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A Landlord’s Right of Entry and Protecting the Privacy of Tenants

A landlord’s right of entry into the dwelling unit of a tenant is usually based on state and local landlord-tenant laws, which can vary significantly. As such, the specifics of when a landlord may lawfully enter a rented dwelling are typically governed by the terms of the lease or rental agreement.

In most instances, a landlord may only enter the dwelling unit of a tenant without advance notice in a true emergency (e.g., in the event of a fire, gas or water leak). In fact, most states require landlords to provide a tenant with notice before entering the premises (usually 24 or 48 hours advance notice), unless the tenant has given the landlord permission to enter or has abandoned the property.

Landlord’s Right of Entry After Advance Notice

Depending on the laws of the state, a landlord typically has the right to enter a rented dwelling with advance notice in the following situations:

  • Necessary Repairs – includes the landlord’s right to inspect the property to assess the need for repairs, to make any needed repairs, and to perform required maintenance
  • Showing the Property – includes showing the unit to prospective new tenants or purchasers
  • Court Order – landlord may enter pursuant to a court order, as long as there has been a hearing to determine legal necessity and the tenant was given advance notice of the hearing

In most cases where a landlord may lawfully enter a tenant’s dwelling unit with notice, states require the landlord to enter at a reasonable time. In California, for example, landlords may only enter during normal business hours. Furthermore, while an emergency is usually the only justification for forced entry, many states allow a landlord to forcibly enter the dwelling unit of a tenant who has repeatedly denied the landlord reasonable access, as long as the landlord does so in a peaceful manner.

Tenant’s Rights of Privacy and “Quiet Enjoyment”

Laws in many states guarantee a tenant’s right to privacy against landlord intrusions. In accordance with the tenant’s right to privacy, no state allows a landlord to enter a rented dwelling for the sole purpose of “checking up” on a tenant.

In addition, a tenant has an implied right to the “quiet enjoyment” of a leased premises. Among other guarantees, the covenant of quiet enjoyment prohibits a landlord from interfering with a tenant’s peace of mind by entering the tenant’s dwelling unit without permission or contrary to the terms of the rental agreement.

Constructive Eviction

If a landlord has repeatedly violated a tenant’s privacy rights or implied right to quiet enjoyment (to the point of harassment), then the tenant might be able to move out and break the rental agreement under the concept of “constructive eviction.” Constructive eviction occurs when a landlord has effectively made a tenant’s dwelling unit uninhabitable, by acting or failing to act in a way that prevents the tenant from the full use and possession of the rental property. Repeatedly entering a tenant’s dwelling unit without permission, in violation of the tenant’s rights to privacy and quiet enjoyment, is one way a landlord might constructively evict a tenant.

In such cases, a tenant is relieved from the obligation to pay rent or otherwise fulfill the terms of the rental agreement. To claim constructive eviction, a tenant must typically give written notice to the landlord, and allow for a reasonable period of time for the landlord to cure the defects.

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