Every individual is entitled to the right of privacy in his or her own home, regardless of whether it is a private residence or a rental unit. California law protects this basic right by limiting a landlord’s right to enter a tenant’s rental unit. The law protects tenants in two specific ways:
- Defining and limiting the valid reasons for a landlord’s entry; and
- Requiring the landlord to give tenants reasonable advance notice in writing before entry.
Valid reasons for landlord’s entry
Under California law, a landlord may enter a tenant’s unit only in the following cases:
- In case of emergency;
- To perform necessary or requested repairs, alterations or improvements;
- If a tenant has vacated or abandoned the rental unit;
- To show the unit to prospective tenants or purchasers;
- To make an inspection to determine damages to the unit for security deposit purposes before the tenant moves out (at the request of the tenant);
- To inspect water bed installation or continued compliance with water bed placement; or
- By court order
A landlord may not enter a tenant’s unit for any reason not specified above unless the tenant consents at the time of the entry. If the tenant’s signed rental agreement indicates his or her consent to a landlord entry for other reasons, the provision is likely unenforceable because it violates public policy. The landlord must therefore still obtain the tenant’s consent in order for the entry to be legal.
Notice requirements for landlord entry
Although the law does not specify what constitutes reasonable notice, notice is presumed to be reasonable if a landlord gives a tenant notice of his or her intent to enter at least 24 hours in advance. The notice must be in writing. A shorter notice period may be permitted only if there is a reasonable basis for it, such as a broken pipe causing damage to another apartment.
Entry is permitted only during normal business hours, generally considered to be between 8:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. Entry is permitted at other times when suitable arrangements have been made between the landlord and the tenant.
Notice is not required in case of an emergency or if the landlord believes the tenant has vacated or abandoned the property.
What to do if your landlord illegally enters your rental unit
There are several ways in which you can protect your rental unit from landlord intrusions.
- Maintain a log of actual and suspected illegal entries, including dates, times and misplaced or disturbed personal items.
- Get to know your close neighbors and establish a watch group to monitor entries into your respective units.
- If you provide your landlord with notice that you will be on vacation, ask a close friend, family member or neighbor to monitor entries into your home.
- Install a simple surveillance camera or security alarm adjacent to the door.
If your landlord enters your unit illegally, you may have legal remedies under California law. An important first step is to notify your landlord that you do not consent to his or her entry into your unit without proper notice as required by law. It is preferable to notify the landlord in writing, by text message, email or certified mail, in order to retain proof of the communication.
Entries by a landlord not specifically allowed by law may constitute illegal intrusions and may be a basis for a lawsuit against the landlord. If a landlord enters the tenant’s unit in an attempt to harass the tenant or influence him to vacate the unit, the landlord may be subject to civil penalties and damages of $2,000 per violation.