Question: When is a landlord allowed to enter a tenant’s unit without permission from the tenant?

Answer: A landlord (or any other person) who enters the property without permission is guilty of unlawful forcible entry. Forcible entry into premises leased to a tenant occurs whenever anyone enters the tenant’s premises without the tenant’s present consent.

But there are a few instances when a landlord may enter their tenant’s unit without prior permission. These include in an emergency, under a court order and when the tenant has vacated the property and their tenancy has been terminated by surrender or abandonment.

Example 1: Illegal activity

Landlords are prohibited from entering the property or letting the police enter the property, even if the landlord suspects the tenant of using the premises to commit a crime. The police need to first obtain a search warrant to legally authorize them to come onto the premises occupied by the tenant when the landlord has no right to entry. [United States v. Warner (9th Cir. 1988) 843 F2d 401]

Consider a landlord who permits the police to enter and search a tenant’s garage without a warrant. The police have reason to believe the tenant is manufacturing drugs, an illegal use of the premises and of concern to the landlord.

May a landlord collaborate with the police at their request and allow them to enter a tenant’s garage?

No! The landlord has no right of possession when the tenant’s right of possession has not expired or been terminated. This is true even if the tenant has vacated and only one day remains under a 30-day notice to vacate.

What about a leasing agent who is not the landlord of the rental unit in question? May they cooperate with police to let them into a unit where they suspect a crime has taken place?

No! “Lock-box” entry by the police in collaboration with a multiple listing service (MLS) member to check out a crime is prohibited, unless the police possess a warrant. The entry violates the purpose of a seller’s broker’s agency and lock-box authority. The broker may enter only to show the premises to prospective tenants who accompany them (or other authorized agents). [People v. Jaquez (1985) 163 CA3d 918]

However, a landlord does have the right to enter and also to allow police to enter a unit which has been abandoned or vacated by the tenant if the tenancy has been terminated under state law rules of abandonment or surrender. [United States v. Sledge (9th Cir. 1981) 650 F2d 1075]

Example 2: Emergency

A landlord’s entry into a tenant’s unit out of concern for the safety of the property or other tenants constitutes an emergency. The property manager may properly enter the unit without the tenant’s knowledge and permission for the limited purpose of dealing with the emergency. [People v. Plane (1969) 274 CA2d 1]

Consider a tenant who changes the locks on the door to the rented unit without informing the landlord. At a later date, the tenant is arrested by law enforcement officers. The tenant is hastily escorted away, leaving lights on and their pet inside their locked unit. The landlord becomes aware of the tenant’s dilemma. Fearful the gas stove was also left on, the landlord attempts, but is unable to enter with their key.

The landlord calls the police to witness their entry and inspection of the apartment to make sure it is in a safe and secure condition. The landlord then enters the apartment through a window and lets the police in to observe the landlord’s conduct and act as eyewitnesses so the tenant may not claim the landlord removed any of the tenant’s possessions.

The police proceed to make a visual inspection of the apartment. The police find illegal possessions in plain view casually lying around the kitchen and dining area of the apartment.

Did the landlord have the right to enter the apartment? Did the landlord have the right to allow the police to enter the apartment?

Yes! The landlord had the right to enter since they reasonably believed the safety of their other tenants and the building may be in jeopardy. [Plane, supra]

Example 3: Unit abandoned or surrendered

A landlord may enter a unit when:

  • the tenant’s right of possession has been terminated; and
  • the tenant has vacated the unit.

The tenant’s leasehold right of possession is terminated by:

  • the expiration of a lease (or rental agreement, by a proper notice to vacate);
  • a properly-established surrender;
  • an abandonment, with a notice of abandonment; or
  • a forfeiture, with a three-day notice containing a declaration of forfeiture.

A tenant’s default does not alone constitute a forfeiture or convey the leasehold and its possessory rights to the landlord.

The tenant retains the right of possession unless and until it is terminated by proper notice or the expiration of a lease agreement. The only other enforceable transfer of the right of possession is through voluntary conveyance.

first tuesday students: read more in Landlords, Tenants and Property Management Chapter 3: Landlord’s right to enter, accessible via your student homepage.