Landlord came into my rental home. What rights do I have?

Recently on our legal forum a user asked, “My landlord periodically comes into my rental home and looks through my possessions. I am wondering whether or not he has the legal right to do this, and if not, what legal steps can I take to stop his illegal entry?” 

Overview of landlord and tenant laws

Landlord and tenant rights are outlined both in state laws and lease agreements. If you have questions about your landlord’s rights to enter your rental house the first thing to do is review your lease agreement. For example, your lease agreement may allow the landlord to enter your home for any of the following reasons:

  • You have permanently left the property
  • There is a serious water or gas leak
  • There is a life-threatening emergency
  • They have given you adequate notice and they are entering to make repairs
  • They have given you adequate notice and they are showing the home to new prospective tenants
  • They are allowing entry to a law officer with a search or arrest warrant

State laws may outline the amount of time that is considered “adequate notice.” For example, times may range from 12 to 48 hours. Other state laws may simply state that “reasonable notice” should be given, without specifying a specific amount of time. Still other state laws do not have specific statutes addressing the notification period.

Keep in mind, you may also have less rights if you live in an apartment complex. For example, apartment renters may also have to allow other parties, such as health or municipal inspectors, to randomly inspect their apartment as required by the city.

What do I do about landlord’s illegal entry into my home?

Given the information you provided it sounds like your landlord is illegally entering your home. The first step to address this issue is to understand your tenant rights as defined by your lease agreement and your state’s laws.

Next, have a conversation with your landlord. Find out why he is entering your property. If it is to make repairs that he believes are necessary, remind him that per your lease agreement or your state laws that he is required to provide notice of his intent to enter your home. Conversations may also need to be followed up with a nice, gentle written reminder that you need notification prior to his entry.

Keep copies of any letters you send, including notes regarding verbal conversations. If you do decide to take legal action against your landlord this information can be used as evidence in court.

Consider legal action against your landlord

If all conversations and written communications do not stop your landlord’s illegal actions, it might be time to consider legal action. Filing a legal suit in small claims court may allow you to sue your landlord for trespassing, invasion of property, breach of implied covenant, or intentional infliction of emotional distress.

To win your case you will need to provide evidence for your case, including the letters and notes you have written, as well as witness testimony from other tenants about your landlord’s outrageous and intrusive actions.

If you are able to win your case against your landlord the court may be able to force him to stop his actions. Consider, however, unless you are able to prove that his actions caused substantial harm, emotional damage, or property loss, it’s unlikely that you will win much money. 

Can I just change the locks or move out and withhold the rent?

Whether or not you can simply move out of your apartment when a violation occurs will vary by state law and by lease agreement. Some states may allow a move for repeated violations of your right to privacy or the implied covenant of quiet enjoyment; other states may not.

Changing the locks or withholding rent, however, is generally not a good idea. Talk to a lawyer if you have questions about your rights under your state’s laws.

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