Landlord Entering My Rental Apartment Without Giving Me Notice: My Rights
UPDATED: February 5, 2020
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Landlords and tenants both have rights: balancing their rights is something that landlord-tenant laws in all states strive to do. One of the areas where getting this balance right is in regards to the landlord’s right to access the tenant’s unit.
The landlord owns the property. He or she has the right to maintain it, to protect it from damage or repair it, and to market it for rent or sale. But the tenant has the right to "quiet enjoyment": the right to use (or "enjoy") the property which the tenant leased without undue disturbance. The tenant is not paying rent only for the right to enter or use the space him- or herself; he or she is also paying for the right to keep others—including the landlord—out and to control who can enter, when. That right to control access, as well as the right to be free from harassment or undue noise and disruption, is what “quiet enjoyment” means.
A lease does not need to specifically include a "quiet enjoyment" clause; one is implied (or added to the lease) by the law.
The difficulty comes from the fact that while “quiet enjoyment” is an established fundamental legal right of tenants, there is no hard-and-fast rule as to what constitutes a violation and what does not. And, as stated above, courts also recognize the landlord’s own right to take physical care of and make economic use of the rental property (e.g. market it for lease or sale). As a result, whether the landlord may enter at any given time or for any given reason depends on the context and situation.
Some Common Clashes on Rental Properties
Emergency maintenance repairs
There is a broken window letting in the rain; there is a toilet overflowing; there is a burst water pipe, clogged drain or large water leak; there is a gas leak or electrical short; smoke is coming out of a unit—in cases like these, the landlord can enter without notice to deal with the emergency. This is to prevent property damage, or even personal injury or loss of life.
Imminent danger -- emergency entry
Similarly, a landlord may enter—or let police or emergency services enter—if there is some reason that a person or even an animal (e.g. a pet) is in imminent danger.
However, if the landlord suspects that its tenants are manufacturing and selling heroin, the landlord cannot enter the apartment without notifying the tenant. The right to enter to protect life or property does not confer the right to enter to enforce the laws, since it is not the landlord’s duty or role to enforce the law—that’s what the police do. The landlord’s entry because of suspected crime could constitute trespassing. It is much better for the landlord to call the police: let the duly authorized professionals handle the situation.
Nonemergency maintenance repairs
What about non-emergency repairs, maintenance, or renovations? The general rule is that the landlord would serve appropriate written notice (generally considered to be a 24-hour notice) on the tenant, outlining the repair(s) and provide a period of time when repair will be made (usually more-or-less normal business hours, or as otherwise agreed to by the tenant). This also applies to extermination: the landlord can have the exterminator treat the unit on reasonable notice, during reasonable (e.g. Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm or as otherwise agreed) times.
Marketing the unit for lease or sale
The same principal applies to marketing the unit for lease or sale. The landlord (or his agent/representative—for example, his realtor) can generally enter the unit on 24-hour notice during more-or-less normal business hours, such as to show potential renters (i.e., people who may rent after your lease is up or you move out) or buyers (people who might buy this unit or the entire building).
“Reasonable” is not a well-defined or objective standard, and common sense and a degree of consideration for the other side are necessary when determining what is reasonable.
Some prospective renters or buyers can’t get there during business hours, because, for example, they have jobs they have to go to. It therefore is likely reasonable to show the unit to them during dinner time (say, around 6pm or 7pm), but would not be considered reasonable to bring strangers by to look at the tenant’s unit at or near bedtime. It is reasonable to have a small number of showings spread over several days or weeks; it is not reasonable to run eight or 10 prospective tenants or buyers through each week. It’s also one thing to take 10 or 15 minutes to show a unit—another to have an obsessive or picky potential buyer spending an hour in the tenant’s space.
The above are the general rules. A lease may specifically address the issues. The lease can put rules in place about access. For example, it is not all that uncommon for a lease to say that the landlord and his/her realtor can show the space only during the last three months of the tenant’s tenancy. Anything agreed to in the lease by the landlord and tenant is enforceable, though if the lease is poorly worded or sloppily written, it could add confusion rather than clarifying the situation.
In short, the question of when something is or is not a violation of the right to quiet enjoyment is a context-dependent one, and answering it depends upon performing essentially a common-sense balancing of the rights of the landlord, as property owner, versus the rights of the tenant, as renter.
Therefore, if you are a tenant who believes that you may be being deprived of your right to quiet enjoyment, you should consult with a landlord-tenant attorney who can evaluate the situation for you and advise you of your options.