Getting trespassers off your property may feel like a scary prospect. What if the trespasser is violent or has a criminal history? You don’t know this person who seems comfortable passing through your property, so how do you know that confronting them is a good decision? I’ll explore this and other questions like it in this article.
The Definition of a Trespasser
A trespasser is somebody who enters land or property without permission from the owner. This person is committing a criminal act and is liable to receive a misdemeanor or worse, depending on the state.
Assess The Situation
Firstly, it’s important to determine why it is that you think someone is trespassing on your property before taking drastic measures. Do you have any evidence of it? Has your property been damaged or stolen? Did someone say that it seemed like you were home, even though you were away for the weekend?
Whatever your reason, make sure that it’s genuinely a trespasser and that you’ve considered other possibilities, such as wild animals straying into your property and causing a ruckus or damage.
It’s also important to consider what type of person is trespassing on your property.
Who’s in Your Property?
The person intruding on your property may be anyone from a perfectly harmless child to a dangerous individual. Understanding why they’re on your property is essential, as this undoubtedly informs what they do.
Someone might be on your property because this undeveloped spot of land you’ve bought has formed part of a hiking or nature trail. In this case, it’ll likely be safe to approach the intruder and explain why they’re no longer allowed to hike around this area.
Others may be curious individuals looking to do a little bit of exploring. This could be a naughty teenager or someone who likes to take chances. Making sure that there is adequate signage and markings on your property is an excellent first step here.
However, if this is all in place, or it’s glaringly obvious that someone owns the property they’re wandering around in, then the added extra verbal warning should generally be sufficient.
Someone might trespass your private land in search of an off-season game to hunt. In this case, proceeding with caution may be a good idea. Remember that this person is likely armed, and although it seems their worst crimes are hunting off-season and trespassing, you don’t know their history.
They could have a criminal record and are afraid of getting into further trouble. In this case, it may be best to phone the police. Additionally, if you know that you have a stalker and they’re trespassing on your property, this is also a good time to call the police.
Finally, people may trespass on your property if they’re looking for somewhere to illegally squat at or trying to find a place to pursue illegal activities, such as the sale and movement of illicit goods or drugs. Again, confrontations may be dangerous here as well, so don’t go alone but go with a group of people or phone the police.
And remember, even though they’re doing something legally wrong, there’s still the possibility that you could get in trouble, too. So, let’s consider what you can and cannot do.
Assessing Legal Liability
As much as the trespasser is guilty of a misdemeanor and possibly more, you could also become responsible for actions taken outside of the law. Therefore, there are limitations to what you can do.
For example, threatening a “harmless” intruder with a weapon could also have you charged, and even worse would be mock firing your gun to scare the trespasser away. It’s a rare situation where this may be acceptable, but a self-defense argument may apply.
Of course, it’s not improbable that the trespassers may try to prevent legal action from being taken against them by attacking and attempting to immobilize you. In that case, some self-preservation could be warranted, but within reason. You don’t want legal and financial issues.
You might also be able to sue the trespasser for property damage, such as damage to structures if you can prove that they’re culpable; this can be up to six figures.
The Legality of “Booby Traps”
Booby-trapping your home is a surefire way of finding yourself in need of legal representation if the trap is designed to kill, injure, or even restrain. You are still restricted even in situations where you’re in a bit more likely danger, such as in the case of a nefarious stalker.
However, there are certain things property owners can do if they’re still contemplating how to scare trespassers. For example, you can add barbed wire, or in some states, even razor wire on top of your walls or fences. You can also plant thorny bushes and shrubs below the walls as further obstacles.
As for “booby traps,” you could always add mostly unharmful and passive ones. For example, you could fit in noise makers outside that activate according to a motion sensor. This is something akin to an alarm system.
Similarly, you could install lights that detect motion and turn on when triggered, glaring light in the intruder’s general vicinity. However, besides these mild deterrents, there isn’t much you can do in terms of traps.
