When is it legal to enter without permission?
The first step in determining when a landlord can enter leased property without a tenant's permission is to consult the lease. Strong Lease Agreements specify the circumstances that permit a landlord to enter the leased property, including the period of notice required and whether the landlord needs the tenant's consent. This is especially important in states, such as New York and Texas, that do not have specific statutes governing landlord entry to leased property. Landlords in states without a specific statute should be aware, however, that a local law may still require notice.
Outside the lease terms, the circumstances that permit a landlord to enter their property without tenant permission can vary from state to state and even city to city within a state. A Rocket Lawyer On Call® attorney can help you identify the laws applicable in your location.
Landlords who plan to enter leased property without permission still need to provide notice to the tenant. States differ in the length of time required between notice and entry. Most states require at least 24 hours. Some, like Florida, require as little as 12 hours, while others, like Kentucky, require two full days. To minimize liability and maintain good relations with your tenant, you should notify your tenant in advance by multiple methods, including a written Notice to Enter, text or email, and a phone call.
After providing a Notice to Enter, landlords generally may enter leased property without a tenant's permission in the following circumstances:
Damage inspection or routine maintenance—Landlords have the right to protect their leased property and ensure lease compliance by regularly inspecting the property, performing routine maintenance, and making repairs. In most instances, landlords find out about damage and the need for repairs from tenants. Encourage your tenants to immediately report such issues. In some states, a tenant's request for repairs may provide permission to enter the leased property, though the best practice is to provide a separate specific Notice to Enter for when repairs are scheduled to occur.
Showing the property—If the current tenant will soon vacate, landlords generally do not need permission to show the property to a prospective tenant or buyer after providing a Notice to Enter. Some states permit a landlord to only show the property after the tenant has given notice that they intend to vacate or within a certain number of days before the lease ends. Often, in this situation, it is best to schedule showings with a tenant's full cooperation so as to ensure the property will look its best. ;
In the following circumstances, a landlord may enter the leased property without permission or notice:
Emergencies and urgent repairs—In every state, landlords may enter leased property to repair imminent or stop ongoing damage to the property regardless of notice or consent. Landlords may also enter without permission to prevent injury to or rescue a person or pet. If the pipes burst and begin flooding your tenant's apartment, you do not have to wait to secure your tenant's permission before entering to fix the problem, though knocking loudly and announcing your entry is always advisable unless lives are at risk. For example, you can pull a tenant's dog out of a burning building without first getting permission or even knocking.
Let common sense guide you in determining whether an emergency exists or whether the problem can wait until later. If a tenant challenges a landlord's entry to the property, courts will look for reasonable evidence that there was an emergency. A smoke alarm going off, a strong smell of gas coming from the property, or loud screams in your tenant's voice may be sufficient to justify entry without permission after knocking loudly with no response. A political sign in the tenant's window that potentially violates the terms of the lease, on the other hand, is not an emergency that justifies entry without permission.
Extended absences—Some states permit landlords to enter leased property without permission in order to check for damage and perform basic maintenance if the tenant is away from the property for an extended period. These states are Alabama, Alaska, Florida, Hawaii, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wisconsin.
The length of time the tenant must be absent varies among those states, to be certain, ask a lawyer about the rules in your state. Extended absence provisions provide landlords more flexibility than waiting for emergencies to perform preventative maintenance, such as replacing HVAC filters or shutting off the water before a hard freeze.
If you are in a state that does not explicitly give landlords the right to enter without permission during a tenant's extended absence, you may include such a provision in the Lease Agreement. The provision should specify how much time constitutes an extended absence and the types of repairs the landlord may perform while the tenant is away. The lease may also require the tenant to notify the landlord of an extended absence and to provide contact information.
Abandonment by tenant—A landlord may enter without tenant permission when they have a reasonable suspicion that the tenant has abandoned the leased property. Unannounced extended absences from the property coupled with missed rent payments are the chief indicator that a tenant may have abandoned the property. In Tennessee, for example, the tenant is presumed to have abandoned the property after an unannounced absence of 30 days.
