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  • Landlord's Right To Enter A Rental Unit 

    February 1998

    One of the most frequently asked questions of Rent Control Information Coordinators is, "When does a landlord have the right to enter a unit?"  Of course, it is best if the landlord and tenant can strike a balance between the tenant's right to privacy and the landlord's need to enter the unit.  California Civil Code §1954 is the state law which governs entry into a rental unit.  In most cases, the landlord must give reasonable notice and enter the unit only during normal business hours.

    WHEN OWNERS MUST GIVE TENANTS REASONABLE NOTICE TO ENTER 

    Necessary or agreed upon repairs.  If repairs are necessary, or if a tenant has agreed that certain maintenance may take place, the landlord has a limited right to enter the tenant's unit to show the unit to repair persons and to make the repairs, services, alterations or improvements.  Work done by the landlord may not unreasonably interfere with the tenant's use of the unit.

    Showing the unit to new tenants, purchasers, or lenders.

    • When tenants give written notice that they are terminating their tenancy, the landlord may enter the unit to show it to persons who are considering or have agreed to rent the unit.
    • Landlords who are selling their property may enter units to show them to persons who are considering or have agreed to buy the property.
    • Landlords who are financing or refinancing their property may enter the units to show them to lenders.

    Reasonable Notice: As long as a landlord gives a 24-hour notice of his/her intent to enter a tenant's unit, the notice will be presumed to be reasonable.  In certain situations it may not be practical or possible for a landlord to give 24 hours notice.  In those instances, the landlord may be required to only give whatever notice is possible.

    Normal Business Hours: In the situations where landlords have a limited right to enter, they may enter only during normal business hours.  The only exception to this requirement is if the tenant consents to entry at some other time.

    OWNERS CAN ENTER UNITS WITHOUT NOTICE IN AN EMERGENCY 

    Even though a tenant does not want the landlord to enter their unit unexpectedly or without their knowledge, in emergency circumstances state law allows landlords to enter a unit without notice to the tenants.   

    An owner may also enter without notice if a tenant has actually abandoned or surrendered a unit or if a court order provides for entry.  The terms "abandonment" and "surrender" have legal meanings, and require more than just the belief that a tenant has given up possession of a unit.

    Improper Entry or Denial of Access

    Trespassing:  An entry made without the tenant's consent that is not otherwise allowed by law may be considered trespassing.  A landlord who makes an unauthorized entry may be subject to criminal prosecution as well as civil prosecution for invasion of privacy, harassment and infliction of emotional distress.  In certain cases, abuse of the right to enter may be a violation of the Santa Monica Municipal Code, which would subject the landlord to both criminal and civil penalties.

    Denying Access:  Tenants who deny a landlord reasonable access to their units may suffer legal consequences.  The Santa Monica Rent Control Law states that denying the landlord the right to enter in those situations where state law gives landlords a right to enter may be grounds for eviction.

    Situations Not Addressed by State Law

    Landlords may wish to have access to a tenant's unit for inspection or to have their real estate agent enter the unit.  In these and other situations in which state law does not give the specific right to enter, a landlord may be able to convince a court that such entry was reasonably related to a right to enter that is specifically allowed by state law.  However, since the law does not specifically gives landlords the right to enter in these situations, there is the risk such entry may be considered improper. 

    Resolving Disputes

    Problems regarding entry of a unit can be minimized if the landlord and the tenant consider the concerns of each other.  Landlords are in the business of providing residential housing and expect to have reasonable access to their property in order to protect their investment.  The units rented by tenants are their homes and they have a reasonable expectation of privacy.  By working with each other, both parties' interests may be protected.  If a problem situation develops that the landlord and tenant cannot resolve, they may consider contacting a community mediation service before subjecting themselves to the risks, adversity and uncertainty of legal action.

    If disputes regarding landlord entry into a unit cannot be resolved, the tenant and landlord may wish to seek legal advice regarding the specific situation. 

    CALIFORNIA TENANTS:  Your Rights and Responsibilities is a booklet that focuses on state laws governing the landlord - tenant relationship.  Published by the California Department of Consumer Affairs, the booklet is available at the Santa Monica Rent Control public counter.

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