Landlords can enter a rented dwelling only for limited reasons, according to state law, such as to tend to an emergency, to make agreed-upon repairs or to perform certain health and safety inspections. The law also allows entry in order to exhibit the unit to a prospective buyer or a prospective tenant — even while the current tenant still resides there. While the reasons for entry is narrow, we still see that landlords request entry for a general inspection or some other purpose that not allowed by law. Here is what you need to know about lawful entry.
Landlord’s Right to Enter
State law recognizes a property owner’s right to enter leased premises. However the law also seeks to balance the tenant’s quiet enjoyment and that that includes a measure of privacy. To find that balance the law is specific about the circumstances under which the landlord may enter. Civil Code §1954 enumerates some of those reasons:
- In case of emergency.
- 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 or to make an inspection pursuant to subdivision (f) of Section 1950.5.
- When the tenant has abandoned or surrendered the premises.
- Pursuant to court order.
- For the purposes set forth in Chapter 2.5 (commencing with Section 1954.201).
- To comply with the provisions of Article 2.2 (commencing with Section 17973) of Chapter 5 of Part 1.5 of Division 13 of the Health and Safety Code.
Let’s decode that!
Emergencies. The landlord has a responsibility to ensure the premises are safe. In the event of an obvious water or gas leak, or evidence of fire or some other hazard, the law presumes the landlord’s good faith effort to immediately attend to the problem and allows entry without prior notice.
Agreed-upon repairs. This is common sense: if the tenant has requested a repair or improvement then the landlord should be able to enter. And he can enter without the tenant present because the law does not afford a tenant the right to be present. The landlord may arrange access at a time that is convenient but is not required to do so as long as it is regular business hours. Formal notice must come 24 hours in advance.
Showing the unit The law allows the landlord to show the unit to prospective tenants or buyers even if the current tenant has vacated. This may not a common practice but we have known skinflint landlords that don’t think about troubling tenants simply to turn over the unit without a day’s delay! The landlord or agent may give verbal notice 24 hours in advance but only if the tenant has been apprized within the prior 120 days that the unit is for sale or rent. The landlord or agent must leave written notice behind stating that the unit was entered.
Abandonment. When a tenant moves out, or vacates the unit pursuant to a court order, the landlord may enter. However there are times when it is not clear whether the the tenant did in fact vacate. Sometimes furniture, trash or debris is left behind, for example. The law presumes the good faith of the landlord when entering on the presumption of abandonment.
Notice is Required
The landlord can enter only during normal business hours (weekdays between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. or as specified in the lease) except for emergencies. The tenant is not obligated to consent to evening entry.
The landlord must provide “reasonable” notice. That has been decided by the courts as about 24 hours before entry. A tenant can allow short notice but is not required to consent to notice shorter than 24 hours. Notice can be posted on the door or slid under the door. It can be hand-delivered to an occupant or mailed (however six days is required for mailed notice). Notice can be verbal but only if tenant and landlord have agreed on a specific day and time and if not more than one week has elapsed between the verbal agreement to enter and the actual entry.
Emergencies are different. The landlord can enter in good faith without advance notice if it is to address an emergency. In the case of a significant water leak, say, or evidence of smoke or some other hazard, the landlord need not wait to enter and of course may enter without the tenant’s knowledge.
Finally, the law presumes the landlords right to enter so do not change the locks without the landlord’s permission. That will be a violation of the rental agreement and could result in the landlord terminating the tenancy.
‘Inspection’ has an officious sound. A tenant who hears from the landlord that an inspection is the reason for entry will presume it is lawful and probably consent. But not so fast! Let’s look in more detail at which inspections are a lawful reason for entry and which are not.
The code is clear about these instances where entry is allowed for the purpose of inspection:
- Initial and periodic inspection of a waterbed installation (Civil Code §1940.5(f))
- Repairing, testing, and maintaining a “single-station fire alarm” (Health and Safety Code §13113.7)
- Repairing, testing, and maintaining a carbon monoxide detector (Health and Safety Code §17926.1)
Entry for these purposes requires reasonable, posted notice. In fact it is baked into the subsection concerning fire alarm inspections (emphasis added):
Except in cases of emergency, the owner or owner’s agent shall give the tenants of each such unit, room, or suite reasonable notice in writing of the intention to enter and shall enter only during normal business hours. Twenty-four hours shall be presumed to be reasonable notice in absence of evidence to the contrary. — Health and Safety Code §13113.7
About those Cryptic References in Civil Code §1954…
Civil Code §1954 (as excerpted earlier) refers to three other sections of the code when it listed reasons for landlord entry. However the references are not explained in that section. Each refers to a specific purpose for inspection so let’s look at them in turn.
Section 1950.5(f) (as cited in Civil Code §1954) refers to entry for an initial inspection. Contrary to the sound, this inspection comes at the end of the tenancy if requested by the tenant. It is about the security deposit: the tenant can have the landlord document any issue in need of correction so that the tenant may correct it instead of surrendering that part of the deposit. The initial inspection must be preceded by 48 hours written notice (not the customary 24 hours) unless waived by the tenant.
