North Carolina: Fast Facts on Trespassing
- Trespass Law Covers: Buildings, Dwellings, Land
- Crime Class: Misdemeanor; Felony charges are possible if crime is egregious or repeated
- Fencing Required?: No.
- Signage Required?: No, but can serve as notice.
- Verbal Notice Required?: No, but can serve as notice.
North Carolina Trespassing Law Overview
- North Carolina has many laws that comprise their trespassing statutes.
- Unauthorized entry to the land of another on foot or by vehicle constitutes trespassing.
- Removing or damaging plants including timber and pine straw is also trespassing.
- Signage/marks is required for prohibition of activity on land, or in closed water sources; specific requirements for signs and marks.
- Entering the building or fenced/enclosed lands of another, or certain utility installations is a significant misdemeanor or potential felony.
- Remaining on the premises of another after being asked to leave or in defiance of a posted notice is a misdemeanor.
Relevant North Carolina State Statutes
- 14-128. Injury to trees, crops, lands, etc., of another.
- 14-130. Trespass on public lands.
- 14-131. Trespass on land under option by the federal government.
- 14-132.2. Willfully trespassing upon, damaging, or impeding the progress of a public school bus.
- 14-134.3 – Domestic criminal trespass.
- 14-159.3. Trespass to land on motorized all-terrain vehicle.
- 14-159.6. Trespass for purposes of hunting, etc., without written consent a misdemeanor; defense.
- 14-159.7. Regulations as to posting of property.
- 14-159.8. Mutilation, etc., of “posted” signs; posting signs without consent of owner or agent.
- 14-159.9. Entrance on navigable waters, etc., for purpose of fishing, hunting or trapping not prohibited.
- 14-159.10. Enforcement of Article.
- 14-159.11. Definition.
- 14-159.12. First degree trespass.
- 14-159.13. Second degree trespass.
North Carolina, like most other states, includes a section on definitions that is useful for understanding the laws as they are written covering trespassing. Fortunately for us, the definitions are extremely brief, only a single word, found in 14-159.11:
As used in this Article, “building” means any structure or part of a structure, other than a conveyance, enclosed so as to permit reasonable entry only through a door and roofed to protect it from the elements.
This needs very little in the way of explanation, except that I will add that any part of a structure includes something like a screened porch or deck, but not any conveyance, which is a fancy word for vehicle.
So your car sitting in your driveway or your RV parked out back is not considered part of the building itself.
Now we will move into the state statutes proper and all the various sections covering trespassing laws that comprise them.
North Carolina’s trespass laws are fairly straightforward and easy to understand even for those not versed in legalese, but there are a lot of them, meaning you have to pay attention, or else you can miss an important detail.
The first section, 14-128, is the first of several that details the charges for damaging or removing plants that are upon the land of another:
14-128. Injury to trees, crops, lands, etc., of another.
Any person, not being on his own lands, who shall without the consent of the owner thereof, willfully commit any damage, injury, or spoliation to or upon any tree, wood, underwood, timber, garden, crops, vegetables, plants, lands, springs, or any other matter or thing growing or being thereon, or who cuts, breaks, injures, or removes any tree, plant, or flower, shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor: Provided, however, that this section shall not apply to the officers, agents, and employees of the Department of Transportation while in the discharge of their duties within the right-of-way or easement of the Department of Transportation.
It is as simple as it reads. If you are not on your own land and do not have the consent of the owner of the land you must not intentionally damage, defoliate, or remove any plant or growing thing on that property. Doing so means you are guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.
The only exceptions to this law are for employees of the state, specifically the Department of Transportation, when tending to their lawful duties on a right-of-way or easement.
Next, trespass on public lands, a specific crime distinct from criminal trespass intended to stop timber thieves and illegal harvesting of trees:
14-130. Trespass on public lands.
If any person shall erect a building on any state-owned lands, or cultivate or remove timber from any such lands, without the permission of the State, he shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.
