What to Know About Trespassing Laws in Pennsylvania

Trespassing is a criminal offense in Pennsylvania, but different kinds of trespass may result in various penalties. Learn about PA criminal trespass laws here.
Written by Kathryn Mae Kurlychek
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff
Updated on Sep 30, 2022
In Pennsylvania, trespassing is a criminal offense, and entering a property without permission can result in criminal charges, expensive fines, and jail or prison time. 
Property owners in
have the right to prohibit people from entering the grounds. But posting signs and putting up fences doesn’t always keep trespassers at bay. That’s why it’s important to know your rights as a land owner and understand trespassing laws in your state. 
That’s where
comes in. A
licensed broker
with knowledge of homeownership, Jerry can do more than just help you save on
homeowners insurance
. Today, we’ll be breaking down trespassing laws in Pennsylvania, including what’s considered trespassing, the penalties for trespassing, and how you can better protect your property. Let’s get started. 


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What does Pennsylvania law say about trespassing?

According to Section 3503 of the Statutes of Pennsylvania, trespassing is described as knowingly entering, or gaining access to a property by “subterfuge” or breaking in, without legal privilege or express permission from the owner or authorized person to do so. 
In other words, a trespasser refers to someone who enters onto and/or remains on your property without permission
Sneaking or breaking into a property through force or intimidation are also included under the definition of trespassing by Pennsylvania law, and may incur a more serious offense—especially if actions like vandalism take place in addition to trespassing. 
In some cases, squatting is also considered a form of trespass in Pennsylvania. This is outlined in
Pennsylvania’s squatter laws
Trespassing is a serious offense in Pennsylvania, with a range of potential penalties—from simple summary offenses to a first-degree felony charge. Depending on the type of trespass that occurs, trespassing charges may be classified in a number of ways. Below, we take a closer look at each. 

Simple trespass

Simple trespass is the most common type of trespassing charge, and it generally refers to anyone who enters a building or occupied structure without permission, despite the presence of signs, fences, or other reasonable measures to exclude entry. An example of simple trespass would be trespassing on school grounds. 
Simple trespass is considered a summary offense in Pennsylvania, the penalties for which include:
  • Up to 90 days of jail time 
  • Up to $250 in fines

Trespassing in an occupied vs. unoccupied structure 

Breaking into an occupied structure is generally a more serious offense than breaking into an occupied structure. 
Pennsylvania law tends to focus on defining trespass as it occurs in occupied structures, which is a fancy term for describing buildings where people are living or likely to be present. Occupied structures can include homes, apartment complexes, condos, businesses, warehouses, government facilities, and more. 
That being said, occupied structures are different from buildings that have been abandoned, and trespassing on abandoned properties is considered separate from other types of trespass under Pennsylvania law. 

Trespassing in Philadelphia

Criminal trespass is a common offense in Philly, where your chances of becoming a victim of property crime are 1 in 29. Like the rest of the state, Philly adheres to Pennsylvania’s Statutes when it comes to trespassers, with the severity of the crime determining the exact offense and penalties. 

Agricultural trespass 

Agricultural trespass is a specific type of trespassing related to agriculture and open land areas. As a leading producer of dairy nationwide, Pennsylvania is home to some 5,200 dairy farms—and agricultural trespass occurs a lot more than you’d think. 
Agricultural trespass occurs when someone knowingly enters an agricultural area, despite the presence of signage or fences, and/or if someone enters the area after being told by the property owner not to. 
In Pennsylvania, agricultural trespass is considered a third-degree misdemeanor and can result in:
  • Up to 1 year of jail time
  • Up to $2,500 in fines

Agricultural biosecurity area trespass

Another type of agricultural trespass is agricultural biosecurity area trespass. But unlike regular agricultural trespass, agricultural biosecurity area trespass encompasses the illegal entrance onto the property and any failure to take reasonable measures to follow the rules of the biosecurity area. 
Given the more serious nature of this form of trespassing, penalties are steep. Trespassing in biosecurity areas is considered a first-class misdemeanor and is punishable by:
  • Up to 5 years in prison 
  • Up to $10,000 in fines

Trespassing vs. defiant trespassing

There’s trespassing, and then there’s defiant trespassing—and the type you’re charged with can make a big difference in the penalties you face. 
Someone is considered a defiant trespasser if they enter a property after being told by the owner of the premises to stay away. An occupant of the premises can also instruct trespassers to leave on the owner’s behalf. Refusing to leave another person’s property despite being told to do so is also considered defiant trespassing. 
Defiant trespass is a third-degree misdemeanor and can result in expensive fines and up to a year of jail time. 
Key Takeaway In Pennsylvania, criminal trespassing charges depend on the type of offense committed. Defiant and agricultural trespassing are among the most heavily penalized.
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Penalties for trespassing in Pennsylvania 

In Pennsylvania law, trespassing is referred to as criminal trespass, and all instances of trespassing are illegal. Based on the seriousness of the charge, the penalties for trespassing in Pennsylvania could include:
  • A misdemeanor charge of the third-, second-, or first-degree
  • A felony charge of the third-, second-, or first-degree
  • Up to $25,000 in fines
  • Up to 10 years of jail or prison time
  • Probation
  • Restitution
  • Mandated community service

Criminal trespass charges

Just because you know your rights, doesn’t mean you can perform the jobs of a criminal defense attorney when criminal trespass charges are brought to court. 
If you’ve been charged with criminal trespassing, you should contact a law firm for legal advice as soon as possible. A criminal defense lawyer can inform you of your options and advocate for you in court to help ensure your most desirable outcome. 
If you struggle with trespassers on your property, you can call a law enforcement officer for assistance, but it’s still a good idea to reach out to a lawyer for professional advice

How to protect your home or property from trespassing 

If you’re a home or property owner in Pennsylvania, one way you can protect yourself from trespassers is simply by understanding your state’s laws. Some other practical ways to protect your property include:
  1. Posting signs. Putting up visible “no trespassing” signs is the easiest way to deter trespassing on your property and protect your legal rights as a property owner. 
  2. Building a fence. Enclosing your property with a fence puts a physical barrier between you and would-be trespassers. 
  3. Purple Paint. Hate the look of normal “no trespassing” signs? Thanks to the Purple Paint law, you might not need them!Although it sounds weird, homeowners in Pennsylvania can paint purple stripes on trees or fences on their property as a sign to ward off trespassers. 

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