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.
About half the states have statutes on landlord's access to rental property specifying when and how landlords may legally enter rented property. 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 (instead of laws written by state legislators). 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 the covenant of quiet enjoyment if the landlord refuses to back off.
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.
Sample Lease Clause: Entry by the Landlord. Landlord or Landlord's agent will not enter Tenant's home except to deal with an emergency; to make necessary or agreed repairs or improvements; to supply necessary or agreed services; or to show the unit to potential purchasers, tenants, or repair persons. Except in cases of emergency, Landlord will give Tenant at least 24 hours' written notice of the date, time, and purpose of the intended entry.
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 ir she won't be reasonable in other respects, too. Continue on in your housing search!
Landlords can always enter your rental unit under certain situations:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
Finally, remember there are lots of ways to deal with an intrusive landlord who's invading your privacy. Good communication with your landlord or manager is a must (that includes always putting your complaints in writing). For more information on renter's right to privacy and tips for working with landlords, see Nolo's book, Every Tenant's Legal Guide.