Moreover, the State can recover from any person cutting timber on its land three times the value of the timber which is cut.
Don’t even think of rustling any timber on state-owned property, even if you grow it yourself from a sapling.
Doing so means you are guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor, but perhaps more pertinently the state reserves the right to take from you three times the price of any timber which is cut from their land. If you take a mature tree you could be facing a severe fine.
The next section, 14-131, expands on the previous, including this time property that is currently under option by the feds:
14-131. Trespass on land under option by the federal government.
On lands under option which have formally or informally been offered to and accepted by either the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources or the Department of Environmental Quality by the acquiring federal agency and tentatively accepted by a Department for administration as State forests, State parks, State game refuges or for other public purposes, it shall be unlawful to cut, dig, break, injure or remove any timber, lumber, firewood, trees, shrubs or other plants; or any fence, house, barn or other structure; or to pursue, trap, hunt or kill any bird or other wild animals or take fish from streams or lakes within the boundaries of such areas without the written consent of the local official of the United States having charge of the acquisition of such lands.
Any person, firm or corporation convicted of the violation of this section shall be guilty of a Class 3 misdemeanor.
The Department of Environmental Quality through its legally appointed forestry, fish and game wardens is hereby authorized and empowered to assist the county law-enforcement officers in the enforcement of this section.
If you are currently on any land in which the federal government has a controlling interest, you must not do any hunting or fishing, or damage any structures on the property unless you have the explicit permission of the official in charge of that land.
Seems simple enough; you shouldn’t be doing that anyway on property that you do not own or have explicit permission to do so.
Trespassing on or otherwise interfering with the progress of a school bus is another crime that has its own separate section in the statutes:
14-132.2. Willfully trespassing upon, damaging, or impeding the progress of a public school bus.
(a) Any person who shall unlawfully and willfully demolish, destroy, deface, injure, burn or damage any public school bus or public school activity bus shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.
(b) Any person who shall enter a public school bus or public school activity bus after being forbidden to do so by the authorized school bus driver in charge thereof, or the school principal to whom the public school bus or public school activity bus is assigned, shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.
(c) Any occupant of a public school bus or public school activity bus who shall refuse to leave said bus upon demand of the authorized driver in charge thereof, or upon demand of the principal of the school to which said bus is assigned, shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.
(c1) Any person who shall unlawfully and willfully stop, impede, delay, or detain any public school bus or public school activity bus being operated for public school purposes shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.
(d) Subsections (b) and (c) of this section shall not apply to a child less than 12 years of age, or authorized professional school personnel.
If you are not allowed on a school bus or told to get off the school bus after being given privilege or permission to board it then you must comply or be guilty of trespassing upon a school bus, a misdemeanor. This law does not apply to children under the age of 12 or any authorized School personnel.
The very next section covers domestic criminal trespass, a special variety of trespassing.
14-134.3 – Domestic criminal trespass.
(a) Any person who enters after being forbidden to do so or remains after being ordered to leave by the lawful occupant, upon the premises occupied by a present or former spouse or by a person with whom the person charged has lived as if married, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor if the complainant and the person charged are living apart; provided, however, that no person shall be guilty if said person enters upon the premises pursuant to a judicial order or written separation agreement which gives the person the right to enter upon said premises for the purpose of visiting with minor children. Evidence that the parties are living apart shall include but is not necessarily limited to:
(1) A judicial order of separation;
(2) A court order directing the person charged to stay away from the premises occupied by the complainant;
(3) An agreement, whether verbal or written, between the complainant and the person charged that they shall live separate and apart, and such parties are in fact living separate and apart; or
(4) Separate places of residence for the complainant and the person charged.
(b) A person convicted of a violation of this section is guilty of a Class G felony if the person is trespassing upon property operated as a safe house or haven for victims of domestic violence and the person is armed with a deadly weapon at the time of the offense.
