Tenants Right of Privacy and Landlords Right of Access
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In every state, a landlord may enter rented premises without notice to the tenant if there is an emergency such as a fire, gas leak, or severe water leak.
When a Landlord May Enter
Tenants may give landlords permission to enter at any time. If a landlord has not received specific permission from the tenant to enter, most states require the landlord to give the tenant notice of an intention to enter for a valid purpose, such as to make a repair, assess the need for repair, or show the unit to a prospective buyer or renter. The landlord cannot enter simply to inspect how the tenant is using the premises. Before entering, the landlord must give 24–48 hours advance notice; and in some states the landlord may only enter during ordinary business hours. This is usually understood to be the time period from 8 AM to 5 PM. If the tenant refuses the landlord’s request, the landlord can enter without permission at a reasonable time. In deciding if a time was reasonable, a court will consider how much the landlord was interfering with the tenant’s privacy or use of the unit. The time of day when a landlord can enter is defined by state law and need not appear in the lease or rental agreement.
Landlords may also enter rented premises that have been abandoned by the tenants, and some states allow landlords to enter to check on premises during an extended absence of the tenant, sometimes defined in the state law as seven days or longer. When this right of entry is provided by state law, it does not need to be mentioned in the lease or rental agreement.
What a Tenant Can Do
If a landlord repeatedly enters rented premises without permission or at unreasonable times, the tenant has the right to take legal action. If the landlord’s entries are in violation of a clause in a written lease or rental agreement, the tenant can bring a legal action for breach of the rental contract and ask for damages.
If the written agreement does not mention the landlord’s right of entry or the tenant’s right of privacy, the tenant’s legal remedy is for breach of the tenant’s right of quiet or peaceful enjoyment of the rented premises. When a landlord rents property, he or she is assumed to promise that the tenant will be able to use the property without interference by the landlord. If the landlord’s entry into the rented unit is so invasive that it makes it impossible for the tenant to continue living there, the tenant can move out without notice and sue for damages. If the landlord’s actions are not so serious as to justify moving, the tenant can bring an action for harassment or disturbance of his or her peace of mind.
The remedies available to a tenant have been interpreted differently in various states. Information about these remedies is usually found in the decisions of the state courts, and not in the written state laws. The damages available are also different in various states. Some state and local laws allow for damages to punish the landlord, while others allow a tenant to collect only damages he or she has actually suffered.
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