Learning your state's law on tenant privacy, particularly the permissible reasons for landlord's entry and the amount of notice required, is key. But as you no doubt know too well, it’s one thing to have a right, while it’s sometimes quite another to enjoy that right. Alas, getting your nosy landlord to cool it may not be an easy task, especially if his intrusiveness is annoying but just this side of illegal. Still, there are proven methods that may, with persistence, get results.
Have a Chat With Your Landlord
The first step is to simply have a conversation with your landlord (or manager), as friendly as possible, and ask that the behavior stop. If there is anything redeeming in your landlord’s actions—his unannounced entries are for the purpose of fixing something that really needs to be done, for example—be sure to acknowledge that you appreciate his good intentions. Then explain that it would really be great if he could give you reasonable notice and so on.
Send a Letter Asking the Landlord to Respect Your Privacy
Follow up your conversation with a letter of understanding. A sample Letter Asking Landlord to Respect Tenant's Privacy is shown below. If your problem is with the manager send a copy to the landlord, too.
Get Tough With Your Landlord
If your friendly chat and confirming letter don’t get results, it’s time to get heavy. Write another letter, this time directing your landlord’s attention to the legal consequences of the refusal to respect your rights. Be sure you’ve done your homework first, by checking to see whether your state has a statute that covers tenant privacy or, failing that, whether there are court decisions upholding your rights.
These letters are not just exercises in futility—if you decide to press on and sue or utilize another significant remedy, you’ll need evidence that you first brought the problem to the landlord’s attention and did all that a reasonable person could do to persuade the landlord to shape up. Be sure to keep a copy of your letter (and all landlord communications) in a safe place, and send the letter return receipt requested. Another sample, in this case a Get-Tough Letter Asking Landlord to Respect Tenant's Privacy, is shown below.
Again, be sure to send a copy to the property owner if it's the manager or supe who's giving you a bad time.
Sue Your Landlord for Illegal Entry
If your words and letters get nowhere, it’s time to see a lawyer or head for small claims court. Depending on the circumstances, you may be able to sue your landlord for:
- trespass: entering your rental space without consent or proper authority
- invasion of privacy: interfering with your right to be left alone
- breach of implied covenant of quiet enjoyment: interfering with your right to the undisturbed use of your home
- intentional infliction of emotional distress: a pattern of illegal acts by someone (in this case, the landlord or manager) who intended to and did cause serious emotional consequences to you.
Be forewarned that it may be hard to prove much in the way of money damages if the intrusions are annoying but not extreme. Most likely, a judge will figure that you have not been harmed much if, on one occasion, your landlord merely walked on your rug and opened and closed your door, and you won’t be awarded much money for compensation.
However, if you can show a repeated pattern of illegal entry and the fact that you asked the landlord to stop it, or even one clear example of outrageous conduct, you may be able to get a substantial recovery. You’ll probably want an attorney for this kind of case, especially if you bring your case in a court other than small claims court.
See the Nolo article "Can I Sue My Landlord for Entering My Home Without Notice Or Otherwise Invading My Privacy?" for more detailed information about the your legal rights against an overly obtrusive landlord.
Move Out if the Landlord Repeatedy Invades Your Privacy
Repeated abuses of your right to privacy may justify your breaking the lease and moving out, without liability for future rent. Some state statutes even include this as an available remedy.
If your statute doesn’t explicitly give you the option of leaving when the landlord violates the privacy laws, or if you don’t even have the protection of a privacy statute, don’t despair. There’s still a way to leave legally. Your legal theory is that the landlord’s actions violated the “implied covenant of quiet enjoyment.” Since that covenant, or promise, is automatically present in every rental situation, your landlord has broken the lease. That breach leaves you free to leave.
It’s a good idea to try mediation before packing up and moving out or heading for court. In fact, in many small claims courts you’ll be sent to mediation before your case will be heard by a judge, so you might as well do it yourself early on.
Don't Withhold Rent or Change the Locks
If your landlord is violating your privacy rights, your answer lies in the law (as in lawsuits and moving out), not locksmiths or rent withholding.
Never change the locks without permission. Many state statutes expressly forbid tenants from doing so. Violating the law may result in the termination of your tenancy.And if your lease or rental agreement forbids you from altering the premises without the landlord's okay, the installation of a new lock will trigger this clause--again, with the risk that your tenancy will be terminated.
Also, rent withholding is not the proper legal response to even the most obnoxious entry.