If you split up from your spouse or live-in partner, you may not re-enter their home if any of the following qualifying conditions exist:
- There is a judicial order of separation,
- a court order or restraining order directing you so charged to stay away from the ex’s residence,
- any verbal or written agreement between you and your ex that you will live separately and apart from one another,
- or there is evidence that you are both living separately, meaning there exists two distinct separate residences.
This charge is a misdemeanor except in the case that the person doing the trespassing is entering any safe house for domestic violence victims and is armed with a deadly weapon at the time they trespass, in which case it will be tagged with a class G felony.
Trespassing on the land of another using any off-road or all-terrain vehicle is, you guessed it, a distinct crime in NC:
14-159.3. Trespass to land on motorized all-terrain vehicle.
(a) No person shall operate any motorized all-terrain vehicle:
(1) On any private property not owned by the operator, without the written consent of the owner; or
(2) Within the banks of any stream or waterway, but excluding a sound or the Atlantic Ocean, the adjacent lands of which are not owned by the operator, without the consent of the owner or outside the restrictions imposed by the owner.
(a1) A landowner who gives a person written consent to operate an all-terrain vehicle on the landowner’s property owes the person the same duty of care that the landowner owes a trespasser.
(b) A “motorized all-terrain vehicle”, as used in this section, is a two or more wheeled vehicle designed for recreational off-road use.
(c) A violation of this section shall be a Class 2 misdemeanor.
If you do not have the explicit permission of the landowner don’t be driving any off-road vehicle on their land, to include dirt bikes, ATVs, side-by-sides and larger off-road automobiles. But, the verbiage does specifically state “two or more wheeled vehicle” as a qualification, so if you have an off-road unicycle or hovercraft you can do whatever you want! I’m kidding: still you should get permission.
Trespass in quest of hunting without consent is covered in 14-159.6:
14-159.6. Trespass for purposes of hunting, etc., without written consent a misdemeanor; defense.
(a) Any person who willfully goes on the land, waters, ponds, or a legally established waterfowl blind of another that has been posted in accordance with the provisions of G.S. 14-159.7, to hunt, fish or trap without written permission of the landowner, lessee, or his agent shall be guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor. Written permission shall be carried on one’s person, signed by the landowner, lessee, or agent, and dated within the last 12 months. The written permission shall be displayed upon request of any law enforcement officer of the Wildlife Resources Commission, sheriff or deputy sheriff, or other law enforcement officer with general subject matter jurisdiction. A person shall have written permission for purposes of this section if a landowner, lessee, or agent has granted permission to a club to hunt, fish, or trap on the land and the person is carrying both a current membership card demonstrating the person’s membership in the club and a copy of written permission granted to the club that complies with the requirements of this section.
(b) Any person who willfully goes on the land of another that has been posted in accordance with the provisions of G.S. 14-159.7(1), to rake or remove pine needles or pine straw without the written consent of the owner or his agent shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.
(c) It is an affirmative defense to a prosecution under subsection (a) or (b) of this section that the person had in fact obtained prior permission of the owner, lessee, or agent as required by those subsections but did not have on his or her person valid written permission at the time of citation or arrest.
If you do not have the explicit permission of any landowner to hunt or fish on their property, doing so will get you a misdemeanor.
Even if you do have permission to hunt or fish their land you must have that written, signed permission in your possession at all times while engaged in that activity on their land.
If you do not have the written, signed permission in your possession you may still be arrested, but you may make the case that while you had permission you simply did not have that written permission in your possession as an affirmative defense.
Remind yourself that affirmative defenses must be used in court; they do not get you out of charges or arrest at the instant!
Also of interest you may not go on to anyone else’s land that has been posted with a no-trespassing notice in order to collect and remove pine needles without obtaining prior permission. Doing so is trespassing under this section.
South Carolina has its own rules and regs that posted signage and marks must adhere to in order to have the force of law. You can read all about them in 14-159.7:
14-159.7. Regulations as to posting of property.
