Right of entry is a confusing issue for many landlords. The natural impulse of landlords is to protect their property; if they suspect damage is being done, they quite naturally want to enter their own property to investigate. However, most states require you to notify your tenants in advance before you can enter a rented dwelling, unless there is an emergency.
Most states require you to give a minimum of 24 hours’ notice, while some states allow a shorter period of advance notice — as little as two hours, in some cases. Bear in mind that your idea of what constitutes reasonable notice might be different from your state’s legal definition; be sure to research your state’s requirements before you take any action.
You must give notice almost any time you wish to enter the rented dwelling — even to perform repairs. You will also need to give your tenant notice before a repair specialist can be granted access to the property, unless there is a specific emergency.
In addition to your notice before entry, you must enter the property during reasonable hours. Many states specify that entry can only be made during normal business hours, unless there is an emergency. This means that you would only be able to access the property between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., unless the tenant grants you permission.
Some states only specify that entry should be made during “reasonable times.” Most people take this to mean that you may not enter your property in the middle of the night, except in the case of an emergency.
In some instances, your tenant may refuse you access to the property, even when the required amount of advance notice is given. If this happens to you, stay calm, and do not try to force your way into the unit. Instead, try to make a peaceful attempt to gain entry, such as making another entry request — with sufficient advance notice, of course. If this fails, contact your local law enforcement to assist you in entering your rental property safely and legally.
By following your rights as a landlord and not overstepping your legal right of entry, you can protect yourself against any claims that you have entered a dwelling illegally.
As mentioned above, an emergency almost always supersedes the usual notification process. An emergency is usually defined as a gas or water leak, the smell or indication of smoke, a fire, or other issue that puts your tenant or your property in immediate danger. Some landlords have abused this emergency provision by claiming to smell gas in order to facilitate entry into a rental unit, so you will need to thoroughly document your reasons for entry. Whenever possible, have a witness that can attest to the emergency.
If your tenant has abandoned the property, you will not need to worry about your right of entry. But you should be sure the tenant has actually vacated the dwelling before you enter. If your tenant is simply on vacation, this does not give you the right to enter unlawfully.
While some landlords feel that the right of entry law is unfair, especially since they own the property, these laws exist to protect the interests of tenants. Remember, as a landlord, you are required to guarantee your tenant’s quiet enjoyment of his or her dwelling. Even if your motives are irreproachable, entering your tenant’s dwelling unannounced clearly violates the covenant of quiet enjoyment.
Your rental agreement should also spell out your policy on your right of entry. State how much notice you will give your tenant and what emergencies will make this notice period void. Including this in your agreement will lessen the chance of a misunderstanding and inform the tenant not only of their rights, but of your rights as the legal owner of the property.