Landlord right of entry in California laws protects tenants’ privacy.
As the landlord, do you possess the right to enter your tenant’s home whenever you want?
A simple answer is “No”. Tenants possess legal rights to privacy under California laws.
In fact, California laws specify when and how often you may enter your tenant-occupied property. Know these laws to keep yourself out of legal trouble.
Also, understanding these laws helps you to avoid tension with your tenants.
Tenant Privacy Laws in California
Your tenants enjoy exclusive occupancy of the properties they rent.
California requires landlords (and their agents) to only enter tenant’s homes for limited reasons and with proper prior notice for every non-emergency entry.
Let’s explore the “proper prior notice” requirements.
Landlord Entry Without Prior Notice in California
California law (Cal. Civ. Code § 1954) allows a landlord to enter the premises without advance notice if:
- An emergency occurs requiring the landlord to go into the home (i.e. serious water leak or fire);
- Obtained the tenant’s prior consent;
- The tenant abandoned the property; or
- The landlord gets a court order.
Landlord Entry With Written Advance Notice in California
A landlord may go into a tenant’s home with a proper written “advance notice” under these circumstances:
- To make agreed upon or necessary repairs, improvements, or alterations;
- To show the premises to contractors or workers;
- Showing the property to lenders;
- Showing the home to prospective buyers or tenants; or
- Conduct a pre-moving out inspection to check damages before returning tenant’s deposits.
What’s “Advance Notice” in California?
But, California laws do not define “advance notice”.
Yet, the law states “reasonable” advance notice required. Thus, most legal experts agree that prior 24-hour notice as reasonable.
Also, California legal experts agree that at least 48 hours advance notice needed for the initial move-out inspection. Source
Requirements of the Written Notice of Entry under California Law
The written notice of entry must either be:
- Personally given to the tenant; or
- Dropped off at the normal entry to the premises so a reasonable person may discover it; or
- Left with a person of suitable age and discretion at the premises.
If the landlord mails the written entry notice to the tenant’s known address, it requires postmark at least 6 days before the entry date.
Entry must occur during normal business hours.
Definition of “Normal Business Hours” in California
But, in 2013 a California Appellate Court ruled favoring a landlord who wanted to show a leased home to prospective buyers in an open house from 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. on a weekend. The tenant refused entry. The landlord sued and won. Dromy v. Lukovsky, 219 Cal. App. 4th 278, 286 (2013).
Given the limited circumstances of this case, landlords and their real estate brokers may conduct an open house on weekends during the afternoon.
Thus, special rules apply to tenant-occupied homes for sale by listing sales agents.
The California Association of REALTORS® (CAR) interpreted the Dromy court ruling by advising that listing agents and landlords should get the tenant’s consent to arrange weekend open houses or follow the Dromy court’s “reasonableness standards”.
Thus, the Dromy court tried to balance a tenant’s right to quiet enjoyment of the home with the landlord’s right to sell the property.
That allows landlords to “hold open houses during weekends”. Source
Exception for California Real Estate Agents
The Dromy case opened the door for an exception for California real estate agents.
You, as a landlord, when listing the rental for sale must give your tenant a written notice. It must state over the next 120 days before the lease expires you or your listing real estate agent may show the property to prospective buyers.
Also, you and/or your listing agent must give your tenant a telephone call 24 hours before the showing. The normal business hours rule also applies during weekends. Source
How to Avoid Abuse of Your Right to Entry in California
California law prohibits “abuse” of your right to entry. An “abuse” includes harassment or encouraging your tenant to leave before the lease expires.
Sending any person to the property two or more times per day on trumped-up reasons amounts to harassment. Even when sending your tenant an advanced written notice.
Too many calls asking for permission to enter also considered harassment.
Also, entering the property without proper notice, cause, or permission amounts to abuse.
If you think you need to enter the property talk about it with your tenant before entering.
Abusive behavior may lead to the tenant suing you for illegal entry where the laws allow a civil penalty up to $2,000 per violation. Also, your tenant may claim emotional distress to seek more money. Source
Besides, entering your tenant’s residence without permission or good cause becomes criminal trespass subjecting you to arrest. Source
How to Reasonably Believe Your Tenant Abandoned the Rental in California
To protect yourself from an abuse claim you must possess reasonable evidence that your tenant abandoned the rental which you relied upon before entering.
Reasonable evidence of abandonment include:
- Neighbors report that your tenant told them he or she moved out;
- Neighbors report seeing the tenant moving out;
- Utilities shut off;
- Your tenant filed a change of address with the post office; or
- You served a notice to quit on your tenant and he or she failed to respond by the cutoff date.
California laws prevent you (as a landlord) to enter a tenant’s unit without permission ONLY:
- When an emergency occurs (like a fire or major water pipe leak); or
- When giving reasonable advanced notice, but then ONLY:
- a. To show, repair, or inspect the property;
- b. During normal business hours (typically Monday – Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.);
- c. Reasonable advanced notice presumed as 24 hours;
- d. Written notice required. Except when a prior written notice declares that for the next 120 days you or your Realtor will show the property to sell or rent. Then, only oral telephone 24 hour-notice required while the business hours limit applies;
- e. The written notice must include the date and estimated time; and
- f. No abuse of your right to entry such as daily entry, lockbox, extended hours which the tenant can prevent.
In a Nutshell: Landlord Right of Entry in California
The reasons allowing you to enter your occupied rentals include:
- When your tenant gives you permission;
- Any time during a genuine emergency;
- Making necessary repairs;
- Showing the property to prospective buyers or tenants; and
- If you sincerely believe your tenant abandoned the property.
Confused by these California Laws about Landlord Right to Entry?
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Steven Rich, MBA – Guest Blogger
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