For purposes of posting property under G.S. 14-159.7, the owner or lessee of the property may use either of the following methods:
(1) The owner or lessee of the property may place notices, signs, or posters on the property. The notices, signs or posters shall measure not less than 120 square inches and shall be conspicuously posted on private lands not more than 200 yards apart close to and along the boundaries. At least one such notice, sign, or poster shall be posted on each side of such land, and one at each corner thereof, provided that said corner can be reasonably ascertained. For the purpose of prohibiting fishing, or the taking of fish by any means, in any stream, lake, or pond, it shall only be necessary that the signs, notices, or posters be posted along the stream or shoreline of a pond or lake at intervals of not more than 200 yards apart.
(2) The owner or lessee of the property may place identifying purple paint marks on trees or posts around the area to be posted. Each paint mark shall be a vertical line of at least eight inches in length, and the bottom of the mark shall be no less than three feet nor more than five feet from the base of the tree or post. The paint marks shall be placed no more than 100 yards apart and shall be readily visible to any person approaching the property. For the purpose of prohibiting fishing, or the taking of fish by any means, in any stream, lake, or pond, it shall only be necessary that the paint marks be placed along the stream or shoreline of a pond or lake at intervals of not more than 100 yards apart.
There is no required, specific verbiage for no-trespassing signs in the state of North Carolina, but the physical dimensions as well as the placement of the signs are important and bound by law.
The signs must be no less than 120 square inches in surface area, and placed no more than two hundred yards apart along the boundaries of the land, to include one on each side of the property.
Additionally, signs must be placed at each corner of the property so long as the corners are easy enough to ascertain.
As an alternative, one may use the standard purple line markings placed on trees or posts along the perimeter of the property, with each mark made from paint being no less than 8 inches in length and the bottom of the mark being between 3 ft. and 5 ft. from the bottom of the post or tree. These marks must be placed no farther than 100 yards apart from each other.
Damaging or removing the signs is a crime:
14-159.8. Mutilation, etc., of “posted” signs; posting signs without consent of owner or agent.
Any person who shall mutilate, destroy or take down any “posted,” “no hunting” or similar notice, sign or poster on the lands, waters, or legally established waterfowl blind of another, or who shall post such sign or poster on the lands, waters or legally established waterfowl blind of another, without the consent of the owner or his agent, shall be deemed guilty of a Class 3 misdemeanor and only punished by a fine of not more than one hundred dollars ($100.00).
Do not damage, mutilate or otherwise remove posted signs or else you’ll be facing a class 3 misdemeanor and fine of up to $100.
The next section clarifies that nothing in this Article shall be taken to mean that one cannot access navigable waters adjoining waters posted with notice:
14-159.9. Entrance on navigable waters, etc., for purpose of fishing, hunting or trapping not prohibited.
Nothing in this Article shall be construed to prohibit the entrance of any person upon navigable waters and the bays and sounds adjoining such waters for the purpose of fishing, hunting or trapping.
14-159.10. Enforcement of Article.
This Article may be enforced by sheriffs or deputy sheriffs, law enforcement officers of the Wildlife Resources Commission, and other peace officers with general subject matter jurisdiction.
The end of this chapter contains most of the general criminal trespassing laws, with the first covering first degree criminal trespass:
14-159.12. First degree trespass.
(a) Offense. – A person commits the offense of first degree trespass if, without authorization, he enters or remains:
(1) On premises of another so enclosed or secured as to demonstrate clearly an intent to keep out intruders;
(2) In a building of another; or
(3) On the lands of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians after the person has been excluded by a resolution passed by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indian Tribal Council.
(b) Except as otherwise provided in subsection (c), (d), or (f) of this section, first degree trespass is a Class 2 misdemeanor.
