Territory wars—that’s what it’s all about.

We witness territorial behavior among animals and humans all the time. But why? There are a variety of theories, but two reasons are common to most:

  1. Competition
  2. Dominance

So you can imagine that when it comes to property rights, particularly about whether a landlord can enter the property and when, landlords and tenants mark their territory…well, not literally (we hope!).

The status quo

Too many landlords and property managers think they can show up whenever they want and enter the property. Lucky for you, that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

The landlord owns the property

As a tenant, the place you rent is your home. You moved in with your belongings, decorated, and live your life there. It doesn’t matter that you don’t own the property.

The rent you pay gives you many rights, but because someone else owns the place, that ownership comes with certain rights. So where exactly do a landlord’s rights to enter the property and a tenant’s right to privacy begin and end?

Required notice varies by state

One way to find the answer is to look up your state’s law. Some states have specific laws on how much notice a landlord must give a tenant before coming over—which is usually 24 hours’ notice.

If your state specifies how much notice a landlord must give, then that’s that. If your landlord doesn’t give you notice before coming over, let them know the statutory requirement in your state, and ask that they obey it—regardless of what the lease says.

Ask for a clause in the lease

If you live in a state that doesn’t specify when a landlord can enter the property, you can request that your landlord give you 24 hours’ notice before coming by. You can even ask that this be put in the lease before you sign it. This request is reasonable. It’s a red flag if a landlord refuses to give you 24 hours’ notice before coming over.

The state where I live, and own rental property, has no formal statute on this matter, so I spell it out in my standard lease:

Landlord’s Access for Inspection and Emergency

Landlord or Landlord’s agents may enter the Premises in the event of an emergency, to make repairs or improvements, or to show the Premises to prospective buyers or renters. Landlord may also enter the Premises to conduct an annual inspection to check for safety or maintenance problems. Except in cases of emergency, Tenant’s abandonment of the Premises, court order, or where it is impractical to do so, Landlord will give Tenant twenty-four (24) hours’ notice before entering.

5 legitimate reasons a landlord can enter a rental

Your landlord should leave you alone for the most part, which is basically what is meant by “quiet enjoyment,” a legal term that gives residents the right to enjoy the property they rent undisturbed.

But there are times when the landlord or their representative, such as a property manager, needs to come over.

1. Routine check for maintenance and safety issues

It’s typical for landlords to make a yearly, semi-yearly, or quarterly inspection of the property. This allows them to inspect and maintain it so it’s a good place to live.

2. An emergency

If there’s a fire, water leak, or any other type of emergency, the landlord can enter with no notice to take care of the problem.

3. When a repair or service is needed

If you notify the landlord that something needs to be fixed, the landlord or a repair person can enter the property to take care of it. The landlord needs to give you notice before they or a repair person will be there.

4. To show the property

Landlords have the right to enter their rental property when they wish to show it for sale or rent. The landlord should notify you in advance, and when that time comes, you need to let them in.

Landlords, however, cannot show the property excessively. But what’s excessive to one party might not be to another. Generally, showings aren’t considered excessive if the landlord limits them to two or three days during the week and maybe every other weekend. But daily showings probably would be.

5. When you leave for an extended period

If you leave for an extended period, which is usually more than a week, the landlord typically has the right to enter the property to ensure everything is okay and to perform any preventive maintenance tasks.

What if you don’t let your landlord in?

Even if you don’t like the idea of your landlord ever coming in, your landlord has the right to enter for valid reasons.

You’re not allowed, in most states, to take self-help measures, such as changing the locks and not giving your landlord a key.

And you’re not allowed to “just say no” if your landlord is coming over for a valid reason and (unless there’s an emergency) gives you proper notice. If you do refuse entry, the landlord can come in anyway, and then potentially even terminate your lease for the violation.

Bottom line

If your landlord plays by the rules regarding when they can enter the property, you need to do the same. Otherwise, they might not renew your lease. And if you’re a month-to-month tenant who’s being uncooperative, you might receive a notice to vacate in the near future.

But if your landlord is violating your privacy rights, you could sue your landlord or break the lease.