Q: My landlord keeps coming into my apartment, usually when I’m not at home. He doesn’t even leave a note. Can landlords just come in anytime they want?
A: Depends on the situation. When there’s an emergency, yes. Anytime they’re in the mood, usually not. According to Jan Portman, author of “Every Tenant’s Legal Guide,” there are five basic reasons a landlord may enter the rental premises, which include emergencies, inspection, repairs, showing to prospective tenants, and during a tenant’s extended absence.
Even though entry rules are usually governed by state law, and vary widely, landlord entry specifically for emergencies is allowed in all 50 states.
What’s considered an emergency? Any sudden or unexpected situation that requires immediate attention. Flooding, fires, a resident’s sudden disappearance, or loud screams fall into that category. To avoid emergency situations, use common sense. Check that all smoke alarms are in working order. Most have an ear-splitting sound that can be produced with a push of the small test button on the face of the alarm. If the alarms aren’t working, let the landlord know immediately, in writing and with a phone call.
Prevent floods? Water is under tremendous pressure, and can produce sudden flooding, especially in older buildings, which may have original plumbing. Pay attention to walls and ceilings, especially in kitchens and baths. If there’s paint puckering or mold forming above, water may be building up below the surface.
Persistent puddling, especially around plumbing fixtures, can also indicate trouble. Alert the landlord in writing immediately if you suspect water leakage.
Upper units face surprises from above when roofs leak. Before rainy season commences, remind the landlord to check the roof and gutters. Some owners forget until it’s too late, when overworked roofers are in short supply, leaving you wringing your hands — and belongings — in frustration.
Other emergencies to avoid? Sudden or prolonged disappearances may warrant an emergency visit, especially if the landlord gets a call from the tenant’s family or friends. While eloping may seem romantic, you may want to let your landlord in on the secret, so they don’t let themselves unexpectedly into your unit.
While relationships sometimes encounter conflict, it’s best to seek help before the screaming starts.
In the case of non-emergency situations, when can landlords send in the repair folks? Repair personnel may enter after giving tenants fair notice, ranging by state law from “reasonable notice” to the longest — 48 hours’ notice for Vermont residents. The average is 24 hours, including in California. Repair visits should be limited to normal business hours, unless arranged by mutual consent.
Knock, knock, who’s there? No matter who’s coming to fix things, ask the landlord for the name and phone number of the repair person, in case he/she comes late or you need to reach him/her directly. Being at home is always a good idea, particularly if you have pets. Be smart and don’t leave valuables lying around, such as cash, jewelry or keys.
Inspections. Some landlords rarely visit, while others have a regular schedule for maintenance, such as checking the smoke alarms or looking for pests. If the inspections overstep the bounds of logic, including unannounced or too frequent visits, let the landlord know your concerns.
In addition, some cities now require health and safety inspections for rental units. In Los Angeles, inspections take place once every three years, and apply to rental units of two or more. Entry notice should be provided to you in writing. Inspectors usually look for various health and safety items, including peeling paint, improperly barred windows, smoke alarms and illegal additions.
Another entry situation occurs when your place is up for rent. Whether you’re breaking a lease or just moving on, showings are a touchy topic. You don’t want to block the showings, but want your privacy. Let the landlord know when it’s not convenient, such as after 6 p.m. or during weekends before 11 a.m. Decide how much warning you need before they show up at your door, and be cooperative. The problem usually goes away in 30 days or when you move — whichever comes first.
The last entry situation involves tenants gone for an extended absence. Be sure the landlord has a local emergency contact to avoid unnecessary entry.
Regardless of the entry situation, if you consider your privacy being violated, have a friendly chat with your landlord. Entry laws exist for a reason, and if the entries are unreasonable, you may have to consult with an attorney to keep your rights within bounds.