One of the most common sources of tension between landlords and tenants comes from the different opinions on landlord access to the rental unit and a tenant’s right to privacy.
Landlords feel that since they own the property, they should have frequent access in order to perform a range of tasks to keep the property safe and well-maintained.
Tenants often resent the seemingly endless intrusions by landlords, who they feel will abuse their position and snoop or even steal from them.
Tenants are often fearful that their privacy is being violated when there is entry into the rental property without their consent.
All in all, it’s important for both landlords and tenants to understand exactly what rights a landlord can enter a tenant-occupied property and exactly what rights a tenant has to privacy to ease tensions, comply with the law and promote a harmonious relationship between the two parties.
Landlord Legal: Rights To Enter Rental Property
We asked our friend Esther at Avvo (who is on their legal counsel) about this specific question.
Check out what she had to say in the short video below.
It’s a good idea to have an understanding of tenant privacy in this situation.
What Exactly Is Tenant Privacy?
Numerous state and local laws ensure that a tenant has the right to a certain level of privacy. However, a landlord must have certain access to the property he or she owns in order to do inspections, make repairs and so forth. Finding that balance is the task of state lawmakers, who have specifically outlined what is required of both parties.
There are certain landlord behaviors that tenants (and the law) considers invasive, which includes but is not limited to:
- Too-frequent inspections
- Impromptu visits
- Visits without proper notice in writing
- Written notices that don’t specify time or date
- Entering without tenant permission
- Allowing others, such as service technicians, enter unaccompanied
- Conducting inspections and other work outside of reasonable hours
- Using entry to harass a tenant
Landlords who violate a tenant’s right to privacy must answer to law enforcement and may even face trespassing charges or a trip to small claims court for violating notice rights and so forth. Both landlords and tenants should become very familiar with their state’s laws that detail a tenant’s right to privacy as well as the requirements for landlords to enter an occupied rental property.
When Can a Landlord Enter a Rental Unit?
While there are some variations between states, most state laws outline the situations where landlords can enter an occupied rental unit.
The laws in some states are specific, while other states don’t even have statutes addressing the issue. For states with landlord entry laws, there are a range of variations, so it’s critical that both landlords and tenants become familiar with each specific situation so they can either exercise or defend their rights.
Landlord entry allowances can generally be divided into 6 situations that clearly define when a landlord has the right to enter the rental property that he or she owns, as well as what they can and cannot do there.
Situation #1. In the event of an emergency
In the event of an emergency , state laws allows a landlord the right to enter a rental property without notice in order to care for the problem.
The landlord can enter without giving written notice and can use his or her own key to gain access, whether the tenant is home or not.
Basically, any situation where an event is causing damage and will continue to cause damage if not dealt with immediately can be considered an emergency.
There are several situations that constitute an emergency—generally regarding floods, fire and extreme weather.
For example, if a neighbor reports smoke coming from a rental property, the landlord may consider that an emergency and enter to investigate.
Water leaking from the ceiling is a justified emergency for a landlord to enter the unit above and try to discover the source of the problem.
There are very few situations that the law considers a real emergency, so landlords should be very careful when entering a rental property using this justification.
Situation #2. After proper written notice is given
The law recognizes that in order to maintain a property and protect their investment, landlords must be able to enter an occupied rental property even if the tenant doesn’t want them to.
That’s why state laws outline what type of notice a landlord must provide to the tenant that he or she will be entering the property, as well as the date and time.
The exact details vary by state, but generally indicate that the notice must be in writing and that the notification must happen within a reasonable time before entry.
In most states, a reasonable time is considered to be 24 hours of notice. This means that if the landlord is planning to enter a rental unit on a Friday to do maintenance or repairs, he or she must deliver a written notice to the tenant on
Thursday morning indicating what kind of repairs will be done and the time frame that the landlord will be present in the unit.
The landlord entry time must also be within what the law outlines as reasonable hours—generally defined as during normal business hours from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on weekdays.
Some states simply require that landlords only enter rental properties during “reasonable times,” which could logically include some Saturday hours.
Even with a written notice, a landlord is not allowed to enter a rental property before or after these reasonable times and days (except in an emergency, as described previously).
Situation #3. During a tenant’s extended absence
When a tenant leaves the rental property for an extended period of time, many states allow landlords to enter the property to perform basic maintenance and to check for damages. Each state may define an extended absence differently—but it is generally seven or more days.
Other states do not have any allowances for landlords to enter a rental unit for inspections even if the tenant is gone for more than seven days unless it is an emergency.
Landlords must always check with their own state laws to review and understand the specifications about entry during a tenant’s extended absence and the circumstances that would justify entry.
Situation #4. When a landlord needs to show the rental property
Landlords cannot be prevented from showing a rental property to prospective tenants or buyers, but state law dictates the type and frequency of notice that the tenant must receive.
For example, in some states, the tenant must give a 30-day written notice to the tenant that the landlord with start showing the property, then followed up with a 24-hour in advance verbal notification about a visit during normal business hours.
