Your rental unit is your home and ought to be respected as such. Here's an overview of state rules regarding landlord entry and your rights to privacy.
State Rules on When and How Landlords May Enter Rental Property
About half the states have statutes (laws written by state legislators) specifying when and how landlords may legally enter rented property. (See State Laws on Landlord’s Access to Rental Property for details.) In some states, your right to privacy may instead be the product of judge-made law and will be contained in court opinions issued by your state’s appellate courts. And, in some states, you’ll find that neither the legislators nor the judges have made law that protects the privacy rights of tenants. (In this event, your only hope is that your state constitution includes a broad right to privacy, which you can cite if you need to press the point with your landlord.)
If you find that your state lacks a privacy statute, you’ll have to research the case law or get help from a lawyer or tenants’ rights group to find out how much privacy protection you can expect. In many cases, the legal principle known as the “covenant of quiet enjoyment” will provide some protection. This archaic-sounding bit of legalese actually packs quite a punch: It’s your right to be left in peace, free of your landlord’s illegal intrusions. Especially in states that do not have specific access statutes, this age-old principle can come in handy if your landlord persists in unlawful entries that significantly interfere with your right to kick back, relax, and not worry about who’s coming in the door unannounced. You may need to rely on it if the landlord refuses to back off.
Sample Privacy Clause for Your Lease or Rental Agreement
Keep in mind that you can bargain for privacy protection if your state has no statute. During lease negotiations, simply ask the landlord to include a reasonable clause covering reasons for entry, amount of notice, and time of entry. A sample is provided below.
Entry by the Landlord. Landlord or his agent will not enter Tenant’s home except to deal with an emergency; to make necessary or agreed repairs; to supply necessary or agreed services; or to show the unit to potential purchasers, tenants, or repair persons. Unless there is an emergency, Landlord will give Tenant at least 24 hours’ written notice of the date, time, and purpose of the intended entry and will schedule entries during normal business hours, Monday–Friday.
Most landlords will be hard-pressed to say no to such a reasonable clause. If the landlord balks, it’s a sure sign that he won’t be reasonable in other respects, too. Continue on in your housing search!
Allowable Reasons for Landlords to Enter Your Rental
Landlords can always enter your rental unit under certain situations:
- When you give permission. There’s nothing wrong with agreeing to a landlord’s request to inspect for needed repairs. Many landlords schedule once- or twice-yearly walk-throughs to check for necessary maintenance. (You may see a provision establishing this practice in your lease or rental agreement.) Actually, most tenants are delighted when the landlord is so conscientious! But more frequent visits are generally unnecessary (unless there is a need to address a persistent problem, such as an insect infestation). Don’t let yourself be coerced into “agreeing” to excessive visits that become harassing. These are illegal.
- Any time there is a genuine emergency. Common sense is the name of the game here: a broken dishwasher hardly qualifies, yet windows left wide open in the face of a driving rainstorm would.
- To make needed repairs or improvements. Most states allow the landlord to enter to perform his maintenance duties. This includes entry with contractors or designers as well as repair people. Your landlord must still give proper notice and enter at reasonable hours, as explained below.
- To show property to prospective tenants or purchasers. If you’ve given notice or your lease is about to expire, you must accommodate your landlord’s reasonable efforts to rerent. The same is true when she attempts to sell the building or refinance. However, you are not obligated to hold endless open houses or accommodate showings with insufficient notice. Losing the use of your home every Saturday morning for an open house or being expected to clear out while potential buyers tramp through two or three times a week would be unreasonable in most people’s estimation. You might be willing to put up with frequent showings if your landlord is willing to give you a substantial reduction in rent for your cooperation. Regardless of the frequency of the showings, never put up with a lock box. These are metal boxes affixed to the front door that hold a key to your home and can be opened by anyone knowing the code—typically, local real estate agents. It enables them to enter without notice and at any time, completely circumventing any state law on tenant privacy. Say “No,” and if the owner or agent objects, write a letter to the real estate agent’s main office with a copy to your state’s real estate licensing board.
- When the landlord believes you have abandoned the property. If your landlord thinks you’ve skipped out without giving any notice or returning the key, he may legally enter. For example, if a neighbor reports seeing a moving van drive away and the utilities have been shut off, it’s reasonable to conclude that you’ve left for good. Some states allow landlords to enter when you have left for an extended period of time, in order to perform needed or preventive maintenance.
You’re Right to Notice of Landlord Entry
Most state access laws require landlords to give you 24 hours’ to two days’ notice before entering your rental unit in nonemergency situations. A few states simply require landlords to provide “reasonable” notice. See State Laws on Landlord’s Access to Rental Property ifor details in your state.
If your state requires your landlord to give you only “reasonable” notice, you’ll want to know how this translates into hours and days. Twenty-four hours is about right. In some circumstances, less notice (say, ten or 15 hours) might be fine—for example, think twice about objecting if your landlord finds out Thursday evening that an electrician is available Friday morning to install the extra outlets that you requested. Except for an emergency, less than four hours’ notice is not ordinarily considered reasonable.
Hours the Landlord May Enter
Most state access laws either do not specify what hours a landlord may enter your rental unit or simply allow entry at “reasonable times.” Weekdays between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. would seem to be reasonable times, and perhaps Saturdays between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Some states specify “normal business hours,” which leaves it open as to whether Saturday would be a reasonable time.
Cooperating With Your Landlord's Requests for Entry
Common sense suggests that if your landlord does not have a history of invading your privacy, you’re better off accommodating requests for entry, especially if the purpose is to make repairs that will benefit you. Objecting to legal entries without solid reasons may result in:
- An eviction. As long as your landlord complies with your state law as to reasons for entry and notice periods, your refusal to allow access can result in an eviction lawsuit.
- A termination at the end of the month or a nonrenewal at the end of the lease. If your landlord concludes you are too difficult to deal with, he may simply give you a 30-day notice or not renew the lease rather than put up with you.
- A difficult working relationship. Don’t expect much help or understanding when you make repair requests or float an occasional plea to pay the rent late. Landlords have long memories.
This is not to say that you should surrender your rights to privacy out of craven fear. By no means should you. But don’t be hard-nosed just for the principle involved.
See Tenants' Rights to Privacy for advice on dealing with an intrusive landlord who's invading your privacy.