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Tips for Landlords: How to Exercise Your Right to Enter an Occupied Residence

As the owner and landlord of a rental property, you have a right to enter a resident’s apartment in certain situations, but whether, when, why, and how you exercise that right are crucial to keeping you out of legal trouble.

Build rapport with residents

Knowing and obeying the laws that govern the landlord-resident relationship are important. You and your residents share an interest in maintaining and improving the physical condition of the rental unit, which is much more attractive than the flip side where you and the residents don’t.

As a result, you want to strive to establish landlord-resident relationships based on courtesy and respect, rather than on strict application of the law. Collaborate with your residents to find a balance between their right to undisturbed use of the property and your right of entry.

Demonstrating your commitment to helping your residents by being courteous, maintaining the grounds, responding quickly to maintenance calls, and resolving any issues that arise goes a long way toward maintaining cooperation.

Smart landlords realize that establishing and maintaining positive relationships with their residents is key to resident retention. Residents who continue to live in their apartments after their leases expire, often agreeing to rent increases, is good business.

Enter a residence only when necessary

Even though you have a right to enter a resident’s dwelling under certain conditions, don’t abuse that right. As long as residents pay their rent and comply with the other terms of their lease, you need to back off and give them space to live their lives and enjoy the premises they’re paying you to use. In any event, enter only for legitimate business reasons.

Respecting resident privacy and personal space not only makes sense legally but it’s also a wise approach to doing business. Nobody likes a snoopy, intrusive landlord or property manager. If you earn such a reputation, current residents will move out and spread the word to anyone who’ll listen. They’ll also probably post their opinions online.

Give residents advanced notice and getting permission

Unless you’re responding to an emergency or a resident has abandoned or surrendered the rental unit, you’re required to provide reasonable notice of your need to enter the premises. You should obtain the resident’s permission to enter the premises, although doing so isn’t always possible.

Giving a resident “reasonable notice”

State laws typically spell out what “reasonable notice” means in terms of the following factors:

  • Time: In most states, “reasonable notice” means you have to deliver the notice to the resident at least 24 or 48 hours prior to entering the premises. Other states leave “reasonable notice” open to interpretation, but in practice, 24- to 48-hour notice is usually sufficient.

  • Method of delivery: Some state statutes specify that notices must be in writing and require certain methods of delivery, such as in person, slipped under the residence door, via mail, email, or fax, and so on. If your state allows mail delivery of notices, it may also specify how many days in advance the notice must be mailed in order to meet the time requirement.

    Even if your state doesn’t require written notice, it’s a good idea anyway to rebut any claim by the resident that notice wasn’t provided.

  • Details: State statutes may specify the details required in the notice, including your reason for needing to enter the premises, who will be entering the premises, and the date and approximate time you or your agent plan to enter the premises.

Getting permission, when possible

The law permits you to enter a resident’s unit without notice, if the resident gives you permission to do so. If you need to do so only occasionally, such as to make a repair, in many instances all that’s required is a telephone call and a short conversation about the time of entry.

On the other hand, if the repair is complicated or likely to require extended time, the better approach would be to talk with the resident to arrive at acceptable dates and times for entry, and to prepare the agreement in writing for his signature.

Be polite. Asking for permission is an opportunity for you to build rapport with your clientele. Consider making a courtesy call a few days prior to the day you plan to enter the residence, and then sending an email a day or two prior to entry, according to the state statute.

Respond to a resident’s unreasonable refusal to let you enter

Occasionally, a resident refuses to give you access to his dwelling, even after receiving adequate notice of a legitimate business reason for the entry. If the resident’s refusal is reasonable, you should strongly consider honoring the refusal. Simply reschedule for another time.

If the refusal is unreasonable and the resident won’t cooperate on setting a convenient date and time for you to enter the premises, the law allows you to enter, as long as you do so peaceably and behave professionally after you enter.

Don’t try to force your way into a resident’s living space. If a resident refuses repeatedly to cooperate with you, you may need to decide whether you want to keep that resident. If you have reason to suspect a resident may let you enter but cause other problems, bring another person along to act as a witness regarding your entry and subsequent actions.

The potential costs of abusing your right to enter

Abusing your right to enter a resident’s dwelling is potentially very costly. Violations pose significant legal risks, including expensive lawsuits and money judgments based upon claims of invasion of privacy, breach of the implied covenant of quiet enjoyment, infliction of emotional distress, and liability for trespass.

A judge may also decide that your actions constitute constructive eviction — compelling a resident to leave without giving notice. Constructive eviction is grounds to unilaterally release the resident from the lease agreement with no further obligations

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