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Following the Law: When You Can and Cannot Enter Your Rental Unit

PMI Golden State - Monday, August 26, 2019
Property Management Blog

In an ideal world, your tenants will pay you on time, they’ll pay the market rates and they’ll never need anything fixed. They’ll stay forever and you’ll never have to worry about replacing them or anything inside the unit.

However, if you’ve been a landlord long enough you know that finding a tenant like that is like finding a unicorn. It just doesn’t happen.

As a property manager, I’ve had to enter properties for a myriad of reasons, whether it was to show it to a new tenant or inspect it for repairs. And there are rules that I have to follow if I want to enter the property. 

Rules for Entering a Rental Unit

It’s very important that you know the rules in your state before you enter an occupied property or you could be in violation of your lease and the law.

In Case of Emergency
This one is pretty simple. In just about every state a landlord can enter a property with or without notice if there is an emergency. This means an actual emergency such as a fire or a broken water pipe.

By Appointment
Also in every state, if there’s an agreed upon time between the tenant and the landlord, then it is okay for the landlord to enter the property. When I say agreed upon, that doesn’t mean that you text the tenant to tell him you are going inside and when he didn’t text back within 10 minutes decided it was consent. Agreed upon means that you gave him 24-48 hours’ notice and he agreed that it would be okay for you to enter the property on a set day and time.

Appointments are necessary if you plan to have workers at the property or if you plan to show the property to new or prospective tenants. According to California Code 1954, appointments must take place during business hours (usually Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.) unless another time is agreed upon with the tenant.

If the Tenant is at Home
If the tenant is at home and allows you to go inside, then you’re well within the law to enter. It’s rude not to call ahead, but it’s legal.

Court Order
If you have a court order saying that you can enter the property at any time, you can enter it at any time. In this instance, you have the law on your side.

Abandoned Property
Once the tenant tells you he has moved out of the unit or if you think that he has abandoned the unit, you can enter without notice. In the case of abandonment, make sure you have clear evidence that the unit is abandoned before you enter or you could end up causing a problem between yourself and your tenant.

How to Give Notice

In every instance, it’s important that you give the tenant notice of your plans to enter. All notices must include the date, approximate time and reason you want to enter the property. Notices should be in writing, though a text message that the tenant responds to can also be considered notice in writing.

According to California Code, you can personally deliver the notice to a tenant, leave it with someone at the home over the age of 18, or on the entry door of the home provided it’s in a reasonable place where it will be noticed.

All notices should be given at least 24-hours in advance.

If you are mailing the notice, then it must be mailed at least six days before you plan to enter the property.

In the case of selling the home, you must first inform the tenant in writing that the property is for sale and you will be showing the home. Once the notice is delivered, you’re allowed to call the tenant to tell him that you plan to show the property. Even in these cases, 24-hours is the standard for “reasonable notice” so you’ll have to plan.