In the state of Ohio, a landowner can advise trespassers of the boundaries of their property by posting no-trespassing signs in a manner that is reasonably calculated to come to the attention of potential intruders. The no-trespassing and other warning signs should be easy to see and read from a distance, like a spot on a public road.
A landowner should post the signs in places where trespassers might enter the property. They should also post warning signs where they provide adequate notice about dangerous conditions on the property.
Criminal Trespassing Laws in Ohio
Ohio law provides that no person without a privilege to do so may be on the land or premises of another. In addition, they may not negligently fail or refuse to leave when they have been notified by signage posted in a conspicuous place or are otherwise notified to leave by the owner, occupant or agent.
A person who violates this law is guilty of criminal trespass, a misdemeanor of the fourth degree. The penalty for a misdemeanor of the fourth degree in Ohio is up to 30 days incarceration and a fine up to $250. As of September 2022, Ohio law does not contain language that the use of purple paint signifies “no trespassing.”
Additional Penalties for Certain Vehicles
If the trespasser used a snowmobile, an off-highway motorcycle or an all-purpose vehicle to unlawfully enter private property, the court may impose a fine of twice the usual amount imposed for the violation.
A snowmobile is defined as a self-propelled vehicle designed primarily for use on snow or ice and steered by skis, runners or caterpillar treads. A caterpillar tread is an articulated steel band that passes around the wheels of a vehicle for travel on rough ground.
An off-highway motorcycle refers to every motorcycle that is designed to be operated primarily on lands other than a regular street or highway. An all-purpose vehicle is a self-propelled vehicle designed primarily for cross-country travel on land and water or on more than one type of terrain. It is steered by wheels or caterpillar treads or a combination of these.
Definitions of All-purpose and Utility Vehicles
The term all-purpose vehicle includes vehicles that operate on a cushion of air. The definition includes vehicles known as all-terrain vehicles, all-season vehicles, mini-bikes and trail bikes.
A utility vehicle is a self-propelled vehicle designed with a bed, principally used to transport material or cargo in connection with construction, agricultural, forestry, grounds maintenance, lawn and garden, materials handling or similar activities.
The term all-purpose vehicle does not include utility vehicles, vehicles principally used in playing golf, regular motor vehicles or craft, or vehicles excepted from definition as a motor vehicle by the Ohio Revised Code.
Potential for Vehicle Impoundment
There may be a situation in which a person has previously been convicted of, or pleaded guilty to, two or more violations regarding the use of a snowmobile, off-highway motorcycle or all-purpose vehicle or a substantially equivalent municipal ordinance.
If the offender has used a snowmobile, off-highway motorcycle or all-purpose vehicle in committing each violation, the court may impound the certificate of registration of the snowmobile or off-highway motorcycle.
The court may impound the certificate of registration and license plate of the all-purpose vehicle for not less than 60 days. The court may take the above actions in addition to, or independent of, all other penalties it imposes for the violation. If the offender used an all-purpose vehicle to commit the violation, the clerk of court shall forward the fine imposed to the state recreational vehicle fund.
Damage Incurred While Trespassing
An individual who trespasses on private property will be liable to the property owners for any damage. The harm is defined as vandalism if the damage is valued over $1,000. Vandalism is a felony, with the severity of the felony and penalty for the offense dependent on the amount of the damage. If the amount of harm is:
- Between $1,000.01 and $7,499, vandalism is a felony of the fifth degree. The penalty is a definite term of between six months and one year of jail time and a fine up to $2,500.
- Between $7,500 and $149,999, vandalism is a felony of the fourth degree. The penalty is a definite term of between six and 18 months incarceration and a fine up to $5,000.
- $150,000 or more, vandalism is a felony of the third degree. The penalty is a definite term of between nine and 36 months incarceration and a fine up to $10,000.
Penalties for Misdemeanor Trespass Charges
The harm is defined as criminal mischief if the damage is valued under $1,000. Criminal mischief is a misdemeanor of the third degree. The penalty for third-degree misdemeanor is up to 60 days in jail and a fine up to $500. If the offense creates a risk of physical harm to any person, criminal mischief is a misdemeanor of the first degree.
The penalty for a first-degree misdemeanor is up to 180 days in jail and a fine up to $1,000. The property owners may recover damages for the harm through a criminal proceeding, as restitution, which means monies that the defendant owes to the victim. The property owners may also recover damages through a civil lawsuit.
Hunting Without Permission
An individual may not trespass upon private property to hunt upon the land of another, particularly if the owners posted appropriate signage warning against trespassing. An individual is not trespassing if they have permission from the property owners to enter and hunt upon the land.
An individual with permission to hunt upon another’s property must carry the permission on their person at all times when they are engaged in an activity for which permission is required.
The hunter is required to exhibit the permission upon request by a wildlife officer, constable, sheriff, deputy sheriff, police officer, other law enforcement officer, the owner’s authorized agent or the owner of the lands, pond, lake or private waters on which the individual is hunting or trapping.
Entering Property Without Permission
If a person enters and hunts on property without the owner's permission, the owner or individual occupying the lands is not liable to the individual in a civil lawsuit. A court may find that the person entering the lands has violated the law by entering them without permission.
It can make this finding even if the district attorney does not charge the person with trespassing or if the court does not convict the person of trespassing.
