Landlord & Tenant Privacy Rights
The laws of most states give landlords the right to enter their rental property under specified circumstances, provided they meet certain legal notice requirements. Landlords typically include a clause on landlord’s right to access and tenant privacy in their lease or rental agreement.
Allowable Reasons and Notice Requirements for Landlords to Enter Rental Property
Landlords may enter a rental unit in order to:
- make repairs, such as to fix a broken stove
- inspect the property for safety or maintenance problems
- show the rental unit to a prospective tenant toward the end of a tenancy, or
- show the rental unit to a potential purchaser of the property.
State laws (often called access or tenant privacy laws) usually require landlords to provide a certain amount of notice (typically, 24 to 48 hours) before entering; some state laws simply requires “reasonable” notice (generally presumed to be 24 hours, but this depends on the circumstances). See your state laws on notice required to enter rental property for details. State tenant privacy laws do not usually specify the exact hours that a landlord may enter, but allow the landlord to enter rental property at “reasonable” hours.
If a tenant restricts landlord's access for an allowable reason (such as to make repairs), after the landlord has provided reasonable notice, the landlord may have grounds to terminate the tenancy for violation of the lease or rental agreement.
Learn more about Landlord Access and Tenant Privacy.
When Advance Notice Is Not Required
Landlords can always enter a rental unit without giving tenants notice in order to respond to an emergency, such as a fire. The landlord can also enter without notice if the tenant agrees to less notice, or invites the landlord to enter the apartment or rental unit.
Other Types of Invasion of Tenant Privacy
There are a variety of other situations when a landlord may violate a tenant’s privacy rights. Examples include the landlord doing the following:
- Letting someone other than the tenant enter the rental unit without the tenant’s permission (municipal inspections and the police may be exceptions).
- Giving information about the tenant to strangers (such as gossiping about a tenant’s financial problems with other tenants in the building). Landlords do, however, have the right to give out normal business information about a tenant to businesses who ask and have a legitimate right to know—for example, another landlord who wants to verify the date of a person’s tenancy.
- Calling (or visiting) the tenant’s workplace, unless there is an emergency or a family member is trying to access the rental property.
- Restricting guests without cause. (Leases and rental agreements may, however, set limits on guest visits in order to avoid having a guest turn into an illegal subtenant.)
- Spying on the tenant or visiting their rental too frequently just to check up on the tenant or without a specific reason to do so. (A landlord’s intrusive behavior may be excused if the tenant is dealing drugs or engaging in other illegal activity on the rental property. A landlord who allows drug dealing on their rental property may face a lawsuit from other tenants, neighbors, and government agencies.)
- Changing the locks on their own, turning off utilities, or locking a tenant out of the property because the tenant did something the landlord did not agree with.
- Sexually harassing a tenant.
Learn about Your Rights as a Tenant.
Tenant Remedies In Cases of Landlord Invasion of Privacy
A tenant who feels that the landlord has invaded his or her privacy, should ask the landlord to stop illegal entry and follow up this request in writing. (If the property manager is the problem, the tenant should be sure to contact the landlord or property owner.) The tenant’s letter should explain why there is an invasion of privacy and what the tenant plans to do if the behavior does not stop. If the landlord repeatedly invades the tenant’s privacy by entering without providing appropriate notice or without an allowable reason, such as those specified above, a tenant may have two options:
Sue the landlord and ask for money damages
Depending on the situation, the tenant may sue the landlord for invasion of privacy, illegal trespass, interference with the tenant’s right to undisturbed use of the rental property, and/or infliction of emotional distress. If sexual harassment is involved, the tenant may have a discrimination claim. A tenant who wants to sue a landlord on one or more of these grounds should consult an experienced tenant’s lawyer for advice.
Break the lease and move out
This falls under the category of “constructive eviction,” which means that by violating the law (in this case, by invading the tenant’s privacy), the landlord has (for all practical purposes) evicted the tenant.
Learn ways to Handle Landlord and Tenant Disputes.