A Visit From the Landlord: What Are the Rules?

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By Laura Agadoni

Do you live in constant fear, wondering whether your landlord will pop in unannounced any moment? Sure, the landlord owns the property and has a right to visit it, but that doesn't mean he or she can treat you like hired help. Not respecting your boundaries and entering without proper notice is a big no-no and one that you shouldn't have to endure.

But you can't expect your landlord never to come by. For all the landlord knows, you could be destroying the front yard by turning it into an auto repair zone. Jason Hartman, president of Platinum Properties Investor Network, says that although it's "all over the board" regarding how often landlords visit their rental units, he thinks it's fair for landlords to come by once a year to do an inspection.

When you rent a property, you have the right to chill there -- according to the law, this is called "quiet enjoyment."

Your Privacy

All tenants who rent a property have the right to "quiet enjoyment," including the right to privacy with an expectation that the landlord won't enter the unit without permission.

"It's important to review your lease," says Massachusetts attorney Stanley A. Brooks. "It usually lists the circumstances under which the landlord can enter your apartment."

A typical lease agreement might state the following reasons:

  • an annual inspection
  • in case of an emergency
  • to make repairs
  • to show the unit to prospective buyers or tenants
  • when you give permission

You Should Get Notice

If the landlord wants to come over, he or she usually needs to give you notice, typically 24 to 48 hours. Many local jurisdictions require landlords to come over only at reasonable times -- not at 9 a.m. on a Saturday when you worked until 2 a.m. the night before.

Your Remedies

The first remedy every tenant should try is to voice your concern in a friendly manner. That often does the trick.

If it doesn't, there is a progression of steps to try, according to a NOLO, a legal advice website:

1.
Send your landlord a friendly letter. It can be an email, says Hartman, that asks to receive notice before a visit. You don't have to give a reason, but it makes the note more personable if you do. Most landlords should understand that your baby is on a strict nap schedule, that you want time to get your dog confined, or that you work odd hours and want to be awake before the visit.

2.
Send a second letter or email but with a businesslike tone. This step requires you to research your state's landlord-tenant law to see what your state says about the issue. Let your landlord know what your rights are under your state law. When there is no statute, mention your right to quiet enjoyment.

3.
Sue if your landlord continues to come over unannounced. You could go through a lawyer or try to save money by taking the landlord to small claims court.

4.
Move. If your landlord won't stop the unannounced visits, you might be entitled to break the lease. The "implied covenant of quiet enjoyment" pertains to every tenancy.

What Not to Do

Although it might be an easy solution to change the locks to prevent the unannounced intrusions, you cannot do that legally. You don't own the property, after all, and the landlord could evict you for doing that. The same goes for withholding rent. That's typically a risky endeavor, which often gets tenants evicted.

Laura Agadoni is an Atlanta-area writer, editor and landlord.

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