Each state has different requirements surrounding this type of landlord access to the property, so landlords should make certain they are compliant before proceeding.
Situation #5. When tenants give permission
If a landlord requests entry to check out whether repairs are needed in the unit or is responding to a tenant’s request to perform maintenance and the tenant agrees to allow entry, the landlord can enter the property, even if the tenant is not home.
As long as tenant permission is given, either in writing or verbally, the entry will not be considered illegal.
However, landlords should avoid frequent drop-ins to do inspections or look for repairs to do as too many may be considered interfering with the tenant’s quiet enjoyment of the property.
Written notices are the safest and best way to ensure that both landlords and tenants understand what is happening and when.
Situation #6. When a landlord suspects abandonment
If a landlord suspects that a tenant has abandoned a property and has sufficient, reasonable evidence to make that conclusion, he or she can enter legally.
Reasonable evidence that might lead a landlord to conclude a tenant has abandoned a unit could include:
- The rental property’s utilities have been shut off
- Other residents reported the tenant stating that he or she was moving out
- A change of address filed with the post office
- Witnesses saw the tenant moving furniture out recently
- The tenant was recently served a 3-day pay or quit notice and is not responding to communication attempts
The landlord can enter the property to gather further evidence of abandonment, such as verifying that there is no food in the cupboards or that the tenant’s possessions are gone. If for some reason the tenant has not abandoned the unit and the evidence is a coincidence, the landlord can still point to the evidence as reasonable enough to justify entry.
A Few Coast-to-Coast Examples
Because each state determines the laws surrounding landlord access to an occupied rental property, it’s interesting to compare to see how different the laws are.
Here are 10 states from across the United States with differing conditions on when landlords can enter a rental property:
- Arizona—Requires a 2-day notice, which can be written or given verbally to the tenant. Arizona doesn’t allow landlords to enter during an extended absence.
- California—Requires a 24-hour written notice, and the laws don’t support a landlord entry during extended notice.
- Florida—Requires only a 12-hour notice and the statute doesn’t specify whether written or verbal is required. Florida landlords are allowed by law to access a rental property during a tenant’s extended absence, defined as 7 days or more.
- Idaho—The state has no statue addressing landlord entry into an occupied rental unit.
- Kentucky—Requires a 2-day written notice, and allows landlords to enter to do routine maintenance during an extended absence.
- Montana—Requires a 24-hour written notice, and allows landlords to enter during the tenant’s extended absence.
- New Hampshire—Doesn’t specify a specific time frame, but states that adequate notice be given depending on the circumstances. Landlords can’t enter during extended absences.
- Ohio—Requires a 24-hour written notice, and landlords can’t enter for extended absences.
- Virginia—Requires a 24-hour written notice for routine maintenance, but no notice is required if the landlord is responding to a tenant request for repairs or maintenance. Landlords can enter a rental unit during an extended absence.
- Washington—Requires a 2-day written notice for maintenance but only 1 day if the landlord is showing the property to prospective tenants or buyers. Landlord can’t enter unit during the tenant’s extended absence
Can a Tenant Refuse Entry?
If a landlord has followed the state’s laws concerning proper notification and entry, but the tenant still doesn’t want to allow the landlord to proceed, what course of action do landlords and tenants actually have? If the tenant has a legitimate request, such as not having enough time to clean the rental before showing it to a prospective buyer, the landlord may consider working with the tenant for a better time that benefits them both.
However, if the tenant refuses to agree to the landlord’s notice for entry, even though the request meets all the laws and reasonable requirements set forth. In most cases where the tenant refuses, the landlord may go ahead and enter the unit peacefully and without force and perform the specified task. Some landlords may choose to bring along a witness to back up the legitimacy of the entry, observe the work done and to counter any tenant claims of missing property or misbehavior.
Some states do allow the tenant the right to refuse entry after getting a written notice, but the decision to refuse must be reasonable and justified. Frequent refusals could justify the landlord in suing the tenant for damage and loss caused by failure to cooperate. In extreme cases, the landlord can get a court order to allow access and would most likely terminate the lease agreement at the next available opportunity.
Where Can Landlords Learn More About Entry Laws?
For landlords who want to learn more about tenant privacy, landlord rights to entry and other situations centered on finding a balance between the two parties, there are a variety of sources:
- Websites that link to state landlord/tenant laws
- Landlord/tenant advocacy organizations
- Landlord/tenant attorneys
- Your state or local landlord and real estate investment groups
- Your own state government website that links to landlord/tenant statutes
Landlords and tenants both should become familiar with state laws so that both parties benefit. Landlords seek to protect their real estate investments and keep it profitable by making sure that all repairs and maintenance are done in a timely, effective way. Tenants, on the other hand, want to be left alone and enjoy their home. A successful relationship between tenants and landlords depends on understanding and respecting the other party’s rights when it comes to legal entry vs. legal privacy.
How familiar are you with landlord entry and tenant privacy laws in your state? Please share this article and let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.