Hunting With Permission
In order to reduce the number of incidents of hunting without permission, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources developed the Ohio Cooperative Hunting, Trapping and Fishing Project.
The project involves a mutual agreement between landowners and the Department’s Division of Wildlife (Division). The Division of Wildlife provides landowners with materials to help them control access to their lands.
Establishing Safety Zones
These materials include signs and permits to limit hunting and parking, as well as to establish safety zones. Safety zone regulations prohibit hunting within 400 feet of buildings without the landowner’s specific prior permission.
The regulation can be enforced only if the land is under the operation or control of the Division. This means there must be a formal written agreement between the landowners and the Division.
Signage When There Is an Agreement With the Division of Wildlife
The posted signs must name the landowner and reference the cooperative agreement that person has with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. Landowners or their agents agree to permit hunting, trapping or fishing to members of the public.
The landowners must agree to permit the practices on a first-come, first-served basis without regard to a person’s race, color, national origin, sex, age or disability. The landowners can limit the number of permits they issue and can refuse hunting, fishing or trapping rights to individuals who are intoxicated, abusive or disrespectful.
Obtaining Hunting Permits
A person entering the landowner’s property must obtain a permit that the landowner signs. The entrant agrees to the conditions listed on the back of the permit.
One of the most important conditions is a clear statement of whether the landowner will be liable for the entrant's damages if the hunter, fisher or trapper is injured or suffers personal property damage while on the property. Conditions on the back of the permit typically include requirements to:
- Respect the rights of the property owner.
- Be careful in the handling of firearms.
- Obey all laws and restrictions as issued by the Ohio Division of Wildlife Orders.
- Not damage fences, buildings and other property.
- Not litter the area or dump any rubbish.
- Not indulge in the use of alcohol.
- Not hunt within posted safety zones.
- Agree to leave the lands of the owner immediately if requested by them, their agent or an employee of the Ohio Division of Wildlife.
- Use the permit only on the lands of the issuing landowner.
- Return the permit to the landowner or their representatives at the conclusion of its stipulated use.
Trespassing and Municipal Ordinances
Cities and counties in Ohio may have additional ordinances to define and penalize trespass. For example, the city of Columbus mandates penalties for individuals who trespass upon certain types of public property.
If the offense occurred on city-owned property, on public library premises, on school premises or within 1,000 feet of the boundaries of school premises, the court will impose a mandatory jail term of at least 10 consecutive days. The defendant is not eligible for work release during these 10 days.
City of Dayton Ordinances
The city of Dayton mandates penalties for individuals who are not students and who trespass upon the grounds of a public or parochial school in the city.
In order for the trespass to be classified as an offense, the individual must have been present at the school between 7:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. on days when school is scheduled to be in session. The individual must not be enrolled or employed by the school.
The individual may not be charged if they entered the buildings or grounds in connection with duly authorized school business or activity. Anyone who violates the ordinance is guilty of loitering on school grounds, a misdemeanor of the fourth degree. The penalty for a fourth-degree misdemeanor is up to 30 days in jail and a fine up to $250.
Trespassing and Dog Bites
A property owner can use force to protect their private property, but may not use deadly force to defend it.
State law provides that if a person was committing or attempting to commit criminal trespass or another criminal offense other than a minor misdemeanor upon the property, the owner, keeper or harborer of a dog on the property will not be liable for an injury, death or loss to person or property that the dog caused.
Liability for Injury to a Dog
An individual, including a trespasser, may not kill or injure a dog willfully without the consent of the owner. If a dog approaches or hurts a trespasser when they enter another person's land, there may be a dispute about whether the individual had a right to injure or kill the dog.
The trespasser may be liable to the property owner or the owner of the dog for damages. A municipality may not see a dog as vicious if the dog threatened a trespasser.
For example, the city of Cincinnati does not define a dog as vicious if the dog has killed or caused serious injury to a person while the person was committing or attempting to commit a trespass or other criminal offense on the property of the owner, keeper or harborer of the dog.
- Ohio Revised Code: Section 2911.21 Criminal Trespass
- Ohio Revised Code: Section 1533.17 Hunting Without Permission
- Ohio Revised Code: Section 2929.28 Financial Sanctions, Misdemeanor
- Ohio Revised Code: Section 2929.24 Definite Jail Terms for Misdemeanors
- Ohio Revised Code: Section 4519.01 Special Vehicle Definitions
- Ohio Revised Code: Section 4501.01 Motor Vehicles Definitions
- Ohio Revised Code: Section 4519.47 Impoundment of Vehicle
- Ohio Revised Code: Section 2909.05 Vandalism
- Ohio Revised Code: Section 2909.07 Criminal Mischief
- Ohio Revised Code: Section 2929.18 Financial Sanctions Felony
- Ohio Revised Code: Section 2929.14 Definite Prison Terms
- Columbus, Ohio, Code of Ordinances: Chapter 2311 Trespass, Tampering With Coin Machines
- Dayton, Ohio Code of Ordinances: Section 137.06 Nonstudent Loitering on School Grounds
- Ohio Revised Code: Section 955.28 Dog May Be Killed for Certain Acts - Owner Liable for Damages
- Ohio Department of Natural Resources: Hunting With Permission
- Ohio Revised Code: Section 959.02, injuring animals
Jessica Zimmer is a journalist and attorney based in northern California. She has practiced in a wide variety of fields, including criminal defense, property law, immigration, employment law, and family law.