While a landlord has a right of entry, this is balanced against your right to privacy as a tenant. Landlords are not entitled to go through your unit and belongings at will. They generally must have a valid reason to enter the unit and give you proper notice, unless you gave them permission in advance. Sometimes other parties may need to enter your unit, such as health inspectors, and you have rights in those situations as well. It is important to understand not only the scope of your rights but also the limits on them. Failing to cooperate with a valid entry may lead to your eviction or the termination of your tenancy.
Entry by the Landlord
If there is an emergency that poses a risk of injuries or property damage, the landlord can enter the unit without advance notice or permission. For example, they can act immediately in response to evidence of a fire, a flood, or a crime like domestic violence. Generally, they will leave a note afterward to explain the entry if the tenant was not present. The landlord also can enter without notice if the tenant appears to have abandoned the property.
The landlord needs to provide notice to enter the unit in situations in which they need to make repairs or improvements. If the landlord needs to make repairs, they usually must give you 24 hours of notice and provide a reasonable time for entry, unless this is not feasible or the tenant has agreed to less notice. If you are gone for at least a week, the landlord may be able to enter the unit without your permission to protect the property from damage, although they cannot enter for a non-urgent matter. A lease or rental agreement also may provide situations in which a landlord may enter a unit for regular inspections after giving reasonable notice. State laws usually grant this right if the lease does not cover it.
Another situation in which a landlord has a right of entry is when they are showing the apartment to prospective tenants or purchasers. Again, you need to have reasonable notice, such as a 24-hour warning. If the landlord wants to show the apartment on shorter notice, you may be able to negotiate a reduction in rent.
While some states require 24 or 48 hours of notice, other states simply require that notice must be reasonable. You can consult recent cases in your state to find out how this has been interpreted. Written notice is sometimes but not always required. If you have particular needs or preferences for when the landlord can access the unit, you can reach a specific agreement with the landlord or include it as a clause in your lease.
Entry by Inspectors and Others
You have a right to refuse entry to health and safety inspectors if they come to your unit based on a request by a neighbor. However, this may simply result in the inspector contacting your landlord, who can provide the required notice, or getting a search warrant if they can show that public health or safety is at risk. Random inspections follow a similar pattern. Usually, the inspector will be accompanied either by the landlord or their representative or by a law enforcement officer to ensure compliance. Inspections sometimes lead to fees, especially if the inspector finds a violation. The landlord can increase the rent to cover this cost, unless the fee is based on a violation that the landlord committed.
Rules governing the right of police to enter a tenant’s unit fall within the search and seizure protections of the Constitution, specifically the Fourth Amendment. To summarize, a warrant is generally required unless there is an emergency, consent by one of the occupants, or a need to act quickly to apprehend a criminal or preserve evidence of a crime. This area of the law is very complex, and you should consult a criminal attorney if this type of issue arises.
The landlord cannot let anyone other than inspectors or the police enter your unit without your consent. Generally, a landlord will contact a tenant upon such a request to find out whether they should allow entry.
Other Forms of Landlord Harassment
In addition to entering your unit at unplanned and inconvenient times, your landlord can disrupt your life in other ways. They may provide negative information about you to other parties, such as banks or creditors, or they may harass your employer about unpaid rent or other disputes. Your landlord has a right to provide third parties like banks with truthful information that they know, but they do not have a right to spread rumors about you. This can expose them to a defamation claim. Similarly, the landlord may be able to call you at work occasionally for an urgent matter, but they do not have the right to interfere with your job by discussing your situation with supervisors or coworkers.
Some landlord misconduct unfortunately can rise to the level of a crime. If the landlord spies on you, sexually harasses you, threatens or tries to assault you, or damages your property, you should report them to the police and consult an attorney.
Taking Action to Protect Your Rights
Enforcing your right to privacy as a tenant is not always straightforward. You may want to start by trying to resolve the situation amicably so that you can preserve your tenancy. If your landlord does not respond to a friendly approach, you can send a demand letter that outlines your grievances and explains how the landlord is violating your rights. The letter also should describe what you are preparing to do if the landlord fails to take action, possibly including bringing a small claims lawsuit.
There may be several potential theories under which you can sue your landlord if they violate your right to privacy. In addition to a basic invasion of privacy claim, you may be able to sue for trespass based on an unauthorized entry, a breach of the implied covenant of quiet enjoyment of your home, or infliction of emotional distress in situations in which the landlord harassed you. You should be aware that the compensation award may not be substantial unless the landlord’s conduct was repeated or egregious. The complexity of this type of claim usually warrants hiring an attorney.
If all of these measures fail, you may have the right to move out and break your lease early. You can argue that you do not need to pay further rent because of the invasion of privacy, since you have a right as a tenant to quiet enjoyment of your home. Also, you may be able to show that the landlord’s behavior was essentially an eviction (known as a “constructive eviction”).