We are occasionally contacted by tenants who say the landlord wants to show their apartment to prospective tenants even though the current tenants haven’t yet left. Sometimes the landlord wants to walk a prospective buyer through. Is that something a tenant has to allow? Generally speaking yes because the law allows it. Let’s take a look at the relevant law and we will offer some suggestions should the landlord come calling.
When Can a Landlord Enter?
Landlord access to an occupied apartment is carefully circumscribed in state law. 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...
The law is quite specific about when a landlord can enter because unit entry is sometimes abused by landlords. Some don’t understand the law and some simply disregard it. It is important for tenants to know the law, so we refer them the California Tenant’s Guide. (Download the relevant section.)
Periodic inspections are *not* allowed under the law with the exception of waterbed installations. So the landlord cannot visit to simply check on the premises. And there is good reason *not* to consent to an inspection. Why give an unscrupulous landlord an opportunity to look for potential violations of the rental agreement? That could include alleging that a tenant is not keeping sanitary premises or that the tenant has made modifications to the unit that are not allowed. Better to keep prying eyes away!
So it is lawful for the landlord to show an occupied unit to a prospective tenant or purchaser so long as written, reasonable and advance notice is given. The required notice for lawful unit entry is carefully specified in the Civil Code too. Subsection 1954(d)(1) says:
...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.
However some less-professional landlords may disregard the law’s required notice; it is not uncommon for a mom-and-pop landlord to simply show up at the door with toolbox in hand after the tenant has requested a repair. The required minimum notice *always applies* unless the tenant consents to waive it. However the landlord may enter when the tenant is not present as long as there is proper notice.
Entry Should Not Interfere With the Tenant’s ‘Quiet Enjoyment’
The law is silent on exactly how often is too often for entry into occupied premises for the purposes of showing the property. Civil Code section 1954(c) says only, “The landlord may not abuse the right of access or use it to harass the tenant.” Moreover the landlord misuse unit access in a “significant and intentional” way to influence a tenant to vacate (section 1940.2(a)(4)).
In terms of showing the unit to prospective tenants or buyers, the landlord’s demands would be subject to a ‘reasonableness’ test: was the landlord comporting himself in accord with the law or was he substantially interfering with the tenant’s quiet enjoyment of the premises? In practice we don’t hear much about landlords abusing the privilege of showing the apartment while it is occupied.
The law offers a civil remedy for “significant and intentional” violations of the unit-entry provisions, but the tenant will have to demonstrate that the landlord’s intent was to influence the tenant to vacate. That is a high hurdle and only the most egregious conduct may find relief from a court. The law does provides for damages — $2,000 for each violation — but that figure has not been increased since 2004 when the protection was enacted.
Some localities have codified harassment penalties in local ordinance. Not Beverly Hills, though; our rent stabilization ordinance is silent on unit entry or remedies for landlord abuse of the privilege. Still, we suggest a call to the rent stabilization division at (310) 285–1031 to make them aware. And do get in touch with Renters Alliance too!