You are in the middle of a quiet dinner with your loved ones after a long hard day at work. While enjoying your meal, someone opens the front door and marches into your room. You sit shocked with your family as the uninvited guest pulls up a chair and engages you in small talk. You then realize it’s your landlord sitting right with you at dinner. You feel violated and intruded upon by this intrusion. And in your head you scream, this shouldn’t be happening. I am in my own home, right?
Yes, you are right. This is abuse on the part of your landlord. You have your rights as a tenant and you have options to protect yourself from such intrusion.
But first, let’s set out the basis of the landlord-tenant relationship in this tenancy situation.
The Dynamics of Landlord-Tenant Relations
This relationship stems from an agreement called a lease. This piece of paper details names, the rights and responsibilities of each party to the lease agreement as well as other terms and conditions for the rental of the given property for a period of time. This is the essence of the contract of lease.
While there are other provisions, a contract of lease is in essence the meeting of minds (agreement) for a purpose that is put down on paper. This means that the signatories have agreed with one another to perform specific actions for a price, which in this case is to allow the use of the owner’s property for a price over a period of time. The parties must have the capacity and the authority to enter into the lease agreement
This means the party leasing the property knows the consequences of his actions as well as the legal basis for the agreement. On the other hand, the renter (or lessee) knows the consequences of being under contract as well as the authority to bind themselves to such a responsibility. Furthermore, the property needs to be in existence and can be the subject of a lease agreement. This means there is no other occupant to the property.
There are different terms of the lease according to the law, as stated here:
- Fixed Term: This is a type of lease with a defined end date. The lessee is allowed possession of the property for the full number of days in the fixed term. This kind of term gives specific time-sensitive possession and only through legal order can this be canceled.
- Fixed Term Lease with a Special Provision (Right of Termination): In this kind of lease, while there is a maximum period provided, this period can be cut short by the occurrence of a specified event. An example would be the lease would be terminated if the owner sells the property to third parties.
- Rental Agreement: In this kind of agreement, the owner can terminate the lease within a given period of time.
1. Right to Legal Enjoyment of Premises
One of the most basic rights of a tenant is peaceable use of the rented property. This means the owner would provide undisturbed full enjoyment of their property. For this, the tenant would pay for such peaceable use monthly. This arrangement continues and would continue so long as rent is paid. The tenant has the right to complain if the enjoyment of the rented property is hampered in any way. This would include intrusion by the owner or their agents. On the other hand, if the tenant conducts themselves in an illegal or obnoxious manner, then the owner has the right to cancel the lease and remove the tenant from the premises.
2. Right to Safe Occupancy
Once a tenant is given the keys to the property, it is expected that the property has been thoroughly inspected to comply with local building code rules. This then in turn becomes the right to safe occupancy by the tenant. An example would be the electrical wiring of the property if it had recently been flooded. The owner has the responsibility to have that repaired and inspected before allowing the tenant to live on the property.
3. Right to Binding Terms
This refers to the lease agreement. Once confirmed by signature, the parties who signed are bound by the terms indicated in the document. If one party violates the terms stipulated, then the other party has the right to seek redress of grievance through court process. At that point, the party who violated the agreement may be subject to penalties or even have the lease agreement cancelled.
4. Right to Withhold Rent
The right to withhold rent is not absolute. In truth, the tenant is required to pay every month like clockwork. In some jurisdictions, withholding rent is allowed under specific instances. The basic requirement would be notice to the owner detailing the reasons for such action taken. Some others would require a complaint while others would allow offsetting of costs considered as advances for expenses chargeable to the owner.
5. Right to Privacy and Control of Property
This is the central right of a tenant against an owner. Although the owner still owns the property despite the lease, he/she cannot just enter the leased property at any given time. The right over the possession of the property is effectively transferred from the owner to the tenant. Thus, in order to be allowed entry into the owned property, the owner needs to send a notice and be permitted by the tenant to enter. Entry is allowed only but property cannot be removed or altered in any way.
Notice of Entry
This notice requirement prior to entry is practiced in many jurisdictions in the country. The following are some examples of how it is enforced.
a.) In the state of California, the owner or their agent will not be allowed entry into the tenant’s home except in cases of emergency or when there are repairs to be done as necessitated or agreed upon by the parties. One peculiarity is the allowance to have the owner be allowed entry to show the unit to possible buyers or future tenants. The notice requirement would need to be sent at least twenty four (24) hours prior to the scheduled date, time, and purpose for the entry.
If the tenant refuses the request for entry without justifiable reason, the following consequences may be chosen by the owner:
i) Eviction of the Tenant so long as compliance with the letter of the law is done by the owner.
ii)Termination of the Lease Agreement or non-renewal of the lease.
iii) A sour relationship between landlord and tenant.
In California, the tenant is protected against random inspections by the owner.
b.) In the state of Florida, the landlord is allowed entry only to inspect the premises and only to make the necessary or agreed upon repairs. With such activity, the owner still has to send notice to perform such activities at a reasonable time for the tenant. If an emergency is pending, then the notice requirements may be shortened or altogether waived.
c.) In the state of Nevada, the law specifies that a tenant is prohibited from denying consent for a reasonable entry by the owner for inspection, repairs, decorations, alterations and/or improvements, supply services or show the unit to prospective tenants or buyers. During an emergency, the landlord is allowed entry into the premises. There is also a twenty four (24) hour notice requirement or a shorter period agreed upon by the parties. Furthermore, the landlord has no other access except via court order or if the property has been abandoned or surrendered or when permitted in other instances under the law.
d.) New York state law holds sacrosanct the privacy of an individual in their abode, be it owned or rented. The landlord may enter only after reasonable notice and at a reasonable schedule with the consent of the tenant. If the tenant refuses without a valid reason, the landlord may seek court process to permit entry. For emergencies, the landlord may enter the premises without prior notice. (Public Service Law § 228).
Legal Options of a Tenant
There are many instances that owners abuse their right to enter the premises. What then is the recourse of the tenant for this abusive behavior. The following are but some of the options available to the tenant in order to counter these activities of the owner.
- Review the provisions of the lease agreement. It is important that the tenant has a copy of the lease agreement handy at all times. Thus it is important that the provisions of the contract that relate to the entry of the owner into the property be fully understood by the tenant. The first step in the prevention of any abuse of rights is through the protection against it.
- It is best to be fully aware of how the provisions operate and are made effective. This is done by seeking the advice of a lawyer, specifically a real estate lawyer on the effect and import of the provisions. Also, the lawyer would be able to enlighten the tenant as to the remedies available to the tenant under the lease agreement.
- Document all the actions are done by the owner in violation of the contract. This is important so that all the actions taken would be identified to build the case against the owner in violation of the lease agreement.
In the scenario given at the beginning of this article, it may be best to remind the landlord of the lease agreement and try and settle the matter amicably, in order to retain the goodwill between the parties.
However, if the landlord persists with such unfriendly behavior, you should carefully document the activities of the owner on those “unwarranted” visits. From there, a complaint can be filed in the proper avenue, depending upon the location of the property. If you follow the terms and conditions set out in the lease agreement, the owner would be properly admonished and illegal actions or visits should then abate, otherwise, the owner would face penalties according to the law.