As a landlord, what are the boundaries? When can you check your tenant’s apartment?
If a landlord wrongfully searches – or even enters – an apartment, it could result in an upset tenant and a lawsuit. Whether you’re a landlord or a tenant, educate yourself so that you can be protected and avoid difficult situations.
Here are some reasons a landlord might legally enter an apartment.
A landlord may become suspicious if they notice a tenant’s mail is piling up or they haven’t heard from them in a while. If a tenant has been out of their apartment for a couple of weeks and the landlord doesn’t know why, they may suspect abandonment and enter the apartment. Even if the tenant was on a long vacation and planning on returning, if the landlord wasn’t notified, it could give them cause to worry and wonder if the apartment was deserted.
If a tenant is planning on leaving for longer than a week or two, they should inform their landlord. This can do more than keep the landlord from suspecting abandonment. It can also help guard the apartment from potential break-ins. If a landlord knows an apartment will be empty for a few weeks, they can be on the lookout for suspicious activity.
2. Emergency situations
Not every “urgent” situation gives a landlord the right to enter an apartment. There are, however, a few situations that are considered to be emergencies.
If there’s serious damage or danger, a landlord can enter the apartment to take care of it. This doesn’t mean that they can enter without permission from the tenant if there’s a slightly leaky faucet or a light bulb is burned out. But, if there is a large water leak, fire, gas leak or other damaging or dangerous problem, the landlord can enter the apartment without tenant permission.
A landlord never has the right to rifle through a tenant’s belongings. If landlords suspect illegal activity, they aren’t allowed to search the apartment to look for “evidence.” However, they may call the police.
3. Repairs and inspections (with tenant permission)
If a landlord needs to get into an apartment that isn’t for one of the above reasons, tenant permission is required. In most states, a landlord must also give the tenant at least 24 hours notice, sometimes more. This applies to times when a landlord is making small repairs or is bringing by a hired repairman.
Landlords are also liable for maintaining a safe living environment for tenants, which includes repairs and inspections. If given proper notice, tenants do need to let the landlord in to take care of such repairs and inspections.
Always sign a lease
A contract agreement is for the benefit and protection of both the landlord and the tenant. It states the limits and notices that should be given by either party in certain situations, giving guidelines that, if violated, could be used as evidence or support if a legal situation should arise.
If a landlord or tenant is not willing to sign a lease, they may be hiding something or be unwilling to comply with rules. In this case, use your better judgement and don’t engage in a purely verbal agreement with them – it could come back to bite you in the end.
When in doubt
If you aren’t sure about your situation, it’s best to seek legal advice. Most state laws concerning landlords and tenants are readily available. Some laws vary in different states, so make sure you research and find out about the regulations that apply in your state.