When it comes to trespassing, you’ll want to know the law for at least two reasons: one, so that you can better protect your own property, whatever it is, against trespassers, and two, so that you can avoid trespassing on the property of someone else.
Sure, you might not have any intention of doing so, but ignorance is never an excuse under the law!
If you are out bushwacking, hunting, camping, four-wheeling, or doing anything else you want to make sure you stay off of property where you aren’t allowed to be.
But things get a little more complicated when you consider that each of the 50 states has its own spin on trespassing laws. Some are short and sweet, others are incredibly intricate.
Penalties vary, and some states are surprisingly harsh when it comes to punishments.
Concerning Pennsylvania, though lengthy they aren’t terribly difficult to understand, but there are several special statutes that your average citizen needs to know about. We will help you make sense of them in this article.
Pennsylvania Trespassing Law Overview
- Trespassing is typically a misdemeanor charge in Pennsylvania, though certain specific instances and closely related crimes may be felonies.
- Fencing or signage is a good idea for protecting property against trespassers, and Pennsylvania is pretty liberal when it comes to the type of signage owners may use.
- Pennsylvania has extensive and highly specific statutes covering the use of drones and other modes of electronic observation when it comes to private property.
What Constitutes Trespassing in Pennsylvania?
Pennsylvania defines trespassing as entering or remaining in any place where a person does not have specific license or privilege under the law to do so.
This could be something like ignoring a specific, direct warning to stay away and off of the property, ignoring a posted sign, circumventing a fence or wall or any number of other notices or obstacles.
The vast majority of Pennsylvania’s lengthy statutes concerning trespassing are covered in section 3503, one which we believe referencing multiple times throughout this article.
The most relevant excerpt concerning the definition of criminal trespassing is below for your convenience:
3503. Criminal trespass.(b) Defiant trespasser.–(1) A person commits an offense if, knowing that he is not licensed or privileged to do so, he enters or remains in any place as to which notice against trespass is given by:(i) actual communication to the actor;(ii) posting in a manner prescribed by law or reasonably likely to come to the attention of intruders;(iii) fencing or other enclosure manifestly designed to exclude intruders;(iv) notices posted in a manner prescribed by law or reasonably likely to come to the person’s attention at each entrance of school grounds that visitors are prohibited without authorization from a designated school, center or program official;(v) an actual communication to the actor to leave school grounds as communicated by a school, center or program official, employee or agent or a law enforcement officer; or(vi) subject to paragraph (3), the placement of identifying purple paint marks on trees or posts on the property which are:(…)(2) Except as provided in paragraph (1)(v), an offense under this subsection constitutes a misdemeanor of the third degree if the offender defies an order to leave personally communicated to him by the owner of the premises or other authorized person. An offense under paragraph (1)(v) constitutes a misdemeanor of the first degree. Otherwise it is a summary offense.…
Does Pennsylvania Require “No Trespassing” Signs?
No, not specifically for protection under the law but posting no-trespassing signs is highly recommended if you want to protect your property.
This is because a trespasser who does so in defiance of appropriately posted signage will be facing a higher charge of trespassing than trespassing upon land or other property without posted signage.
Is Fencing Required to Protect Property?
No, not required, but again highly recommended if signage is not going to be used.
A trespasser who circumvents fencing, walls, or any other enclosures or barriers to entry when trespassing will be facing a more serious charge.
Also note that you don’t have to use both: one or the other is sufficient. For specific information on fencing make sure you refer back to section 3503.
What Other Marks Indicate “No Trespassing”?
Paint markings. Pennsylvania is one of a few states that allow the use of purple paint markings to post the perimeter of a property against trespassers.
Laws of this type get their casual name from the fact that purple paint is usually specified for the purpose, the orange or other colors are sometimes allowed.
In Pennsylvania’s case, vertical lines of purple paint must be placed around the perimeter of a property no more than 100 feet apart and no less than 3 feet I know more than 5 feet off the ground on trees or posts.
Done in this way, these paint markings can take the place of signs or fencing for the purposes of posting property against trespassers.
Once again we will refer back to a part of section 3503 for the specific requirements for using purple paint marks in this way:
3503. Criminal trespass.(…)(vi) subject to paragraph (3), the placement of identifying purple paint marks on trees or posts on the property which are:(A) vertical lines of not less than eight inches in length and not less than one inch in width;(B) placed so that the bottom of the mark is not less than three feet from the ground nor more than five feet from the ground; and(C) placed at locations that are readily visible to a person approaching the property and no more than 100 feet apart.(…)
Can Solicitors Ignore “No Trespassing” Signs?
No, although this will sometimes lead to problems in suburban and urban areas.
If a solicitor is able to walk right up to your front door in your neighborhood and ask you for your time to make their pitch, presentation, ask you some questions, or whatever then they generally won’t have too much to fear from the law unless you really want to press the matter.
However, it should be noted that solicitors may never attempt to circumvent a closed and locked gate or other barriers to entry on your property, and even a small picket fence with locked gate is sufficient to deter them.
Another thing is solicitation in rural areas, which is generally treated with somewhat more content if a solicitor ignores posted signage warning against trespassing.
Can Trespassing Result in Arrest in Pennsylvania?
Definitely. trespassing is typically a misdemeanor in Pennsylvania, but it can be a serious misdemeanor and a few specific types of trespassing are felonies.
Any such instance can result in arrest, and even for the most basic and at least severe types of trespassing substantial fines are likely to be levied.
Can You Take Someone to Court for Trespassing?
Yes, you can. Especially in the case of repeat offenses, aggravated trespassing and defiance of signage or fencing, or trespassing that results in damage to property or land, or is seen as threatening to you or your family you certainly have grounds for taking someone to court.
Once again, we prefer back to section 3503 of the statutes, this time for the definition of simple trespass.
Counterintuitively, simple trespass entails trespassing that is arguably more severe by intention. Read for yourself below:
3503. Criminal trespass.(…)(b.1) Simple trespasser.–(1) A person commits an offense if, knowing that he is not licensed or privileged to do so, he enters or remains in any place for the purpose of:(i) threatening or terrorizing the owner or occupant of the premises;(ii) starting or causing to be started any fire upon the premises; or(iii) defacing or damaging the premises.(2) An offense under this subsection constitutes a summary offense.…
Special Instances of Trespassing in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania has several statutes covering special instances of trespassing, but most notable for our purposes is section 3505, which details the crime and penalty for the unlawful use of unmanned aircraft, particularly for observation or recording purposes.
3505. Unlawful use of unmanned aircraft.(a) Offense defined.–A person commits the offense of unlawful use of unmanned aircraft if the person uses an unmanned aircraft intentionally or knowingly to:(1) Conduct surveillance of another person in a private place.(2) Operate in a manner which places another person in reasonable fear of bodily injury.(3) Deliver, provide, transmit or furnish contraband in violation of section 5123 (relating to contraband) or 61 Pa.C.S. § 5902 (relating to contraband prohibited).(b) Grading.–The offense of unlawful use of unmanned aircraft shall be graded as follows:(1) An offense under subsection (a)(1) or (2) is a summary offense punishable by a fine of up to $300.(2) An offense under subsection (a)(3) is a felony of the second degree.(…)
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