Many rural landowners post “no trespassing” signs on their property to keep out unauthorized hunters, campers and hikers. Obviously, signs will not physically keep trespassers off a person’s property, but such signs can deter would-be trespassers, especially when there is no other indication of a property line such as fences or property makers. There are no records on the number or acreage of posted land in Pennsylvania, but about 80 percent of land in the state is privately owned.
Trespassing in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania criminal law makes distinctions among four different types of trespassing. Under Pennsylvania law, police can charge a person for simple trespass, criminal trespass, defiant trespass and agricultural trespass. A person could face multiple charges for a single incident and a trial or plea agreement will ultimately determine the final charge for which a person will be sentenced. In general, the Pennsylvania code defines trespass as knowingly entering and remaining on another person’s property without permission.
Criminal trespass, which carries the heaviest penalties, only applies to breaking into physical buildings. Defiant trespass applies in any case where a property owner has communicated to a person that he does not have permission to be on the land or in a building. Simple trespass applies in cases where a person enters a building or property for the purpose of threatening another person, starting a fire or defacing the property. Agricultural trespass only applies to farm land and does not apply to abandoned buildings on agricultural land. Pennsylvania sets the statute of limitations on trespassing at two years.
Notice of Private Property
“No trespassing” signs legally communicate the owner’s desire not to have other people on the property. The Pennsylvania code specifically states that signs, “reasonably likely to come to the attention of intruders,” constitute actual communication or that desire. As a result, anyone simply entering posted property can be charged with a misdemeanor charge of defiant trespass if caught.
Pennsylvania statues do not directly address removing “no trespassing” signs, but anyone defacing or removing such signs can face charges of criminal mischief and theft. Police can grade those offenses as summary or misdemeanor charges.
State and any local police have jurisdiction to enforce criminal trespass laws and file charges with the local magisterial district judge. Landowners typically worry most about trespassers during hunting season when many hunters enter the woods in search of deer, bear and other game. Pennsylvania Game Commission officers do not have the authority to enforce trespassing laws, but will assist police in investigating allegations. The Game Commission suggests landowners who witness trespassing to get any hunting license or license plate numbers and contact police.