Can I Use a Booby Trap to Protect My Rental Property?


Ever seen the movie Gran Torino?

If not, you don’t know what you are missing.

At any rate, there is a part where Clint Eastwood, the grumpy old man in the movie, tells the kids to ‘Get off my lawn.”

The kids of course didn’t pay attention, well initially they didn’t (I won’t spoil the rest of it for you, but let’s just say the kids stayed off the lawn soon after. Go watch the movie, you’ll love it).

But would could have Clint done to protect his property?

Of course, some will say set up a booby trap.

As a lawyer, however, I would strongly caution against it.



But It’s My Property, and I Have a Constitutional Right to Protect it!!!


Well you do and you don’t. And a booby trap isn’t one of the means and methods for protection.

People get confused all the time about what the Constitution says, and don’t really understand what it means. . . . But I digress.

The Supreme Court, the supreme interpreter of the Constitution settled this matter way back in 1971.

In Katko vs Briney, a case involving the use of a shotgun set up as a booby trap, the Supreme Court held (a fancy way of saying they ruled) that using deadly force on unoccupied property was not reasonable or justified.  This was even though the plaintiff was breaking into the house.

So you don’t have to read the long opinion, let’s just say you don’t have a constitutional right to set up a booby trap.


So What Force Can I Use to Defend My Property?


The protections afforded to you as a property owner, depending on your state and jurisdiction, are limited to the use of force as it pertains to protecting both life and property. They run hand in hand.

What this means is, generally, you can protect your property and your life, by whatever means necessary.

This, however, does not involved the use of autonomous methods which could cause harm to another person. By autonomous, I am referring to robots, landmines, self guided missiles, and yes, booby traps.

Think about an autonomous method as one that is set it and forget it (remember that infomercial?)

You could, however, set up a high tech drone which you control remotely.  Outfit it with a couple of hellfire missiles and take out the intruder before he sees you.

But then you would also be  working for the CIA.


But I Live in a Stand Your Ground State. Surely I Can Set a Booby Trap?


Nope, you can’t set a booby trap in a Stand Your Ground state either.

There is no provision, under any law in the United States, which allows for you to set a booby trap to protect your property.

In fact, and to take it a step further, there is no provision to use deadly force to protect property alone. The protection of property must be in conjunction with, among other things, the threat of imminent death or grievous bodily harm.


But They Keep Breaking Into My Property, and I Feel Threatened.


Doesn’t matter. Still no booby traps.

You can shoot them in the face, blow off their private parts, maybe even torch them with a flame thrower.

You still won’t be able to lawfully set up a booby trap.

And here’s the kicker. If you set up a booby trap, a thief with three illegal hand guns, a chainsaw, and a pack of Marlboro Lights breaks into your house, hell bent on killing you, and the booby trap goes off.

Guess what?

You’re still liable, even if they go to jail for breaking and entering.  See the Supreme Court case mentioned above.


So there you have it. Your Nutty Nutshell Landlord Law in a Minute.


If you find the need to set a booby trap, make sure it is for the squirrels that are eating your tomatoes plants.

The law doesn’t apply to them.

As always, as the only property management company in Fayetteville, North Carolina owned by a retired military attorney, we are in a unique position to assist you with your landlord legal questions.

Don’t hesitate to reach out to us, we are here to help.

The Team at Linchpin Property Management

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