One controversial area in property management is knowing when, why and how often a landlord can access an occupied rental unit. For property owners, legal limits on the right to enter their own property causes frustration, inconvenience and potential income loss. For tenants, the landlord’s unwelcome visits cause distress.
The correct answer lies in the provincial rules, which can be found in the local Residential Tenancies Act. Generally, a landlord will have the right to enter:
For a reasonable purpose, and,
With reasonable notice.
What is or is not reasonable will be determined by weighing any potential consequences to the landlord against the tenant’s right of privacy and quiet enjoyment. Frequent or unannounced visits from a landlord have been found to violate those rights.
Examples of legitimate reasons may include:
Routine property inspections during the term of the tenancy. The provincial law may set out the frequency. For example, British Columbia provides for monthly inspections. Otherwise, it may be left to the landlord’s discretion. Either way, the safest route is to include the disclosure that the property will be routinely inspected and the proposed intervals for those inspections in the lease agreement. The landlord likely will need to give notice to the tenant prior to each inspection. However, if the disclosure was made at leasing, the tenant is less likely to complain.
Making repairs. The landlord has a duty to make repairs and to keep the property fit. As a result, the landlord may, with notice, enter the property to make these repairs. However, landlords must be efficient and take steps to lessen the impact of the repair, including inconvenience to the tenant, noise and mess. As with repairs, it’s likely the landlord has the right to schedule property inspections.
Emergencies. In some cases, landlords can enter the property without notice in the event of an emergency — an imminent risk to life or property. However, the local law may require landlords to provide notice even in the case of emergency, so be sure to check the local RTA before making an unexpected appearance. It may be possible to obtain the tenant’s consent to enter without notice in this situation. The best course is to know in advance what the rules are for an emergency to avoid having to make a split-second decision.
To show the property. Usually this exception requires some blanket notice that the tenant will be subject to visits, or the landlord may need to provide 24 hours notice each time there is a tour. Access may be limited to the last month of the tenancy in the case of showing to prospective tenants. Even with this exception, if the frequency of showings interferes with the tenant’s rights of privacy or quiet enjoyment, the number or times of showings may be limited. It is important to protect the tenant’s possessions, which means carefully pre-screening and pre-qualifying prospective renters or purchasers.
Abandonment. If the tenant has abandoned the unit, it is likely that the landlord can enter without notice. However, determining if a property is abandoned can be difficult. The tenant may be on a prolonged absence. Usually, abandonment is determined using a variety of factors, such as failure to pay that month’s rent along with no signs of activity and inability to contact the tenant.
The landlord has a court order. An order for possession or other order to enter or search the unit gives the landlord the right to provide entry.
Proper notice is typically not less than 24 hours, in writing, and personally served to the tenant. The local RTA determines the rules in each province. Notice can’t be given too far in advance. The time of day must be reasonable or within the bounds of the specific rules. It is always a good policy to work out the schedule with the tenant.
Tenants may have the right to be present and cannot be asked to leave during an inspection or visit. Pest control companies present a special problem because it may be harmful to stay. Carefully choosing only reputable pest control companies may ease a tenant’s concerns and gain their consent.
Sometimes problems come up regarding common areas or outside maintenance. While landlords are generally allowed to be in common areas without notice, that does not mean that the visit won’t violate the tenant’s privacy or quiet enjoyment. Prolonged, noisy repairs or construction may result in a monetary award to the tenant.
Tenants have remedies, which might include permission to change the locks and retain the keys, legal restrictions on the landlord’s access, or monetary damages for loss of privacy or quiet enjoyment. It doesn’t make good business sense to disturb tenants in this fashion.
Take steps to limit the need to be at the property. That may include:
Multi-tasking. For instance, lumping together maintenance tasks and repairs whenever possible.
Clearing out. Avoid leaving things behind at the property. Frequent visits to pick up the landlord’s items from a garage or storage shed are more likely to trigger a tenant complaint.
Be picky about tenants. Because of these restrictions on entry, it is paramount to choose the best tenants, and that means adopting an effective tenant screening policy.
Landlord Tip: Good rapport with tenants can make all the difference in managing properties. If tenants know their landlord, understand the system, and trust that the landlord will follow the rules, they will be far more cooperative when it comes to visits to the property.
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Disclaimer: The information provided in this post in not intended to be construed as legal advice, nor should it be considered a substitute for obtaining individual legal counsel or consulting your local, state, federal or provincial tenancy laws.