Trespassing onto another person's land can land you in two different types of legal hot water. First, there are criminal laws which make it illegal for someone to enter another person's land when expressly forbidden to do so. Second, the landowner has the right to sue a trespasser in civil court and receive damages in some cases.
Trespassing is both a criminal and civil offense in Michigan. Penalties include fines and county jail time, and the possibility of being sued for any damages the trespasser has caused.
Trespassing on Private Property Is a Misdemeanor
Under Michigan law, a person is trespassing when he enters another person's property when forbidden to do so or he stays on the property after the landowner has told him to leave. The law does not require any specific language for posted signs that prohibit entry, but having some sort of conspicuous warning is the crux of a criminal trespassing charge because a person who unwittingly wanders onto the land of another is not doing anything wrong. Intentionally trespassing on private property is a criminal offense, punishable by a $250 fine, up to 30 days in county jail, or both.
Trespassing on Key Facilities Is a Felony
Trespassing in Michigan is considered more serious if the trespasser enters a key facility, such as a refinery, chemical manufacturing plant, power plant, water treatment center, port, railroad switching yard, trucking terminal, pharmaceutical manufacturing facility, hazardous waste facility or a cell phone tower. In such cases, the trespasser is facing up to four years in federal prison, a $2,500 fine, or both. While a state correctional facility is not considered a key facility under the statute, trespassing upon such property in Michigan is also a felony, punishable by up to four years in prison, a $2,000 fine, or both.
Michigan recreational trespass laws beef up the criminal trespassing penalties when the purpose of the trespass is hunting, shooting, fishing and other recreational sports. In this instance, an intruder must presume that entry is prohibited – and to do so would be trespassing – if there's a boundary fence and a minimum 50-square-inch sign posted at the property warning people to stay out. If found guilty, the trespasser faces a fine up to $500 and 90 days' jail time, rising to $750 if the trespasser kills a protected animal, game or fish. Second and subsequent violations can receive heavier fines.
Landowners Can Sue
To protect what's rightfully theirs, Michigan landowners have the right to sue the trespasser in civil court. The goal here is to get a court order precluding the trespasser from entering the property again under pain of contempt of court and possibly jail time. In some cases, the landowner may recover damages, for example, where the trespasser harms the land, cuts down trees or takes other natural resources without permission. To succeed in a civil suit, the landowner must show some level of intent, that is, the intruder knew she did not have permission to be on the land but entered anyway. Generally, that means the land must be fenced, enclosed and posted.