State Laws on Landlords' Access to Rental Property

There are many valid reasons why a landlord may need to enter a tenant's property. Perhaps the landlord must assist with maintenance or a necessary repair, enter to take pest control measures, or even help attend to an emergency involving the tenant. Of course, these reasons must be balanced against the rights of tenants to have an expectation of privacy in their own residence. Many people already know that the Fourth Amendment guarantees American citizens the right to be protected from "unreasonable search and seizure." However, that right applies to conduct by the police and other law enforcement agents collecting evidence in criminal cases.

Relationships between tenants and landlords, on the other hand, are determined by civil courts. Most of the law on these issues is determined at the state level. This means that the answer of when a landlord can rightfully enter a tenant's house or apartment varies from state to state. It is vital that both parties understand these issues, and this article will contain information that applies to both landlords and tenants. The following will review some common reasons a landlord may need to enter a property, and under what circumstances he or she may do so. For your convenience, we have listed each state's listed requirements. Note that these are general guidelines that can change over time, and your personal situation will be best explained in your lease agreement. Read on to learn the details.

When Can A Landlord Enter Your Property?

Broadly speaking, a landlord has the right to enter a property in three specific situations:

  1. To make necessary repairs and renovations. Federal law requires rental properties to be "habitable." While the definition of "habitable" can vary depending on your location, landlords are generally responsible for ensuring your home has hot water, electricity, climate control, and other items necessary to a basic standard of living.
  2. To assess the need for repairs and renovations. This goes hand-in-hand with the first major reason a landlord may enter. Note that it is not uncommon for landlords to delegate the matter of repairs. A property manager or even maintenance staff member is typically allowed the same access as the landlord would be personally. Landlords who perform their own repairs are an increasingly rare phenomenon. Typically, this type of detail will be covered in your lease agreement.
  3. In the event of an emergency. This could include a wide range of circumstances. If a landlord learns 911 has been called to your home, they may enter to check on the property or get an idea of what's going on. Similarly, if the landlord happens to be collecting the rent and sees your collapsed body through the window, they may enter to help you. In the case of a medical emergency, most people would prefer that the landlord check on them. Many states also have "Good Samaritan Laws" that protect any person who attempts to render aid in this type of emergency.

Of course, these reasons for entry must be balanced with tenant privacy. Most states have some type of statute requiring that the landlord give the tenant advanced notification. Generally, this notice must be given 24-48 hours ahead of time. Where no time period is specified, "reasonable" notice is acceptable. Even in states where no such laws exist, many landlords provide notification as a courtesy to their tenants.

Are There Exceptions to These Rules?

Because these laws are determined at the state level, we must look to statute to get the most accurate picture of tenants' privacy rights and statutes. Aside from the four common reasons landlords may enter a property we discussed above, there are two more that are specific to certain states.

  1. To show the home to prospective tenants or buyers. This is particularly likely to happen when a tenant's lease is nearly up.
  2. When the tenant is away from the home for an extended period of time. Landlords may enter a home in this situation if the property is located in Wyoming, Tennessee, Hawaii, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Alabama, Florida, the District of Columbia, or Alaska.

Some states do not regulate privacy in landlord-tenant law at all. Texas and Wyoming, at the time of this writing, have no specific statutes at the state level for any of the issues covered here. Of course, regulations still exist at the local or county level. If you live in either of these states, your best bet is to consult your area's website or seek the guidance of a real estate attorney in your area.

Bottom Line: Check Your Lease Agreement and Communicate

The best way to get information about your specific rights, whether you're a tenant or a landlord, is to refer to your lease agreement. Good communication between landlords and tenants is also crucial. Even where certain privacy rights are not guaranteed by law, many tenants can simply ask their landlord to notify them in the event that the landlord needs to enter. More often than not, reasonable people will respond well to reasonable, polite requests.

If you still have questions after reading your lease agreement and state regulations, the best thing to do is to consult a qualified real estate attorney. Royal Legal Solutions offers assistance to both landlords and tenants. Many of our clients consult with us at every phase of the real estate investing process, from drafting the purchase agreement all the way through managing rental properties and tenant issues. Feel free to ask any general questions you may still have in the comments section below. For advice on your specific situation, contact us today to speak directly with a senior advisor.

Last Updated: 
May 1, 2018

Scott Royal Smith is an asset protection attorney and long-time real estate investor. He's on a mission to help fellow investors free their time, protect their assets, and create lasting wealth.

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