As a property owner, you can own a rental building, but once a renter starts living there, you can't enter the property any time you want. The fact of the matter is a renter privacy rights are very specifically watched over, even though the legalities are different from state to state. This holds true even if you don't have a written lease. Although there are variances in the manner every state looks out for tenants rights, there are some overall guidelines that apply in nearly all situations.
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Even though most rental lease agreements state that the property owner can have unlimited accessibility to the property, the owner has to supply adequate advanced notice, either in writing or verbally, that they will be entering the unit and the circumstance for doing so. "Reasonable notice" is usually understood to demonstrate that the renter is given adequate preparation to vacate the unit if they decide to, or at least not be surprised by the visit.
There is another significant thing to note about having given advanced notice. Although you have notified the renter you may be entering, you do not have the ability to go into the building anytime of the day or night unless it happens to be an emergency. To go in whenever you want would violate the tenant's right to "quiet enjoyment", and the tenant's right to have full dominion over the property. If a property owner interferes with these rights by consistently coming into the property with their own keys and without delivering notice, the renter may file a lawsuit provided he can prove they have suffered damages because of this entry.
Every state may have varying requirements regarding how the property owner can enter the leased unit. So what is the ideal way to make sure you don't get taken to court for ignoring an occupant's right to privacy? Have a rental lease agreement that explains when the property owner is allowed to gain entry, and be familiar with your state's privacy laws and regulations. Knowing when you as property owner are able to go into a rental property is not as challenging as it might appear. Here are some examples:
- If an emergency, such as fire in the property – the property owner can enter and the renter would not be able to sue.
- If a repair or maintenance is needed, but not is not an emergency - the property owner should be able to after giving notice to the tenant and the tenant does have some say as to the timing of the job.
- If it is to display the property to a potential renter - here is where the renter has the most say, and the property owner will have to understand their rights when setting up a time to show the property. You might want to lay out the rules for entering in your rental lease agreement.