Landlord access to your apartment is carefully circumscribed in state law because it is a provision easily abused. Access applies only in two broad circumstances: in order to make repairs on request or by necessity; and to show the unit to prospective tenants or buyers. Showing the unit is inconvenient for the tenant so it’s best to know how the law applies.
State law allows unit access with very clear limitations. Civil Code subsection 1954 (a)(2) says:
A landlord may enter the dwelling unit only in the following cases…. (2) To make necessary or agreed repairs, decorations, alterations or improvements, supply necessary or agreed services, or exhibit the dwelling unit to prospective or actual purchasers, mortgagees, tenants, workers, or contractors…
Subsection 1954(d)(1) clarifies:
Except as provided in subdivision (e), or as provided in paragraph (2) or (3) [which concern repairs, emergency access, or access to a vacated unit], the landlord shall give the tenant reasonable notice in writing of his or her intent to enter and enter only during normal business hours. The notice shall include the date, approximate time, and purpose of the entry. The notice may be personally delivered to the tenant, left with someone of a suitable age and discretion at the premises, or, left on, near, or under the usual entry door of the premises in a manner in which a reasonable person would discover the notice. Twenty-four hours shall be presumed to be reasonable notice in absence of evidence to the contrary. The notice may be mailed to the tenant. Mailing of the notice at least six days prior to an intended entry is presumed reasonable notice in the absence of evidence to the contrary.
To boil that down, is is lawful for the landlord to demand to show a tenant’s unit to a prospective tenant. However he needs written, reasonable and advance notice, which is agreed to mean 24-hours in advance and access only during business hours. But that can include weekends and the tenant can’t demand to be present. (By the same token the can’t demand the tenant not be present.) The viewing party does need to be accompanied by the landlord or his agent.
As for notice, it is sufficient to post it on the door. But it is not sufficient to let the tenant know informally, or to make a phone call or send an email. The tenant can consent but the bottom line is the notice has to be formal. State law is very clear about that. Unless the landlord schedules consecutive visits, in our view each entry should be noticed separately.
The bottom line is that unit entry should not to interfere with a tenant’s quiet enjoyment of the premises. The law doesn’t nail down how often would constitute interference, but we tend to know it when we see it. Any suspected abuse of the entry provision (much less harassment) should be reported to the Rent Stabilization Program office at (310) 285–1031.
Other Limitations May Vary
Some rent stabilization ordinances may address unit access but the Beverly Hills ordinance does not. Yet an ordinance amendment could put a limit on the number of showings, for example, or perhaps limit the hours of access or, even better, specify a remedy when access is abused. (That would allow the Rent Stabilization Program office to intervene.) Until an amendment to the ordinance, the state law will continue govern and the tenant’s remedy would be with the courts.
The last consideration is what the lease may say. It may include a clause granting the landlord additional privileges to enter. It should not. For example the standard AAGLA lease template includes this clause that essentially restates the state law:
Inspection/Entry: Owner may enter and inspect the Premises, during business hours and upon reasonable notice to Renter, without Renter’s presence, for any lawful purpose. Owner may enter the Premises without advance notice to Renter in case of an emergency. Renter shall not add nor change any lock or locking device, bolt or latch on the Premises and shall provide Owner with a key to any such device, forthwith, on demand. Renter acknowledges that Owner is entitled to a key to the Premises and may use the same for entry as provided herein or by law. If you circle “Yes” in Section O, you consent to unannounced entry of your apartment by government inspectors, without your presence.
Get in touch with Renters Alliance if your lease language includes any more liberal interpretation of landlord access. Let us know if you been requested to allow access to your to a prospective tenant or buyer in a way that contravenes the state law. In practice, landlords usually don’t abuse the unit access provision.
Why Bother a Tenant?
Most landlords don’t show a unit to a prospective tenant before the current tenant vacates. Indeed the only reason to show a unit early is to minimize the time between tenants so as either not to lose the rent or perhaps to prepare for work or repairs after the tenant moves out. In our view that is not sufficient reason to bother a tenant.
We were reminded recently about this aspect of unit access when contacted by a tenant. Her landlord requested access her unit. In talking about his approach, she recalled that she had moved-in only the day after the former tenant had moved out; and as a result the apartment had not been cleaned. There was still soap in the bathroom soap dish, she said, and that is no way to start a new chapter in a new home.
But under the law now she must leave that unit clean — cleaner than she found it. She will probably clean the unit for the next tenant so the landlord doesn’t even lose a day’s rent, much less pay to clean it himself, UNLESS she had carefully documented the move-in condition. That’s what we urge in our explainer, Think Like an Inspector When Viewing an Apartment!