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Here are answers to frequently asked questions on a landlord's right to entry.
1. Does my landlord have the right to enter my apartment whenever he or she wants?
It depends on the state. In all states, a landlord or manager may enter rented premises while the tenant is living there without advance notice in the case of emergency, such as a fire or serious water leak. And, of course, a landlord may enter when a tenant gives permission. Beyond that, laws in many states guarantee tenants reasonable privacy rights against landlord intrusions.
2. What are examples of situations when a landlord may enter, but only after giving the tenant reasonable notice?
Typically, a landlord has the right to enter rented premises after giving tenants reasonable notice in order to make needed repairs (or assess the need for them) and to show the property to prospective new tenants or purchasers. In addition, a landlord may enter rented premises in instances of abandonment (that is, when the tenant moves out without notifying the landlord) or by court order. A landlord may not enter just to check up on the tenant.
3. Assuming it is not an emergency, but the landlord has a valid reason to enter -- for example, to make repairs -- what kind of notice is required?
States typically require landlords to provide a specific amount of notice (usually 24 hours) before entering a rental unit. In some states, such as California, landlords must provide a reasonable amount of notice, legally presumed to be 24 hours. Landlords can usually enter on shorter notice if it is impracticable to provide the required amount of notice.
4. May a landlord enter a rental unit any time of day, as long as he's given the required amount of notice?
No. In most instances -- except emergencies, abandonment and invitation by tenant -- states allow a landlord to enter only at reasonable times, without setting specific hours and days. However, some states, such as California, require that landlords may enter only during normal business hours.
5. What are the landlord's options if a tenant refuses to allow entry even when a landlord has given adequate notice and has a valid reason to enter?
A landlord should not force entry except when there is a true emergency, such as a fire or gas leak. However, if a tenant is repeatedly unreasonable in denying the landlord access, the landlord can legally enter anyway, during reasonable times, provided he does so in a peaceful manner. However, in no case should the landlord enter if the tenant is present and saying "stay out."
If a landlord has a serious conflict over access with an otherwise satisfactory tenant, a sensible first step is to meet with the tenant to see if the problem can be resolved. Often, neighborhood mediation programs will, for a low cost, help work out an agreement. If these attempts at compromise don't work, a landlord can usually evict the tenant for violating the lease or rental agreement, assuming it contains an appropriate right-of-entry provision.
6. What should a tenant do if a landlord repeatedly violates her privacy rights by entering the rental unit with no good reason and/or advance notice?
As a first step, the tenant will usually first meet with the landlord to ask for assurance that this conduct won't be repeated. If this doesn't work, the tenant (depending on the laws of her state) may be able to simply move out, claiming that the landlord's repeated violation of her privacy amounts to a "constructive eviction." Finally, if the landlord's conduct seriously interferes with the tenant's peace of mind, the tenant may have grounds for a successful lawsuit, asking for damages. Typically, a tenant will file suit in small claims court without a lawyer. For details on small claims court procedures and the maximum amount for which someone can sue, see Everybody's Guide to Small Claims Court (National or California Edition), by Ralph Warner (Nolo Press).
7. How can I find out the specific laws on privacy in my state?
Find your state's statutes at a law library or large public library. If possible, look for the larger annotated version which will also contain brief notes as to key court decisions. Look in the index under Landlord-Tenant and then for the subheading Privacy. You may also be able to get information from a local apartment association or tenants' rights group. Your state Attorney General's Office or Consumer Protection Agency can also provide advice.
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