Tennessee State Trespassing Laws

Although sometimes thought of as a lesser offense, in every single state throughout the US trespassing is still an actual crime, one complete with penalties and potential incarceration as punishment.

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You’ll definitely want to know the trespassing law if you want to keep uninvited guests off of your own property, and also if you want to avoid accusations of trespassing whenever you are out on your many adventures.

But to complicate matters each state, as is customary, sort of puts their own spin on the specifics of the trespassing laws within their borders.

Tennessee, for instance, is notable for having simple, straightforward, and pretty reasonable laws concerning trespassing.

However, there are specific requirements for paint markings and posting signage, as well as a section in one of the statutes covering trespassing via flying a drone over someone’s property.

Keep reading and we will tell you everything you need to know.

Tennessee Trespassing Law Overview

  • All forms of trespassing are misdemeanors in Tennessee.
  • You’ll generally want to have no-trespassing signs or paint markings around the perimeter of your property to protect it from trespassers.
  • Tennessee does consider the operation of a drone over someone else’s property to be trespassing in some instances.

What Constitutes Trespassing in Tennessee?

Tennessee has two major statutes that define trespassing and slightly different ways. Generally, if you are on someone else’s property without explicit permission or legal authority, you are trespassing.

More specifically, you can see the definitions below for criminal trespass and aggravated criminal trespass.

Criminal trespass is simply entering or remaining upon any property or portion of a property belonging to someone else without the consent of the owner.

Aggravated criminal trespass is doing the same thing knowing that the person doing so lacks permission, does so in a way that will cause alarm or harm, and damages fencing, locks or other property while trespassing.

You can read it both for yourself in section 39-14-405 and 39-14-406:

39-14-405. Criminal trespass.
(a) A person commits criminal trespass if the person enters or remains on property, or any portion of property, without the consent of the owner. Consent may be inferred in the case of property that is used for commercial activity available to the general public or in the case of other property when the owner has communicated the owner’s intent that the property be open to the general public.
(b) It is a defense to prosecution under this section that:
(1) A person entered or remained on property that the person reasonably believed to be property for which the owner’s consent to enter had been granted;
(2) The person’s conduct did not substantially interfere with the owner’s use of the property; and
(3) The person immediately left the property upon request.
39-14-406. Aggravated criminal trespass.
(a) A person commits aggravated criminal trespass who enters or remains on property when:
(1) The person knows the person does not have the property owner’s effective consent to do so; and
(2) The person intends, knows, or is reckless about whether such person’s presence will cause fear for the safety of another; or
(3) The person, in order to gain entry to the property, destroys, cuts, vandalizes, alters or removes a gate, signage, fencing, lock, chain or other barrier designed to keep trespassers from entering the property.
(b) For purposes of this section, “enter” means intrusion of the entire body.
(c) Aggravated criminal trespass is a Class B misdemeanor unless it was committed in a habitation, in a building of any hospital, or on the campus, property, or facilities of any private or public school, in which event it is a Class A misdemeanor.

Does Tennessee Require “No Trespassing” Signs?

No. That being said, posting your property with signage is a very good idea in Tennessee.

This is because no-trespassing signage basically prevents an affirmative defense against charges of trespassing as detailed below in 39-14-405.

Basically, no one can say that they didn’t know they didn’t have permission or that they thought they had permission prior to trespassing.

However, note that Tennessee does have specific posting requirements, namely the property must be posted with no-trespassing signage visible at all major points of ingress to the property and the signs are of a type and size reasonably likely to come to the attention of any person entering the property.

Read the excerpt below:

39-14-405. Criminal trespass.

(c) The defenses to prosecution set out in subsection (b) shall not be applicable to a person violating this section if the property owner:
(1) Posts the property with signs that are visible at all major points of ingress to the property being posted and the signs are reasonably likely to come to the attention of a person entering the property; or

Is Fencing Required to Protect Property?

No. Fencing, like signage, is a good idea for protecting a property against trespassers.

But unlike signage it applies to a different statute for qualifying aggravated criminal trespassing, namely in case a trespasser circumvents the fencing by damaging it or by cutting any lock on a fence gate or other entry ways to gain access.

What Other Marks Indicate “No Trespassing”?

Paint marks. Tennessee is one of a handful of states that allow the use of paint markings instead of posted signage for posting the bounds of a property against would-be trespassers.

These laws, commonly called purple paint laws because the specified paint color is most often purple, also have their own specific posting requirements.

In Tennessee’s case, the requirements for purple paint marks are more specific than for signage which is something of a bummer.

Specifically, you’ll also have to post a sign detailing the fact that purple paint markings indicate “no trespassing.” It is a whole thing!

Read the excerpt from 39-14-405 below for yourself, and pay attention because you’ll have to follow it to the letter if you want the law to back you up regarding these markings:

39-14-405. Criminal trespass.

(c) The defenses to prosecution set out in subsection (b) shall not be applicable to a person violating this section if the property owner:
(2) Places identifying purple paint marks on trees or posts on the property; provided, that at least one (1) sign is posted at a major point of ingress to the property in a manner that is reasonably likely to come to the attention of a person entering the property and that the sign includes language describing that the use of purple paint signifies “no trespassing.” If purple paint is used, then purple paint must be vertical lines of not less than eight inches (8″) in length and not less than one inch (1″) in width; placed so that the bottom of the mark is not less than three feet (3′) or more than five feet (5′) from the ground; and placed at locations that are reasonably likely to come to the attention of a person entering the property.

Can Solicitors Ignore “No Trespassing” Signs?

No, if the property is indeed posted according to the standards set forth in the Tennessee State statutes.

If your property is not posted, you’ll have a hard time making a claim that a solicitor was trespassing, particularly if they knock on your front door and then leave when you tell them to.

However, if your property is posted and especially if it is enclosed with a fence and a locked gate or other barriers to entry they definitely cannot approach your home without risking charges.

Do note, however, the solicitors tend to be pretty bold and in populated areas and neighborhoods, they may ignore a no-trespassing or no-soliciting sign.

Can Trespassing Result in Arrest in Tennessee?

Absolutely. Trespassing is a misdemeanor in Tennessee, but misdemeanor crimes are still crimes and you can face fines and jail terms for trespassing.

Can You Take Someone to Court for Trespassing?

Yes, you can. You can especially drag someone to court for trespassing if their actions result in damage to fencing, plants, crops, or other property, if they are a repeat offender or if they are trespassing to further any other crime such as illegal hunting or are doing so to harass you.

If you are dealing with an especially egregious trespasser make sure you contact an experienced attorney for guidance.

Special Instances of Trespassing in Tennessee

Tennessee has several laws covering special instances of trespassing, but the most notable is probably paragraph (d) under 39-14-405 covering criminal trespassing.

This paragraph specifically says that navigating an unmanned aircraft into the portion of the airspace above a person’s property that is not regulated as navigable airspace by the FAA is, in essence, trespassing and is treated accordingly.

Make sure you are careful with your drones in Tennessee!

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