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Trespass is knowingly entering another owners’ property or land without permission, which encroaches on the owners’ privacy or property interests. There are many laws relating to trespass.

Tort Law

Trespass to Land: If an individual physically (e.g., light or smell doesn’t count) invades an owner’s real property or causes an object or a third party to invade it, they may be liable for trespass to land. As an intentional tort, the intent is required. Instead of intent to trespass, intent to enter or remain on the land is required, no matter what the trespasser knows the land is owned by others. The owner needn’t prove that they suffer actual damages of value decreasing or property repairing, even a nominal damage claim will be permissible.

Trespass to Chattels: If someone’s right of using the legally possessed personal property is intentionally deprived or prevented, the invader is a trespasser of chattel. If the intermeddling with a chattel is harmless, it’s not trespass. Thus, actual damage is required, to cover the cost of repair or loss of rental.

Trespass to Conversion: Compared to trespass to chattels, trespass to conversion is a more serious and substantial interference. The chattels are totally controlled or destroyed by the trespasser. The harm to the possessor’s interests is so great that it may require the trespasser to pay the full value of the chattel. Mistakes of ownership or lawfulness of trespassers’ actions cannot be defenses.

Necessity: Necessity is a defense to above property torts (trespass to land, trespass to chattel, or conversion), but it isn’t absolute. The defendant is protected by the privilege of private necessity to enter the plaintiff’s property, if this is necessary to protect themself, a third party, their property, or the a third party's property from serious harm and there is no less-damaging way. The defendant is not liable for any nominal or punitive damages. If there are no actual damages, the privilege constitutes a complete defense. If there are actual damages, the defendant must pay for the damage he caused. A landowner has no right to eject or expel a trespasser or a trespasser's property to trespass as long as the emergency aroused necessity continues. If the trespasser leaves because of the landowner and then gets injured, the landowner is liable for damage to the trespasser or their property.

LiabilityA landowner has the privilege to use reasonable force to stop a trespasser’s entry onto their land. But if the landowner causes serious injury to the trespasser who doesn’t threaten the landowner with harm, the landowner will be liable for the trespasser’s injury. 

An owner is usually not liable to a trespasser who gets injured on their land, as they have no liability to exercise reasonable care to make their land safe for trespassers. Here are some exceptions; for instance, if the landowner creates artificial conditions which are highly dangerous to anticipated kids trespassing, they are liable.

Criminal Law

Larceny: Trespass is the element of larceny, which means a defendant unlawfully takes away someone’s personal property with the intent of depriving permanently at the time of taking.

Robbery: Robbery also includes trespassory taking and carrying away other’s personal property by force or threat of immediate physical harm in that person’s presence.

Property: Adverse Possession: To start the statute of limitation period, the possessor should actually trespass. Statute of limitation time period doesn’t stop running until the owner brings a suit for trespass or ejectment, while a temporary reentry by the owner is not enough to stop statute of limitation from running. 

[Last updated in August 2023 by the Wex Definitions Team]