Defense of property refers to a person’s legal right to use a reasonable and proportionate level of force to protect their property from harm, theft, or trespass. This protection can include using force to prevent someone from damaging or stealing personal belongings or to deter a trespasser from entering private property.

The extent to which a person can protect their property varies by jurisdiction, but generally, the force used must be proportionate to the threat posed and not excessive.

What Are the Elements of Defense of Property?

The elements of defense of property are:

  1. Reasonable belief: The property owner must have a reasonable belief that their property is in immediate danger of being damaged, stolen, or trespassed upon.
  2. Request to desist: If possible and safe, the property owner should request the intruder to stop their actions or leave the property before using force.
  3. Proportionate force: The force used must be proportional to the threat, and it cannot be excessive. Deadly force is generally not allowed unless it is in self-defense or defense of others.

What Are Some Examples of Defense of Property?

Read these examples to understand defense of property better:

Physically Removing a Trespasser

Imagine a homeowner named Sarah who lives in a quiet suburban neighborhood.

One evening, she notices a stranger wandering around her backyard.

Concerned for her safety and the security of her property, Sarah goes outside and asks the trespasser to leave.

The trespasser ignores her request and continues to roam around her yard.

Feeling threatened, Sarah approaches the intruder, takes hold of their arm, and firmly escorts them off her property.

In this example, Sarah used reasonable and proportionate force to protect her property by physically removing the trespasser after requesting them to leave.

Using a Security System

Consider a homeowner named John, who lives in an area with a high rate of break-ins.

To protect his home and belongings, John installs a comprehensive security system, including surveillance cameras and a monitored alarm.

One night, while John is away on vacation, his security system detects an attempted break-in.

The alarm sounds, and the monitoring company contacts the police, who quickly arrive at John’s home. Upon seeing the police, the would-be burglar flees the scene.

In this instance, John effectively used a security system to deter a potential burglar and protect his property.

Employing a Security Guard

Imagine a shopping mall owner named Laura who is concerned about her customers’ safety and the stores’ security within her mall.

To address these concerns, Laura hires a team of security guards to patrol the premises, monitor surveillance footage, and respond to any possible incidents.

One day, a group of shoplifters attempts to steal merchandise from one of the stores. The security guards quickly intervene, apprehending the thieves and recovering the stolen items.

In this example, Laura effectively employed security personnel to protect her commercial property from potential harm and loss.

When Does a Defense of Property Claim Not Work?

A defense of property claim might not be successful in cases where the force used is excessive, disproportionate, or deadly.

Deadly force is generally not allowed to defend property alone, as the value of human life is considered more important than the value of property.

A property owner may face criminal charges if they use deadly force to protect their property, unless they were also in danger and acting in self-defense or defense of others.

One example of a situation where the use of deadly force to defend property would not be justified is as follows.


Samantha is a homeowner who lives alone in a quiet suburban neighborhood.

One night, she hears someone breaking into her garage.

She becomes afraid and decides to grab her handgun, which she has never used before, and go outside to confront the intruder.

As Samantha approaches the garage, she sees a man trying to steal her lawnmower.

She yells at him to stop, but he ignores her and continues to load the lawnmower into his truck.

Samantha becomes angry and scared and decides to shoot the man to protect her property.

The shot hits the man in the chest, and he falls to the ground, bleeding heavily.

Samantha calls 911 and tells the operator that she has just shot a burglar who was trying to steal her lawnmower.

When the police arrive, they find the man lying on the ground, unresponsive. They also find the lawnmower in the back of his truck.

The man is taken to the hospital, but he dies shortly afterward from his injuries. Samantha is arrested and charged with murder for the use of deadly force.

In this case, Samantha’s use of deadly force to defend her lawnmower was not justified. Deadly force is only allowed in situations where there is an immediate threat of death or serious bodily harm to oneself or another person. The value of human life is considered more important than the value of property. In this case, the lawnmower was not worth the man’s life.

Additionally, Samantha did not attempt to call the police or seek other forms of assistance before confronting the intruder. She also did not try to retreat to a safe location or wait for the police to arrive, which would have been a safer option.

Samantha may argue that she was in fear for her life and that the intruder posed a threat to her. However, the use of deadly force in this situation was not reasonable or necessary, and Samantha may face criminal charges for her actions.

How Does Defense of Property Apply in Other Situations?

Defense of property can also apply in situations like protecting intellectual property rights, where legal action is taken to prevent copyright infringement or trademark violations. This can include sending cease-and-desist letters or pursuing lawsuits to protect one’s intellectual property.

In addition to protecting physical property, defense of property can also apply to intangible assets such as trade secrets, patents, and copyrights. In these cases, the property owner may take legal action to prevent others from using or exploiting their property without permission.

For example, if a company discovers that a former employee has shared confidential information about their product designs with a competitor, they may take legal action to protect their trade secrets. The company may seek an injunction to prevent the competitor from using the stolen information or file a lawsuit seeking damages for the theft of their intellectual property.

Similarly, if a songwriter discovers that another musician has used their copyrighted song without permission, they may send a cease-and-desist letter demanding that the other musician stop using the song. If the other musician refuses to comply, the songwriter may pursue legal action in the form of a lawsuit to protect their copyright.

In these cases, the defense of property is based on protecting the property owner’s legal rights rather than physical property. The use of force is generally not applicable in these situations, as legal action is the appropriate avenue for protecting intellectual property rights.

Should I Contact a Lawyer?

If you are facing criminal charges or a lawsuit related to defense of property, consult with an experienced criminal lawyer. A lawyer can help you understand your rights, navigate the legal process, and build a strong defense to protect your interests.

LegalMatch is an online legal matching service that can connect you with experienced attorneys who practice in the specific legal issue you are facing.

By providing details about your legal matter, LegalMatch can match you with lawyers who have the skills and experience necessary to handle your case.

Use LegalMatch to save time and effort in finding a lawyer who meets your needs.