What are landlord’s legal rights when it comes to entry during a tenant’s extended absence?

Tenant privacy rights and landlord entry during an extended absence.

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Question

My tenant travels a lot and I am concerned about potential maintenance and other problems that might occur in an empty rental unit during the tenant’s extended absences.  What are landlord’s legal rights when it comes to entry during a tenant’s extended absence?

Answer

In order to protect a tenant’s right to privacy, many states set specific rules as to when and how a landlord may enter rental property, such as to make repairs, and how much notice a landlord must provide before entering (24 hours’ notice is a typical requirement in states with access laws). 

Several states with privacy statutes specifically allow landlords to enter rental property during a tenant's extended absence (often defined as 10 days or more) in order to maintain the property as necessary and to inspect for damage and needed repairs. For example, state law in Alaska requires tenants to notify landlords if they plan to be absent for more than seven days, during which time the landlord may enter as reasonably necessary. (Alaska Stat. §§ 34.03.140, 34.03.230(b).)

To avoid disputes on the topic, start by checking your state law as to reasons landlords may legally enter rental property. See the Nolo chart State Laws on Landlord’s Access to Rental Property for details. While many states do not address this issue by way of statute or court decision, landlords should be on safe legal ground to enter rental property during a tenant’s extended absence, as long as there is a genuine need to protect the property from damage. But you should enter only if something really needs to be done—that is, something that the tenant would do if he or she were home, as part of their obligation to keep the property clean, safe, and in good repair. In most cases, landlords may not enter while a tenant is out of town just to check up on the tenant and the rental property.

To protect yourself, make sure your tenant knows what to expect and include a clause in your lease or rental agreement that requires tenants to notify you when leaving the rental unit for an extended period of time, such as two weeks. Your lease clause should alert the tenant of your intent to enter the premises during such extended absences if necessary.

In addition to keeping your eye out for potential repair problems in the rental unit during a tenant’s extended absence, there’s another reason to include a lease clause on the subject: You will be less likely to assume that a tenant has abandoned the property if you have not seen the tenant for a few weeks and they have not notified you of an extended absence.

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