What is graffiti?

Graffiti is when you damage the appearance of a property in any way, including by writing, drawing, marking, scratching, etching or posting something on any property (for example, a building, a pole or a vehicle).

Is graffiti illegal?

It is possible to create graffiti legally. For example, if it is on private property and you have the permission of the owner, or it is a legal graffiti space. For more information about legal graffiti spaces, check with your local council.

Graffiti is against the law when you do not have permission to do it from either the owner of the property or the local council. It is also against the law to mark graffiti on public transport in the Adelaide area (usually run by Adelaide Metro) and its premises (such as a train station or bus stop). The penalty for marking graffiti is a fine of up to $5,000 or 12 months’ imprisonment. But, penalties are higher for marking graffiti on or in a:

  • public memorial (for example, a war memorial);
  • cemetery;
  • place of worship or religious significance (for example, a church).

It is also against the law to help or encourage someone else to mark graffiti. The penalty for helping or encouraging someone else to do graffiti is the same as the penalty for actually doing it yourself. 

Can I buy spray paint?

If you are under 18, it is against the law for anyone to sell or supply you with a spray paint can or other graffiti tool. Sellers are also not allowed to advertise a graffiti tool in a way that encourages or promotes illegal graffiti. The seller may be fined up to $5,000. This means that a shop assistant can ask you for identification to prove you are over 18 if you want to buy spray paint. If you can’t prove you are over 18, the shop assistant may refuse to sell you spray paint.

Can I carry a graffiti tool?

It against the law to carry graffiti tools (like a spray paint can) unless you can prove that you have a lawful reason – for example, if you need it for your job. It is against the law to carry any graffiti tools with the intention of using them to mark graffiti.

It is also against the law to carry a spray paint can or a tool that can be used to create illegal graffiti, in a public place or in a private place where you are not allowed to be.

Can I be stopped and searched for graffiti tools?

A police officer may stop, search and detain you if they reasonably think you have a graffiti tool that will be used to create illegal graffiti. For more information about police searches, see “What powers do the police have”.

Can the police confiscate my graffiti tool?

Yes, the police will be able to take your graffiti tool (such as a spray paint can), if it is against the law for you to be carrying it. For more information about police powers to confiscate, see “Police Powers”.

What happens if I’ve been caught carrying graffiti tools, or doing illegal graffiti by the police?

If you are under 18, the police may:

a) Give you an informal caution;

b) Issue a formal caution;

c) Require you to do community service or pay compensation for the damage you have created;

d) Require you to attend Family Conferences;

e) Charge you. This means you will have to go to court.

For more information about warnings, cautions, youth justice conferences and being charged, see our pages “Youth Justice” and “Criminal Law”.

What are the penalties for graffiti crimes?

If you are under 18 and you are charged with a graffiti crime and then found guilty, depending on the case a court can:

a) Make you take part in a graffiti clean-up program;

b)  Make you pay for the cost of cleaning the graffiti;

c) Make you pay compensation to the person whose property you marked the graffiti on;

d) Give you a fine. The amount of the fine will depend on the circumstances; or

e) Suspend your driver’s licence if you’re a repeat offender. This means you can’t drive or apply for a licence while your licence has been suspended and you will be on your L or P plates for longer.

For more information about going to Court, see Courtstuff.

If you want more information, have a specific question or need free legal advice, send us a Lawmail.


This information was last reviewed on 9 December 2013.