You’ve got a rental property occupied by (you hope) great tenants. But you can’t just leave that property on autopilot. Sometimes you need to get access to your property – but that means invading the privacy of your tenants. What’s an investor/landlord to do?

The issue of landlord access to tenant occupied property occupies a big part of landlord tenant law, with complaints ranging from landlords walking in at 3 am to tenants changing locks to prevent anyone from getting in. It’s an area fraught with tension from both sides. – but it doesn’t have to be. Setting reasonable expectations – and getting them in writing – can make the landlord tenant relationship run more smoothly.

Landlords have clear rights to enter the properties they own for a variety of reasons ranging from outright emergencies to scheduled repairs. They can also bring prospective tenants by to view the place while current tenants are there.

But those visits aren’t just a matter of a landlord’s discretion. In most areas, tenant rights statutes place legal constraints placed on a landlord’s ability to access properties In most states, a landlord is expected to give 24 or 48 hours’ notice to tenants before entering for non-emergency reasons. And, as a recent article by Trulia points out, some areas limit non-emergency visits to “reasonable” daytime hours.

If you suspect criminal activity on the property, you’re within your rights to make unannounced visits with the police. And other issues such as a broken gas line or leaky roof need to be handled immediately, no prior arrangements needed.

But some landlords have other agendas, and that’s why there’s so much litigation around these issues. Complaints filed by tenants about intrusive landlords include stories of landlords letting themselves in in the middle of the night, dropping by unannounced just to chat, snooping through tenants’ belongings, or coming by too frequently for no particular reason.

Though landlords have the right to enter their own property, that weighs against a tenant’s right to “quiet enjoyment” of the property – in other words, their right to live their lives in peace without unwarranted intrusions.

To keep the balance between those two agendas – a landlord’s right to keep tabs on the property and the tenant’s right to live there peacefully – real estate experts recommend clear communication and clear expectations, preferably in writing.

Interviewed for Trulia’s article, Jason Hartman notes that there’s a wide range of expectations about landlord visits – but in addition to other situations like repairs or emergency issues, it’s fair for a landlord to do a general inspection once a year to check on the overall condition of the place.

When other things require access, such as a repair problem or a bigger maintenance or renovation issue, landlords should give tenants notice, preferably in writing, with a clear date and time. If that’s not possible, say experts, landlords should call the tenant as far in advance as possible.

It’s important to respect a tenant’s lifestyle and circumstances whenever possible, too. Someone who works nights, is disabled or has a new baby might appreciate a little extra accommodation. If tenants request you to keep visits within certain time frames because of circumstances like these, it’s considerate to honor their request as a part of their “quiet enjoyment” of their living spaces whenever possible. If a landlord violates that right with repeated intrusions, tenants may have legal grounds for breaking a lease or rental agreement.

But tenants on their part are expected to be cooperative too. A tenant can’t legally deny a landlord all access to the property. They can’t change the locks, put up walls or otherwise do things to keep a landlord out – even if that’s a desperation move to deter a relentlessly intrusive property owner.

Rental property experts stress that setting clear expectations from the beginning is the surest way to head off any conflicts down the line. A good lease or rental agreement should spell out explicitly things like the circumstances under which the landlord will need to enter the property and how much notice the tenant will get of those visits.

A detailed agreement could include dates for regular inspections of the property and a time frame for giving notice. It might also address what will happen in case that procedure can’t be followed, such as an emergency. The more specific, the better – that protects both landlord and tenants in case of a problem.

Investing in rental real estate is a way to build wealth for a lifetime – and as Jason Hartman advises, managing your properties directly keeps you in control. It’s essential to know the landlord tenant laws in your area and meet tenants in the middle with reasonable expectations to keep returns flowing and investments running smoothly. (Featured image:Flickr/PaperCat)

Sources:

Agadoni, Laura. “How Often Should a Landlord Visit Your Unit?” Trulia’s Blog/Real Estate 101. trulia.com 28 Nov 2014.
“Landlord Tenant State Laws and Regulations.” Landlordology. Landlordology.com. 30 Nov 2014

“Tenants Rights to Privacy FAQ: Nolo Law for All. nolo.com. 30 Nov 2014

 

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