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Is dumpster diving illegal in Las Vegas?

Posted by Neil Shouse | Jan 11, 2020 | 0 Comments

No. Dumpster diving is unlawful both in the City of Las Vegas and throughout Clark County. Rummaging through other people's trash is prosecuted as a misdemeanor, carrying a maximum punishment of:

  • $1,000 in fines, and/or
  • 6 months in jail

The legal term for dumpster diving is "interference with or removal of containers."1

What is dumpster diving?

This is the practice of going through another person's or company's trash. Many divers are searching for edible food or other necessities. But others are searching for personal information to commit identity theft.

People are always encouraged to shred their documents before throwing them away, especially if they contain such sensitive information as:

  • signatures
  • dates of birth
  • social security numbers
  • addresses
  • credit card numbers
  • bank account numbers
  • utility account numbers
  • login information and passwords
  • PIN numbers

Is going through trash always illegal in Las Vegas?

Yes. People are prohibited from going through any dumpster, trash can, or recyclables container located on others' property. It does not matter whether that property is private or public. And it makes no difference whether the trash is headed for a landfill or a recycling station."2

Can I dumpster dive to look for my own property that was thrown out?

Not once the trash has been picked up and taken away from that person's property. People lose their property rights to objects they throw away. Once thrown out, trash becomes the "public domain."3

Is going through garbage legal anywhere?

In general, going through trash is legal except if there is a local ordinance against it. For example, both the City of Las Vegas and Clark County prohibit going through others' trash.

As a rule of thumb, people should avoid raiding a dumpster that is behind a gate or on property with a "no trespassing" sign.

In practice, police on patrol often do not notice people rummaging through trash. This is because trash bins may be behind buildings out of view from the main roads. Many of the people cited for going through trash were called in by property or store managers.

What is the penalty for dumpster diving in Las Vegas?

Clark County makes it a misdemeanor to go through another's garbage. The penalties get harsher with each successive conviction:4

 Dumpster diving conviction in Clark County

 Misdemeanor penalties

 First

  •  $200 - $1,000 in fines, and/or
  • Up to 6 months in jail

Second

  •  $500 to $1,000 in fines, and/or
  • Up to 6 months in jail

 Third

  •  $1,000 in fines, and/or
  • 10 days to 6 months in jail

The Las Vegas Municipal Code does not specify the punishment for going through another's trash within the incorporated city limits. Presumably, it is a misdemeanor carrying:

  • Up to $1,000 in fines, and/or
  • Up to 6 months in jail

Depending on the circumstances, divers risk getting cited for related misdemeanors as well. These may include:


Legal References

  1. Las Vegas Municipal Code 9.08.080; Clark County Code - 9.04.090.
  2. Same.
  3. California v. Greenwood, 486 U.S. 35, 108 S. Ct. 1625 (1988).
  4. Clark County Code - 9.04.320.

About the Author

Neil Shouse

A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, Court TV, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.

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