In Pennsylvania, as in other states, trespass is a crime that is punishable by a fine and/or imprisonment. Property owners who want to prosecute those who have trespassed on their property must prove that they gave notice against trespass on it. One popular way to give notice against trespass is to post a “No Trespassing” sign on the property.
Criminal Trespass in Pennsylvania
Per Pennsylvania Title 18 Section 3503, a person is a defiant trespasser if he, knowing that he doesn’t have the right to do so, enters or remains in a place in which a notice is posted against trespassing. Those found guilty can be charged with a misdemeanor or a summary offense, depending on the circumstances of the trespass.
The notice against trespassing can be stated in several ways. Notice against trespass can be given directly to the trespasser verbally or by letter. For example, a property owner may verbally warn the trespasser to get off her property or hand or mail the trespasser a letter warning her to stay away. Notice against trespass can also be given by erecting a fence or other enclosure that’s designed to keep people out and/or by putting up a sign on the property.
The No Trespassing Sign
Pennsylvania law doesn’t establish requirements as to the size, design and content of the no trespassing sign. Title 18 Section 3503 specifies only that the notice is posted: “in a manner prescribed by law or reasonably likely to come to the attention of intruders.” The sign doesn’t need to identify the property owner, be signed by the owner or specify the property borders. It can simply be a sign, whether handwritten or purchased commercially, that states “No Trespassing,” “Keep Out” and/or “Private Property.”
Since the law states that notice against trespass must be “reasonably likely to come to the attention of intruders,” the no trespassing sign must be large and clear enough that a trespasser is likely to see it. It must also be placed in an area that is noticeable to trespassers coming onto the property. There is no requirement that multiple signs are placed or that they must be at specified distances from one another.
Read More: Federal Criminal Trespassing Laws
Purple Paint Markings for No Trespassing
Now, in some parts of Pennsylvania, property owners don’t need to put up a no trespassing sign to satisfy the legal requirement that notice against trespass be given before someone can be found guilty of trespass. On November 27, 2019, Governor Tom Wolf signed into law a bill that gives property owners the option to use purple paint markings instead of a sign as their notice against trespass. The law, which takes effect in 60 days from the day of its signing, is applicable everywhere except in Philadelphia and Allegheny counties.
Representative Dawn Keefer, who sponsored the bill, explained to a news organization that purple paint markings are a more permanent way of giving notice against trespass since signs can degrade over time or be removed from the property, either from weather or purposefully by intruders. She also said that purple paint markings provide more visible notice and are an easier way to define property lines.
Under this new law, the purple stripes must be painted on posts or trees that are no more than 100 feet apart. The stripes have to be at least 8 inches long and 1 inch wide and positioned between 3 to 5 feet from the ground. Additionally, the paint used for the purple stripes must be one of the commercially available spray or brush “No Hunting” paints.
- PA General Assembly: Title 18
- Outdoor News: Understanding Pennsylvania's stream tresspass laws is imporant
- Penn Live: Purple paint markings will soon mean no trespassing in Pa.
- PALawHelp.org: How to Keep Someone Off Your Property
- CBS Pittsburgh: Pennsylvanis Passes "Purple Paint" Law to Warn Trespassers
Karen graduated from Southwestern Law School in 2003 with a Juris Doctor degree. She has worked for several law firms, providing legal services in various fields including immigration, housing, bankruptcy and family law.