Reader Question: My neighbour enters my garden without permission, is this illegal? Are there strict trespassing rules in France?
Trespassing is a crime in France and is referred to as violation de domicile.
In France, if someone is found guilty of trespassing they can face imprisonment of up to a year and a fine of up to €15,000. If a public service worker, such as a police officer, is found guilty of this the punishments can double.
What counts as my ‘property’?
For trespassing to occur, it must happen on private property.
Despite the expression violation de domicile, the meaning of domicile in criminal law is wide and relates to anywhere where one can be deemed to be ‘chez soi’.
‘Property’ in this context includes multiple areas that can be owned by an individual and not just a main residence or living space but also fenced-off gardens and cellars/basements.
The property in question could be a main residence, second home, motorhome - or even a hotel room.
It also applies to properties that are classed as private business spaces, such as a doctor’s office.
Areas and buildings that are completely accessible to the public, such as open fields, are not covered by the law. Non-walled off or non-fenced off gardens are also not included.
What counts as trespassing?
To be classed as trespassing, two criteria must be met, going beyond simply entering the property.
First, entry into a property via crossing a barrier is required. The definition requires the use of an ‘act of resistance’ by overcoming any form of prevention to entering the property.
Therefore, the climbing of a fence, picking of a lock, or jumping over a gate all contribute to an act of trespassing as the perpetrator is resisting barriers to entry.
For example, if you have an open garden and your neighbour walks through it, this is not classed as trespassing but if they jump over a fence into your garden, it is.
Opening an unlocked door or garden gate also does not count as trespassing.
Secondly, the trespasser must enter the property without permission being given by the owner.
Trespassing can also occur if a threat or coercion was used to enter the property, meaning that even under contexts where ‘consent’ was given, the crime can still be committed.
If you are filing a case, you must also state if there was an intention from the trespasser to knowingly trespass, and if they had a motive for doing so.
The intention part will be easy to do, however, if proof of an act of resistance is provided, as knowingly overcoming the barrier shows intention to illegally enter the property.
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What action can I take?
You could file a complaint at your local police station or a pre-complaint online using the official site.
It is advisable to collect proof, such as photos, to show the person entered your property without permission.
If you are a second-home owner and are not present at the time of the trespass, you can also use security camera footage if you have it.
If there is any evidence of physical damage to the property (i.e a lock being broken) it is equally important to take photo evidence of this as well.
It may be possible, if you know who the perpetrator is, to ask for a direct summons, bringing the case to police or criminal court without an investigation if you have sufficient evidence.
You could also engage a criminal law avocat (lawyer) to represent you.
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