I need a lawyer?

    Reply
    • SFVBA Attorney Referral Service says:

      Hi there,

      This sounds frustrating. It sounds like you might need to discuss the matter with an attorney. If you’d like, we can help schedule a free consultation (up to 30 minutes) with an attorney who has experience dealing with issues like this. To get started, give us a call at (818) 340-4529 or fill out this form and tell us a little more about your situation.

      Reply

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