Before implementing these, there is an even milder step you can take…
Posting a Warning Sign
Many potential trespassers will be scared off if they see a sign that makes them aware that they’ll be prosecuted if they’re caught. However, make sure that you check on the trespassing signs every once and a while; this is to see if they’re still in the proper condition. They may not even be there anymore – signs can be defaced or destroyed.
Some good examples of signs include: “Private Property,” “Property Patrolled,” or “Property Monitored by Drone.” Alternatively, particularly on land where there are no properties, you may have to make markings around your land boundaries.
Although trespassing signs do work well, they aren’t entirely adequate. Some people don’t worry about breaking the law or are pretty experienced and trust that they won’t get caught, and they might not always be thinking logically.
How Secure is Your Property?
Does it have any walls? What about large hedges? Is it easy for anyone to walk in and rummage around? By adding a basic level of security and deterrence, you’ll be doing wonders at putting off potential intruders. You could try the following:
- Plant trees to make it harder to see into your property.
- Plant shrubs and other plant life around your property’s borders to make people wary of walking through it.
- Build walls (or even basic fencing) on your property lines to make it harder to get into your property. Remember that you might need your neighbors’ permission to put these up as you may border into their property lines.
- Add burglar bars to your windows if the issue is that people are entering your property’s building and not just the outside of it.
- Keep outdoor lights on at night to give the illusion that somebody is home and that there’s activity, even if you’re not home.
Do remember, however, that if you’re opting to create barriers using plant life, depending on what you plant, it may lose foliage during some months of the year. Planting all year-round greenery is the way to go.
Being Smart With Security Cameras
Now, if the above, more basic deterrents don’t work, you may have to get more creative. Installing security cameras in and around the property boundaries, for example, will help you ID repeat intruders and any future trespassers.
Don’t, however, make it publicly known that your home is under surveillance as the intruder might, especially in the case of a large property, attempt to either circumvent or destroy them. It may even be a good idea to camouflage the security cameras you install in certain situations.
The first line option for security and surveillance is a CCTV system. This is a TV system where the security camera feeds an active signal to a monitor, which you can use to observe and evaluate the surroundings.
Modern systems can be highly effective as they come in high resolution and, unlike older displays, come in color. Some newer CCTV systems may even come with motion sensors or night vision.
You could also install trail cameras. These are often used in nature reserves or game parks for observation, but they’re also quite ideal for unimproved land. They’re useful to observe for the presence of squatters and such.
The video or images taken can later be collected from the camera, which you’d likely have to strap to a tree or similar. You’d connect the memory card of the camera to a device linked to your computer and view it from there.
The problem with these is that they’re vulnerable to theft. However, should you successfully record someone with either system, you can bring the evidence to the police, or if you can ID the person, confront them and tell them to stop entering your property. The latter may be preferred in small towns where everyone knows each other.
The Utility of Drones
Drones are very effective at getting visual information while still being very mobile. They may even have thermal or night vision, making it even more difficult for someone to hide outside.
You could hire someone to use one and then report back to you with what they’ve discovered, or you can use one yourself during the hours you suspect your trespassers are going into your property.
You could use video or images you’ve taken as evidence for the police or even post it on neighborhood watch after warning the trespassers not to return. You might even want to put out flyers with images and a warning about the intruders. A trespasser with this kind of attention will likely avoid private property for fear of consequences.
Further, the drone itself may prove an effective deterrence when intruders see it flying above the property and seemingly searching for trespassers.
Dogs Work Well Too
If your property has the appropriate fencing, then men’s best friend could be a significant deterrent to intruders. Most people are pretty reluctant to climb into a yard, knowing that there’s a dog that could harm them if it considers them to be a threat.
And the dog’s barking alone might deter trespassers and act as a sort of alarm system.
Removing Temptation: Sealing Access Points
Finally, if you want to make sure, you’d do well to seal off any potential access points for intruders. Sometimes a broken fence or an open gate can act as a temptation, particularly to those who are hardened towards the law.