Renter Claims Repairmen Invaded Her Boudoir, Tried on Clothes

invasion of privacyEvery person's home is their castle, the saying goes – but what happens when said castle is allegedly invaded by cross-dressing maintenance men?

A Houston woman is accusing maintenance workers from her former apartment complex of entering her home uninvited and trying on clothing from her closet, according to a local ABC news affiliate. (Watch the video below.)

The former tenant, Stacy Knight, claimed in a lawsuit that the repairmen were supposed to be searching for a leak but instead went rummaging through her personal belongings. Knight said that she became aware of the intrusion when photos of the workers donning her Halloween wig and her boyfriend's work uniform surfaced on Facebook.

The tension in this dispute (aside from the obvious sleaze factor) puts two parties' interests at odds: a landlord's right of entry versus a tenant's right to privacy. Essentially, all landlords must comply with a legal principle known as the "right to quiet enjoyment," according to Sandy Rollins, executive director of the Texas Tenants' Union. How this applies in practice, however, varies by state.

When a Landlord Can Enter the Premises

Texas is among a minority of states that doesn't explicitly address a landlord's duty to provide notice of entry to a tenant, Rollins told AOL Real Estate. By her last count, in 2007 only 32 states had notice-before-entry laws on the books. That doesn't mean, however, that a landlord can enter the premises without a valid reason or at an unreasonable hour.

Generally speaking, your landlord has the right to enter your apartment when explicit permission is granted; an emergency situation arises, like a fire in the building; your lease will soon expire and new tenants want to see the apartment; or necessary repairs must be made.

In Knight's case, the maintenance men entered the building under the pretense of fixing a leak -- an acceptable reason if the leak could damage the property. But what allegedly transpired when they went searching for the source crosses into legally dicey terrain, no matter which state the incident occurred in.

"Tenants have said they've smelled popcorn that's been popped in their microwave" after visits from the repairman, Rollins said, suggesting that the line is crossed more often than some might think. Cases of alleged cross-dressing, on the other hand, she's unfamiliar with.

Making a Complaint

In the event that you suspect your landlord of violating these guidelines, it's best to formalize your complaint in writing, says Marcia Stewart, co-author of "Every Tenant's Legal Guide," published by Nolo, an online legal resource center. That way, should the situation escalate further, the tenant has a clear record of when the problem started.

Additionally, tenants should carefully read their lease agreement for their landlord's policy on advance notice. In Knight's case, her lawyer told the local news affiliate that her lease explicitly stated that no visits to her apartment would be made in her absence. Having explicit language outlining the privacy policy won't trump a landlord's right to enter the property for the reasons above, but does provide a framework for landlord-tenant relations.

Even in states where there are no explicit laws on advance-notice entry for landlords, Rollins says, there is an implied right to "peaceable, quiet enjoyment of the premises." At the very least, a landlord (or contractor) should give at least 24-hours notice before entering the home, unless there is an emergency situation.

To learn more about tenants' privacy rights, visit Nolo's Renters' Rights FAQ page.

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