Section 1954.201 (also cited in Civil Code §1954) refers to water conservation in multifamily dwellings. The key part reads, “To encourage the conservation of water in multifamily residential rental buildings through means either within the landlord’s or the tenant’s control” (emphasis added). To understand how this relates to entry we have to look at Civil Code §1101.5. It was added in 2014 by water conservation legislation SB 745 to ensure that water-saving fixtures are installed and functional:
(a) On or before January 1, 2019, all noncompliant plumbing fixtures in any multifamily residential real property and in any commercial real property shall be replaced with water-conserving plumbing fixtures. (b) An owner or the owner’s agent may enter the owner’s property for the purpose of installing, repairing, testing, and maintaining water-conserving plumbing fixtures required by this section, consistent with notice requirements of Section 1954. — ARTICLE 1.4 §1101.5 Installation of Water Use Efficiency Improvements (Emphasis added. ‘Section 1954’ refers to the circumstances and required notice for entering a rented dwelling unit.)
Section 17973 of the Health and Safety Code (also cited in Civil Code §1954) refers to inspections for structural integrity. Take for example the balconies that hang off of some of our older Spanish Revival rental properties. From time these balconies list or sag. On poorly-maintained properties from the 1960s we sometimes see evidence of corrosion underneath the balconies. The law allows the landlord to enter the dwelling units to inspect for structural integrity.
When an “Inspection” is Not an Inspection
Sometimes the landlord will cite the need to inspect as a reason to enter the premises. Indeed the law does allow entry for the purpose of inspection. However the ground for inspection should be specific and ideally the relevant code section cited. That is the professional way to announce an inspection of the premises.
Nevertheless we sometimes see landlords casually toss around some variation of “inspection” as a kind of catch-all reason for requesting entry. The request may be verbal or come in a text or whatever. But unit entry should not be treated casually: it requires formal notice and a specific purpose. Here are a few examples where the stated reason arguably does not meet the threshold for entry.
“To inspect the unit.” The law does not allow for a general or routine inspection of the premises. In general the tenant is obligated to report a problem and a conscientious landlord may periodically remind the tenant to report problems or even request the tenant to complete a checklist. However there must be a specific reason cited to inspect the premises. If the landlord wants to inspect annually as part of a property maintenance program then it is completely up to the discretion of the tenant to allow entry for that purpose. The landlord cannot demand entry for that purpose.
”Air conditioner inspection.” The law does not allow entry for the purpose of inspecting an air conditioners or any kitchen appliance. Instead the law requires the tenant to report a problem. Under some circumstances there is a safety condition that must be addressed. If a window air conditioner appears precarious, for example, then the landlord is obligated to secure it. But that is no reason to request entry to inspect all air conditioners — and certainly not on a regular basis.
”Routine plumbing inspection.” The law allows for a periodic inspection but only for limited reasons. There is no need to inspect plumbing (and certainly not routinely) as the tenant is obligated to report a water leak. Outside of reported leaks, or improvements like the replacement of plumbing or electrical, there is no reason for the landlord to inspect the utilities. (However the law does allow for inspection of multifamily dwellings to ensure tenant compliance with state water conservation requirements such as ‘low-flow’ fixtures.)
Cleanliness or sanitary inspection. The law requires a tenant to keep “sanitary” premises and for good reason: unsanitary premises encourages infestation and in extreme cases can present a nuisance to neighbors. However that obligation does not allow the landlord to inspect for an unsanitary condition. Indeed it could be a pretext used by an unscrupulous landlord who may want to establish grounds for eviction.*
Hoarding is worth a mention in regards to the tenant obligation to keep sanitary premises. Hoarding is classified as mental disorder which arises from an individual’s inability to part with possessions. It generally manifests as unmanaged clutter but in extreme cases may encourage infestation, implicate animal cruelty or present a fire hazard. Landlords are understandably concerned when the accumulation of personal property presents a threat to health and safety.
However the law does not provide for a ‘hoarder’ inspection. A wise landlord will proceed cautiously and perhaps first consult with the health authority. If necessary the landlord can request that a local inspector pay a visit. But the landlord himself cannot enter simply to satisfy his curiosity or concern.
When the landlord cites inspection as a reason for entry but does not specify a specific purpose allowed by law, politely but firmly ask the landlord to be more specific. If it sounds reasonable then consider allowing the landlord to enter. However if such requests for entry constitute a pattern, or if the landlord’s justification for an inspection shifts as you press for specifics, then be more cautious. Perhaps ask the landlord to document in writing the specific purpose for entry.
Please get in touch with Renters Alliance if you suspect the landlord is abusing the right-of-entry as we have defined it here.
One final note: the Los Angeles County Moratorium until May 31, 2022 protects tenants from eviction for denying entry to the landlord for unnecessary or non-emergency purposes. The county has also protected tenants from landlord harassment for the purposes of unit entry. Read more in the county’s January resolution. These protections extend to Beverly Hills tenants, however the rent stabilization division never informed us about it. Renters Alliance did inform tenants over a year ago!
- Civil Code §1954
- California Tenant’s Guide excerpt: When Can the Landlord Enter the Unit?
- Landlords Rights and Responsibilities excerpt: The Landlord’s Right of Entry
- Health & Safety Code §13113.7 fire alarm inspections
- Health & Safety Code §17926.1 carbon monoxide devices inspections
- California Tenant’s Guide excerpt: Initial Inspection Before Tenant Moves Out
- Los Angeles County January 25, 2022 resolution
- Landlord law firm’s summary of the law (excellent!)
Have you received a notice to enter the premises for some purpose that was not an agreed-upon repair or other reason allowed by law? Please Please get in touch with Renters Alliance and forward it.