Landlords should not enter rental units just because they can

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Remember the funny and endearing Three’s Company sitcom? We were always amused to see the landlords, Ralph Furley or Stanley Romper, trample in and out of Jack’s apartment with impunity, oftentimes causing their tenants to scramble in embarrassing moments. Since then, times have changed.

California recognizes the tenant’s right to “quiet enjoyment” of the premises, which means landlords cannot show up unannounced like Ralph Furley or Stanley Romper. Of course, the law also recognizes the owner’s right to access the unit, but only under limited circumstances which are delineated in Civil code 1954. Permissible reasons include:

  • In the case of an emergency;
  • To make necessary or agreed on repairs, decorations, alterations, or improvements;
  • To supply necessary or agreed services;
  • To show the dwelling unit to prospective or actual purchasers, mortgagees, residents, workers, or contractors;
  • To make an inspection pursuant to subdivision (f) of Section 1950.5 of the California Civil Code, if requested by the tenant;
  • To repair, test, and/or maintain smoke or carbon monoxide detectors as allowed by Health and Safety Code Section 13113.7 and 13260;
  • To inspect a waterbed for compliance with the installation requirements of Civil Code 1940.5;
  • When the resident has abandoned or surrendered the premises; or
  • Pursuant to a court order

Even when the landlord has a permissible purpose to enter, it may only be within normal business hours, barring an emergency or tenant consent. Of course, the tenant must be given ample notice and while every case is different, 24 hours written notice is normally presumed to be a reasonable notice. However, if the purpose of the entry is to conduct an inspection prior to the termination of the tenancy as required by Civil Code Section 1950.5(f), the owner/agent must provide at least 48-hours written notice.

MT Evictions also advised clients not to enter the unit to drink their alcohol, rifle through doors, and allow their dog to urinate on the tenant’s carpet. Watch this shocking video where a landlord was caught on tape doing just that.

Obviously, this is an egregious case but more commonly, a landlord’s violation of the law arising out of naivety or being overly casual. For example, a necessary project may need to be done, but the landlord enters the residence without notice to perform the work, perhaps catching the tenant in an embarrassing moment. The law makes no distinction between these seemingly innocuous violations — infringement of a tenant’s privacy rights cannot be explained away in court.

We hasten to say that the landlord is also responsible for the actions of his or her resident managers and other agents, making it imperative that everyone who has keys or who is acting on the owner’s behalf is educated on the law.

In parting, we want to speak to a group of landlords who find clever ways to police their property, like invoking Health and Safety Code Section 13113.7 and 13260, which allows the repair, testing, or maintenance of smoke or carbon monoxide detectors. Other gambits are sometimes used to excessively snoop, but we remind landlords that tenants can be equally as inventive in suing owners for overstepping their bounds — rental property owners need to know that while that while the property may be their house, it is the tenant’s home.

Mr. Furley and Stanley Romper, you have a lawsuit brewing.

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Timely insights for landlords in Los Angeles and throughout Southern California.

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