Entry and Privacy Rights By Nancy M. Conway
Originally published in the San Francisco Bay Times, December 18, 2013 (read original article)
In the land of landlord tenant relations, entries into premises either can be routine non-events, sometimes bringing welcome repairs, or they can be harassment and intrusions on privacy. It all depends on context. Notices of unrequested entries can portend future events. These unplanned entries sometimes foreshadow property sales, Ellis Act evictions, TIC’s and condo conversion, with the concurrent displacement of tenants, all of which instill fear in the hearts of tenants in rent controlled cities like San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland.
Entries into residential dwelling units are governed by California Civil Code Section 1954, which provides that landlords may only enter for certain delineated reasons and that written notice of proposed entries must be given at least twenty four hours in advance, except in case of emergency, such as fire or flooding.
Notice can be given by slipping the information under the door, leaving it in a conspicuous place by the front door to the unit, or by leaving it at the unit with an adult at the premises or by mailing at least six days before the proposed entry. Entries are to take place during normal business hours, which are presumed to be Monday through Friday between 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tenants can agree to other times and tenants can also waive the requirement for written notice.
The general rules are that entries are permitted for necessary or agreed repairs, or to show the premises to potential buyers, tenants or mortgagors. Not all repairs that landlords propose to do are necessary or agreed upon. For those who feel burdened by intrusions on their peace by repeated landlord entries, they are within their legal rights to tell their landlord in writing that they do not want any unnecessary repairs. In cases where the property is being sold and exhibited for sale, twenty four hour advance verbal notice of entry for exhibiting the unit is considered sufficient notice provided that the landlord has provided notice 120 hours beforehand that the property is being sold.
Section 1954 addresses the issue of the abuse of entry by landlords for harassment and specifically prohibits it. Section 1954 c states that the landlord may not abuse the right of entry or use it to harass the tenant.
Some landlords have taken entries to an all new low or high, depending on your perspective, by intruding into their tenants’ privacy by installing video cameras to keep track of their tenants and their guests. Others enter and take photographs to document claimed violations of the lease.
Repeated abuse can form the basis for an affirmative lawsuit against the landlord for monetary damages and injunctive relief. If you are a tenant, keep a paper trail. Keep all of your documentation regarding entries and respond to notices in writing.
If the entries are for non-requested repairs, determine if they are necessary. If not, just put together and store a copy of a note thanking your landlord for the offer to make an upgrade, but tell them you prefer to keep the property as is and that you do not wish to be disrupted. If the entry is for some inconvenient time, try to reschedule.
In this day of emails and texts, be sure to save copies both on the Internet and a hard copy. Be sure that all of your documents are safe from intruders at ground zero (your home). Written complaints and documentation are critical. The landlord’s notice to you cannot be by email unless you agree to that. Your objections, however, can be by email or by mail.
If your landlord or his representative does enter your unit, be sure to document the event and do not allow photos or recorded videos etc. of the entry, unless you get a copy and are otherwise agreeable to the entry. Just knowing your rights and keeping records of correspondence will relieve a great deal of anxiety, and will be of assistance if you ever need to pursue your legal rights.