Updated March 2021
Even though you are the rightful owner of your rental property, the law is quite clear on when and how often a landlord can inspect a property. Landlord access to a tenant-occupied property is limited by these laws, and you cannot simply enter at will without good reason.
Breaking these rules could lead to large fines and other complications you don’t want to be facing as a landlord. Even if you don’t get into legal trouble, entering a tenant-occupied property without proper notice will lead to a strain in your landlord-tenant relationship that can affect your business.
Each state has set up strict limits on the regulations regarding accessing the property, and violating those regulations may be illegal in your state. Before you enter your occupied rental property, make sure you are familiar with the conditions imposed by your state.
Table Of Contents: Landlord Access To Tenant-Occupied Units
Understanding when a landlord can enter a property without notice, when you need to give advance notice, and when you can reasonably be denied access is very important. Without this knowledge, you could put yourself into an awkward or illegal situation.
- Landlord Access And Reasons For Visits
- What Is A Landlord Property Inspection?
- Review Landlord/Tenant Rights In Your State
Owning a rental unit gives you the ownership rights to the property, but some rights are transferred to the tenant when you sign a lease agreement.
Of particular importance today is the right to quiet enjoyment. This means the tenant has a right to enjoy the property as their own home, without unnecessary interruption, as they please. A landlord entering the rental unit without good reason or permission would be a clear violation of that and this should not happen.
Generally, the lease agreement between you and your tenant should clearly outline the terms for landlord access, advance notice, and the other factors that will be discussed in more detail below.
To understand what needs to be put into your lease agreement, however, you first need to understand the reasons you might need to enter the property and how to approach those issues.
Performing maintenance and upkeep tasks on the rental property are part of your rights as the owner, but the means by which you gain entrance to the property is conditional upon providing the tenant enough notice.
Most states require that landlords deliver a written notice of the intent to enter at least 24 hours in advance; this is what is considered as a reasonable time period. Your right to enter is also limited to normal business hours—between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. on weekdays only.
If a tenant gives you express permission to enter at a later time, such as the evening when they will be at home, you are also permitted to enter during these times.
Some states require that landlords can only give the notice to enter if there is actual maintenance to perform.
You can’t perform a surprise inspection or a walkthrough with no intent to repair anything. If you enter the rental property for maintenance and the tenant is not home, it’s required in some states that you leave evidence of your entry, such as a note or signed business card, for the tenant.
In very limited circumstances, you can enter the rental property if there is an emergency that would cause damage to the property or harm to a person if you did not take care of it.
An example of this might be accessing an upper floor apartment because the downstairs tenant reports water dripping from the ceiling. In an emergency, you can enter the property at any time, any day of the week, whether the tenant is home or not.
You do not have to deliver a written notice to enter in an emergency, but it’s always a good idea to document your actions with a written letter explaining the circumstances and what you did to resolve the problem.
If swift, but not immediate, action is required, it is always a good idea to give the tenant a call to see if they are home to let you in or if they are nearby. In cases where any delay could cause serious harm, however, you should not delay your entry.
When you decide to sell your rental property, the law allows you to show it to prospective buyers, even if it is occupied by a tenant. However, the conditions of entry in this situation are strict as well.
To let your tenant know of your intent to sell, you must deliver a written notice in advance. Each state has differing time limits.
For example, in California, it is 120 days. This notice of intent to sell should cover when the property will be sold, what will happen if the property sells before the tenancy period is up, and any other information that is pertinent to the tenant.
After that, you must give the tenant a written notice or an oral notice at least 24 hours in advance that you intend to bring potential buyers into the unit. Stick to normal business hours and only on weekdays.
You can work out additional scheduling with the tenant and should only deviate with the tenant’s permission.
Another large category of reasons why you might need to enter a tenant-occupied rental unit is to do a property inspection.
Landlord property inspections are done by the landlord to ensure the unit is being properly maintained by the tenant and to make sure there are no repairs that need to be addressed in the immediate future.
