Tenants' Rights to Privacy

Tips for dealing with an intrusive landlord

You may have already encountered a landlord who cannot stop fussing over the property or who frequently tries to wangle an invitation into your home to look around. Even worse are landlords and managers who use a passkey to enter without notice and there is no emergency. The idea that a landlord (or manager) might at any time violate your private space and even go through your personal belongings is very upsetting.

Here are some basic tips for protecting your privacy:

  • Get the lowdown on the landlord before you sign up for a new place. Talk to neighbors or the tenant whose unit you’re considering: Is this a nosy landlord? If so, look elsewhere.

  • Learn your state laws on tenant privacy, particularly the permissible reasons for landlord entry and the mount of notice required. Many states have laws limiting landlords access rental privacy. Make sure you know yours, so you can stand up for your rights when necessary.
  • Never sign a lease or rental agreement waiving your rights to privacy. Many courts will refuse to uphold such a waiver, but you’ll have to spend many miserable hours fighting with your landlord and arguing in court before that lesson will be pounded into your landlord. Besides, any landlord who wants to do business this way is likely to be a sleaze in other respects, too.

  • Try to bargain for an access clause in your lease or rental agreement if you aren't protected by a state statute or court decision.
  • Never complain to your landlord about privacy violations without putting the complaint in writing (in a follow-up letter after a conversation, if necessary). If the landlord doesn’t back off and you need to press the matter in court, you may need this letter as proof that you’ve complained of the behavior. Use the Letter Asking Landlord to Respect Tenant's Privacy in preparing your own.
 If the landlord agrees to a reasonable plan covering times and reasons for entry, reduce that understanding to a letter, too.
  • Contact the property owner if it's the manager or supe who's giving you a bad time. The landlord may not know what his or her manager is doing unless you speak up.
  • Never go away for extended periods of time without notifying the land­lord. Some states give landlords the right to enter if they discover you’re not around. To avoid the possibility that the landlord will enter to check up, alert her of your plans and comply with reason­able requests such as turning off the heat in winter, draining the pipes, or securing the windows. If you take care of these matters, she’ll have less need (or excuse) to come in.

  • Never withhold rent in response to your landlord’s unauthorized entry. Unfortunately, rent withholding is not the proper legal response to even the most obnoxious entry.

  • Never change the locks without the landlord’s consent. If your landlord is violating your privacy rights, your answer lies in the law (as in lawsuits and moving out), not locksmiths.
  • Consider suing your landlord. If the invasions of privacy are really severe, you may be able to sue your landlord for trespass or for intenational infliction of emotional distress.
  • Move out if all else fails. Check to see if your state law justifies your breaking the lease and moving out for repeated abuses of your right to privacy.

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