Skip to main content
Find a Lawyer
Please enter a legal issue and/or a location
Begin typing to search, use arrow keys to navigate, use enter to select

Homeowner Liability: Invitees, Licensees, and Trespassers

Homeowner liability refers to a property owner's responsibility for risk of harm to others. It falls under premises liability law, an area of law concerned with dangerous conditions on property. A premises liability claim arises from unsafe conditions on real estate. Someone may be injured on a person's property, or worse, they may suffer wrongful death.

Homeowners' liability for injuries suffered on property will vary depending on:

  • The type of visitor who suffers the injury
  • The existence of unsafe versus safe conditions
  • Whether the visitor had the owner's permission to be present
  • The extent of a property owner's duty and reasonable care undertaken by them

There are different legal rules in place in every state where an injury occurs. Generally, courts will focus on the status of the injured visitor in determining the liability of the owner or occupier. They will look at whether the injured party was one of the following:

  • Invitee
  • Licensee
  • Trespasser

A landowner has a duty of care with respect to each of the above types of visitors. In general and across most states, personal injury laws require property owners to behave reasonably. That means they must act as a reasonable person under the circumstances in order to prevent foreseeable harm to likely victims, but the type of visitor and the nature of a hazardous condition can create nuances as described below.


When a homeowner invites or induces others to enter the premises for any lawful purpose, this triggers the homeowner's duty to exercise ordinary care to keep the premises safe. In most states, the highest duty of care is owed to child invitees.

An invitation may be:

  • Expressed, such as through words like "please come in"
  • Implied from known customs or use of the premises
  • Inferred from the homeowner's conduct

For example, customers may enter a grocery store for business purposes. Contractors may enter a home to conduct construction work. These people would be considered invitees.


A licensee is a person who has no contractual relation with the property owner, but who is permitted, either expressly or implicitly, to be on the premises. A social guest at a residence is normally considered a licensee. Since they are there for a social purpose, they have permission to be on the premises.

The homeowner is usually liable only for willful or wanton injury to a licensee. This means that the homeowner is required to exercise enough care to prevent injury to a licensee who is actually known to be, or could reasonably be expected to be, within the range of a dangerous act or condition. A property owner should always warn licensees about known dangers on the property.


It's surprising to many homeowners that trespassers should be accommodated on private property, but a duty of care is also owed to people who have no permission or lawful right to be on the premises. A trespasser is a person who enters the premises of another without express or implied permission of the owner, for the trespasser's own benefit or amusement.

A homeowner cannot lawfully prepare pitfalls or traps for a trespasser in order to injure the trespasser on purpose. Once the owner is aware of the trespasser's presence or can reasonably anticipate such presence from the circumstances, then the owner has a duty to exercise ordinary care to avoid injuring the trespasser. For example, evidence of skateboarders in an unfinished swimming pool would fall into this category. Check out the Attractive Nuisance Doctrine for related information about minor trespassers.

Owners have a duty to refrain from willful misconduct, including setting up boobytraps. The rationale here is that even strangers may have legitimate reasons to be on private property. For example, an ambulance or fire department employee may need to make an unannounced entry to rescue life. It would be a travesty of justice for them to fall into a manhole or get shot by automatic arrows while running through smoke to save victims.

Dealing With an Injury Claim? Call a Personal Injury Attorney

You may have been injured on someone's property, or perhaps someone fell and got hurt at your place. You might be wondering about your legal rights and whether there's a premises liability case. It would be helpful to have the legal advice from an expert.

Speak with a personal injury lawyer who is also a premises liability attorney. Many premises liability lawyers offer free case evaluations. They can advise you on applicable disclaimers and help you fight the insurance companies.

Was this helpful?

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

Or contact an attorney near you:

Next Steps

Contact a qualified real estate attorney to help you navigate issues relating to home ownership.

Begin typing to search, use arrow keys to navigate, use enter to select

Help Me Find a Do-It-Yourself Solution

Copied to clipboard

Find a Lawyer

More Options