Landlords use these inspections to do a few different things:
- To address any concerns the tenant has about specific aspects of the unit
- To ensure the tenant is not actively breaking the terms of the lease agreement
- To check the condition of the property before renewing a lease agreement
- To find out if there are any repairs that will need to be made now or when the tenant moves out
- To monitor the change in condition of the property before the tenant moves in and after they move out to check for damages beyond normal wear-and-tear
Landlord property inspections are very useful for both landlords and tenants. These conversations allow both parties to be familiar with the state of the property, address any concerns, and otherwise, discuss the unit.
Still, some important questions about these inspections remain: how often can a landlord inspect a property, and how often should landlords inspect a property? It’s important you know the answers before you begin conducting inspections.
This will typically be spelled out in the lease, and you should ensure that whatever is in the agreement is compliant with all local and state laws. Those are the laws that determine any limitations on inspection frequency by the landlord. Most laws, however, apply more to notice of inspections than limitations of the number of inspections.
It’s common for a landlord to inspect the rental property after a certain number of days with a new renter. Many landlords also prefer to do an annual or semi-annual inspection. This is a good opportunity to replace smoke alarm batteries and make sure the unit is in good working condition.
When it comes to the frequency of landlord visits, the law doesn’t always limit the number in a severe way. You as a landlord are left to determine the appropriate number of inspections. If you are an anxious landlord, you might be tempted to inspect the property at every opportunity, but that would only serve to strain the relationship you have with your tenant.
Instead, consider setting up either an annual or bi-annual inspection schedule. Communicate this schedule to prospective tenants in the lease agreement so they will be aware of it before signing, and then make sure to keep this schedule. Having one or two regularly scheduled inspections a year is more than enough for most yearly rentals.
Beyond those regular inspections, don’t forget you should also be doing move-in and move-out inspections with your tenant. These inspections serve to document the condition of the unit before and after tenancy to monitor for any damages beyond a normal amount of wear-and-tear.
Once again, you should make sure to include information about these inspections in the lease agreement. Communication is key when handling inspections, which can feel very invasive for tenants when they are not handled properly by landlords, so be sure to keep communication as open as possible.
Can landlords do random inspections of the properties they have rented out, or are they required to give notice to the renters?
In the case of inspections, the landlord is required to give the proper advance notice to tenants beforehand. In most states, this is at least 24-hour notice. You are not permitted to simply show up and say that it is time for the inspection without warning to the tenant.
The only exception is move-in and move-out inspections. While it is best to schedule these with the tenant so they can be present, that is not required as this inspection is more for documentation purposes than anything else. Still, we recommend you set up a time in advance for these inspections to make them as solid and thorough as possible.
When giving your tenant notice of an upcoming inspection, you might be wondering how to deliver that notice. Usually, sending a message in the same way that you typically communicate with your tenant is fine.
If you are worried about this, make sure you have outlined in the lease how tenants will be contacted and how they should reply. This way you will both be on the same page, and the risk of a miscommunication will be much lower.
While entering your own property may seem like a non-issue, it’s actually a big deal to tenants who sign a lease agreement. They are entitled to quiet enjoyment of the property and are also protected from unwanted or unlawful entry—even from the owner or landlord. Protect yourself and your business by sticking to the established guidelines in your state for landlord entry.
Plan Your Landlord Visits Frequency Today!
Now that you know more about how you can access tenant-occupied properties, what steps must be taken before inspections, and other information regarding rental unit entry, it’s time to make your own plans!
Think about the following:
- How often will you do property inspections?
- What will you include on these inspections?
- Do you know what to do when you need to enter an occupied property?
- Are you prepared to do move-in and move-out inspections?
- What language in the lease agreement covers this information for tenant awareness?
Once you can answer these questions and answer them for tenants, you’ll be ready to move forward with entering properties as needed. Landlord access to tenant-occupied property can be a touchy subject, especially for tenants who have had bad landlords in the past.
By being as educated on the subject as possible, you can create a comfortable and secure environment for you and your tenant when it comes to property entry and inspections. Through that, you can build a strong tenant-landlord relationship to make your job easier!
For more helpful tools and inspiring ideas for your rental business, check out RentPrep’s free landlord resources today. The industry is constantly evolving; let us keep you up-to-date with best practices as it does.