(c) Except as otherwise provided in subsection (d) of this section, a violation of subsection (a) of this section is a Class A1 misdemeanor if all of the following circumstances exist:
(1) The offense is committed on the premises of any of the following:
a. A facility that is owned or operated by an electric power supplier as defined in G.S. 62-133.8(a)(3) and that is either an electric generation facility, a transmission substation, a transmission switching station, a transmission switching structure, or a control center used to manage transmission operations or electrical power generating at multiple plant locations.
b. Any facility used or available for use in the collection, treatment, testing, storing, pumping, or distribution of water for a public water system.
c. Any facility, including any liquefied natural gas storage facility or propane air facility, that is owned or operated by a natural gas local distribution company, natural gas pipeline carrier operating under a certificate of public convenience and necessity from the Utilities Commission, municipal corporation operating a municipally owned gas distribution system, or regional natural gas district organized and operated pursuant to Article 28 of Chapter 160A of the General Statutes used for transmission, distribution, measurement, testing, regulating, compression, control, or storage of natural gas.
d. Any facility used or operated for agricultural activities, as that term is defined in G.S. 106-581.1.
(2) The person actually entered a building, or it was necessary for the person to climb over, go under, or otherwise surmount a fence or other barrier to reach the facility.
(d) If, in addition to the circumstances set out in subsection (c) of this section, the violation also includes any of the following elements, then the offense is a Class H felony:
(1) The offense is committed with the intent to disrupt the normal operation of any of the facilities described in subdivision (1) of subsection (c) of this section.
(2) The offense involves an act that places either the offender or others on the premises at risk of serious bodily injury.
(e) As used in subsections (c) and (d) of this section, the term “facility” shall mean a building or other infrastructure.
(f) A violation of subsection (a) of this section is a Class I felony and shall include a fine of not less than one thousand dollars ($1,000) for each violation, if any of the following circumstances exist:
(1) The offense occurs on real property where the person has reentered after having previously been removed pursuant to the execution of a valid order or writ for possession.
(2) The offense occurs under color of title where the person has knowingly created or provided materially false evidence of an ownership or possessory interest.
(3) The offense is the person’s second or subsequent violation of subdivision (a)(3) of this section.
There is a lot to sort out in this one section. Entering any building or going on to any land that is enclosed to keep out Intruders is 1st Degree Trespass in North Carolina. It is a Class 2 misdemeanor.
It is a Class A1 misdemeanor if you actually enter any of the following facilities after crossing a fence or other barrier: any electric power supplier property, water treatment and pumping facility, natural gas storage, production or related facility or agricultural facility or associated properties.
If you should trespass upon any of those latter facilities with the intention to disrupt their operation or you do so in a way that places yourself or any others on the premises at risk of serious bodily injury you are guilty of a Class 1 felony.
Additionally, the lesser, misdemeanor grades of 1st degree trespass can be upgraded to felonies if you re-enter them after having been removed for a prior instance.
Next, second degree trespass. This section is far simpler than the previous one:
14-159.13. Second degree trespass.
(a) Offense. – A person commits the offense of second degree trespass if, without authorization, he enters or remains on premises of another:
(1) After he has been notified not to enter or remain there by the owner, by a person in charge of the premises, by a lawful occupant, or by another authorized person; or
(2) That are posted, in a manner reasonably likely to come to the attention of intruders, with notice not to enter the premises.
(b) Classification. – Second degree trespass is a Class 3 misdemeanor.
Entering or remaining on the premises of another person after being notified by a person lawfully in control those premises or entering in flagrant defiance of any posted notice to not enter the property is Second Degree Trespass, a Class 3 misdemeanor in North Carolina.
North Carolina trespassing laws are notable for how many specific sections they have on various types of trespassing. They are generally easy to understand so long as you take the time to read them all thoroughly, ensuring you do not miss any critical factors.
Trespassing is typically a misdemeanor in the state, but trespassing inside certain facilities can result in felony charges, as can repeat offenses.
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