Other evidence that the tenant has abandoned the property may include repeated failure to respond to landlord communications, the disconnection of utilities, and witness reports of the tenant moving furniture from the property. Once a landlord has reasonable suspicion that a tenant has abandoned the property, the landlord may enter to gather further evidence of abandonment and retake possession.
In most situations, except in emergencies, landlords should only enter leased property during normal business hours after providing the required notice. This is typically between 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays, though some states, such as Alabama, designate 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. as business hours.
What should I do if I need to enter immediately but my tenant is away on vacation or cannot be reached?
Assess the situation. Why do you need to enter the property? Why can't you wait? How do you know there is a problem?
Document your answers to these questions and collect any evidence that verifies the issue. If a neighbor reports the problem, be sure to write down their statement and contact information. If the issue is caused by severe weather such as freezing temperatures or high winds, screenshot or print out local weather reports that show the relevant conditions. As circumstances allow, continue documenting the problem once you enter the property by taking pictures and videos and recording your own observations. Keep these records in a secure location.
Document all reasonable efforts to contact the tenant. Use multiple means of communication, including phone, text and email. The reasonableness of your efforts will depend on the urgency of the situation. Gushing water or billowing smoke justify immediate entry with no attempt to contact the tenant. On the other hand, less urgent problems, such as a small leak, or a broken gate, can likely wait a few hours or days while you try to contact your tenant.
Don't go alone. The same is true for any repair personnel you send to the property. Witnesses can testify that prompt entry was necessary to solve a pressing problem. They can also confirm that neither you nor your agents disturbed the tenant's personal property.
How do I handle tenants being difficult about providing access?
Landlords should make every effort to enter leased property only at times that are convenient for their tenants. Most issues can wait a few days until the tenant acquiesces to the landlord's entry. Sometimes, however, tenants may refuse to cooperate despite a landlord's best efforts. Ultimately, landlords may enter leased property to inspect and repair. Tenants cannot frustrate that authority by unreasonably denying access.
When dealing with a tenant attempting to block entry, your first step is to assess and document your need to enter the property. If it is for inspection, when was the last inspection? Has something changed since the last inspection to give you reason to believe that an inspection may be necessary? If you need to enter to make repairs, what needs to be repaired? How do you know? What could happen if the repairs are not made promptly?
Notify the tenant in writing of your intent to enter the property. Be sure to include the time and date you intend to enter and comply with your state's notice requirements. You should also reference any lease provisions that give you permission to enter the apartment for that purpose and any state laws that give you the authority to do so. Hand-deliver the notice to the tenant or post it on the front door of the property. Sending it via mail, email or text message can also be helpful.
Enter the property at the noticed time on the noticed date. Knock and loudly and clearly announce your intent to enter consistent with the notice. Give the tenant a reasonable amount of time to answer the door before entering. Take someone with you--ideally a neutral third party--to serve as a witness to your conduct and that of the tenant during the inspection or repair. Do your business quickly and professionally and leave. Do not engage in arguments with the tenant.
If the tenant blocks your entry to the leased property at the noticed date and time, send them a second written notice of entry or direct them to vacate the premises. This notice should inform the tenant that they are in breach of the lease and state law. If the tenant still refuses to permit you entry, you may need to file a court action or initiate eviction proceedings.
What are the consequences for landlords or property managers who enter without permission?
Tenants may use the property they lease from landlords securely and privately. A landlord who enters leased property without permission and sufficient notification risks breaching the lease, and potentially state or local law. The severity of the consequences will depend on several factors, including the number and frequency of the permissionless entries, the reason for the entries, whether proper notice was given, the time at which the entries occurred, and the landlord's conduct while on the leased property.
A landlord who enters leased property during normal business hours after giving the required notice likely faces no liability even if the tenant technically does not permit entry. But a landlord who frequently enters a tenant's apartment unannounced on weekends or after hours may face a lawsuit for trespassing, invading the tenant's privacy, or violating lease terms.
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.