Competing interests often lead to disagreements between landlords and tenants regarding a landlord’s right to enter a rental property.  As the property owner, you might want to occasionally check to make sure your property is being maintained but on the flip side your tenant wants his privacy. However, property owners do not have an absolute right to enter when there is a tenant living in their property.

Luckily there are laws in place that dictate when and how often you may enter a tenant-occupied property.  Knowing these laws is not only important to keep you out of legal trouble, they can also help you avoid unnecessary tension with your tenants.

What is Tenant Privacy?

California law protects tenants’ privacy by prescribing when, why, and how often a landlord may have the right to enter a property.  The right to privacy is a very important right, but lawmakers understand that sometimes a property owner needs to access their property even though someone else occupies it.

As a California landlord it is important you understand the laws regarding entry, as repeated violations of a tenant’s privacy can cause legal headaches in court or even result in trespass charges.  All San Diego property management companies understand these laws and can help you understand them as well.

There are certain behaviors that both tenants and the law consider invasive, including but not limited to:

  • Dropping by the property too frequently
  • Dropping by without warning
  • Failing to provide proper notice before entry
  • Entering the property without the tenant’s permission
  • Allowing others into the property unaccompanied
  • Conducting inspections or repair work outside of reasonable hours
  • Dropping by to harass a tenant

When Can a Landlord Enter a Rental?

California Civil Code §1954 spells out when a landlord may have the right to enter a tenant-occupied property.  In California, a landlord may have the right to enter the property for the following reasons:

In the event of an emergency

In the event of an emergency a landlord may have the right to enter a property without notice whether or not the tenant is home.

Any event that is causing damage to the property and will continue to cause damage if not immediately dealt with may be considered an emergency.  The most common emergencies are flooding, damage from extreme weather, and fire.

After proper written notice is given

A landlord may have the right to enter his property, even against his tenant’s wishes, as long as he has given proper written notice and the entry occurs during “normal business hours.”  California requires a landlord provide “reasonable” advance notice of intent to enter and considers 24 hours “reasonable” absent evidence to the contrary.    The notice must state the date, approximate time, and reason for entry.  Written notice may be personally delivered to the tenant, left with someone of suitable age at the residence, or mailed.

To make repairs

As long as proper notice is given as discussed above, a landlord may have the right to enter the property during normal business hours to make repairs.  If an outside party, such as a plumber or handyman is involved, the landlord or a representative from his San Diego property management company should accompany the repairperson and remain with them while they are inside the unit.

For yearly inspections

As with repairs, as long as proper written notice is given a landlord may have the right to enter and inspect the premises during normal business hours.  Again, if there will be an outside party doing the inspection, the landlord should accompany them into the unit and remain with them until the inspection is complete.

To show the rental property to prospective renters

With proper notice, a landlord may have the right to enter the unit to show it to prospective renters or buyers during normal business hours.   Normal business hours are generally considered 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays, however California law allows landlords to host up to two open houses per month on weekends between the hours of 1:00 pm and 4:30 pm, provided proper notice is given and the landlord or his agent remains on the property for the duration of the open house.  (See Dromy v. Lukovsky)

With the tenant’s permission

A landlord may enter a property any time a tenant gives him permission to do so, no matter what time of day.  Permission can be written or oral but it is always safest to get permission in writing.  E-mail is the fastest and easiest way to communicate with your tenant while simultaneously creating a written record.

If the tenant has abandoned the property

If a landlord reasonably believes that a tenant has abandoned the property he may the right to enter without notice.  However, the landlord must have sufficient, reasonable evidence that the tenant has left the property before relying on this to enter.

The following circumstances may be considered reasonable evidence of abandonment:

  • The utilities have been shut off
  • Neighbors report that the tenant was seen moving out
  • Neighbors report that the tenant told them he was moving out
  • The tenant filed a change of address with the post office
  • The tenant was served with a notice to quit and has failed to respond to any further communications.

Can a Tenant Refuse my right to Enter?

If a landlord gives proper notice and has a lawful reason to enter, he may do so even against the tenant’s wishes.  Of course, entering a property against a tenant’s wishes could cause a strain in the landlord-tenant relationship, so it is important to weigh your interest in entering against any possible conflict it might cause.

If your tenant is refusing your right to enter, you should try to find out why.  It might be the tenant simply wants to clean the unit before you enter, in which case you can work together to determine an acceptable time for both of you. Remember, if possible, it is always better to work with the tenant, even if you are technically in the right.

If a tenant repeatedly refuses entry, despite proper notice and attempts to compromise, you can take them to court and obtain a court order allowing you to enter the property with the help of law enforcement.  Although sometimes necessary, this should be done as a last resort because litigation costs both time and money.

Conclusion

California law clearly spells out when a landlord may have the right to enter a tenant-occupied property.  As a landlord, you want to familiarize yourself with the acceptable reasons and notice requirements for entry into a tenant-occupied property.  Following the law will not only keep you out of legal trouble, it will help foster good relationships with your tenants.

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