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Can I enter while the tenants are away if I have reason to believe there is an emergency?

Landlords generally have the right to enter a rental unit with little to no notice in an emergency situation. An emergency is usually a problem that can damage the property if it is not fixed right away. A common example is a burst pipe due to freezing when tenants turn down the heat before leaving for their winter vacation. If the downstairs neighbor reports a leak or the landlord notices the flooding some other way, the landlord can typically go in to turn off the water, dry flooded areas, and repair the pipes.

Keep in mind that a landlord’s right to enter a tenant’s home is governed by the state and local laws where the property is located. It’s important for you to understand the rules and laws that apply to your rental property and to know what you need to include in your Lease Agreement or exactly what is considered an emergency. Consulting with a Rocket Lawyer On Call® attorney is an affordable way to get the information you need to operate in a way that complies with the law.

Can a tenant claim I violated their privacy if I enter without notice due to a false alarm?

A tenant may be able to claim you violated their privacy if you enter without a Landlord's Notice to Enter. Depending on the rules in your area, it may give them a reason to file a civil lawsuit or cancel their lease. This is especially true if it happens multiple times.

Even if you had a good reason to enter and the tenant cannot win their claim, you may have to pay the legal costs to defend yourself. There may also be other consequences, such as a tenant leaving a bad review or not renewing their lease.

What are some best practices for entering a tenant’s unit when I believe there is an emergency?

Even if there is an emergency, it is usually good to give the tenants as much notice as possible. This might mean calling and texting all the tenants to explain what the emergency is and let them know you are on the way to take care of it. When you arrive, it is often best to knock and wait to see if someone answers. Many property management companies also train their maintenance workers to loudly announce that they are coming in once they open the door in case someone is sleeping inside.

If you can clearly see an emergency, such as burning from a string of faulty holiday lights or water on the floor, it is a good idea to take pictures. It might be helpful to keep the pictures for your records and share them with your tenants as well. You can also give your tenants a written notice of what the emergency was and what you did to solve it. For example, you might have been doing yard work and noticed a space heater on even though you knew the tenants were out of town, so you entered to turn it off and prevent a fire hazard.

Most tenants understand emergencies and appreciate you keeping them informed. If someone does complain, having a written record of what happened can help you protect yourself.

Is there specific Lease Agreement language I can use to handle emergencies while tenants are away?

Most leases say when the landlord can enter the rental unit. The following is normally included:

  • Specific reasons the landlord may enter, such as for repairs and maintenance.
  • How much notice the landlord must give before doing normal maintenance and inspections.
  • The tenant must let the landlord in if the landlord gives reasonable notice to enter for a reasonable purpose.
  • The landlord may enter with a key if no one is home to deal with an emergency or scheduled maintenance.
  • No notice is needed if the property is in immediate danger of being damaged.
  • A requirement for renters insurance in case a tenant starts a fire, causes a flood, or damages personal property.

If you do not have terms like these in your Lease Agreement, you may want to ask your tenant to sign a Lease Amendment that adds more specific language. You can explain that you are trying to clarify how you will help solve problems in an emergency.

While it is best to have this information in your lease, you may not need it since the law usually gives the landlord the right to enter during an emergency. But if your tenant refuses to sign a Lease Amendment, or has expressed concerns about anyone entering without notice or permission, remember that they may be likely to complain if you enter in an emergency. Regardless, it is always a good idea to carefully document all maintenance, emergencies, and conversations with your tenant, so you will be able to show that you entered for a good reason.

What if I respond to an emergency while the tenant is away and find they are violating the Lease Agreement?

If you enter to deal with an emergency and discover a lease violation, you may have the right to send an Eviction Notice that demands the violation be corrected or that the tenant vacate the unit. However, your tenants are likely to claim that you entered illegally, especially if you plan to evict them. If the violation is not severe, you may opt to send a Breach of Contract Notice before sending an Eviction Notice. 

In these situations, documenting the emergency event becomes even more important. Be sure to write down and keep the following information somewhere safe: 

  • The reason you entered, such as if a neighbor complained or you noticed a problem.
  • Exactly what you or the neighbor saw and heard, including photographs or video, if possible.
  • Any visible damage and the repairs made.

Another important step is to follow up right away by sending your tenant a written notice to tell them you entered for an emergency, why, and what you did to solve it.

Depending on what rules the tenant has broken, you may want to consider a softer approach so the tenant will not become upset or fear being evicted for a minor lease violation. For example, you might make sure they understand that you just want them to follow the Lease Agreement and you do not plan to fine them or evict them as long as they fix the problem.

If you are having trouble with a tenant after an emergency or want to learn more about your rights and obligations as a landlord, ask a lawyer.

This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.


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