For landlord who wants access to a tenant's dwelling, courtesy is the rule


January 23, 1994|By George B. Laurent

A man's home is his castle, but not if he's a tenant -- at least in the minds of many landlords who believe that because they own the property, they have the absolute right to enter the premises, any time they want.

Some landlords inspect apartments at 6 a.m. or 11 p.m. Some are in the property every other day when the tenant is at work, many times touching the tenant's possessions.

Some come in without knocking, sometimes to the greaembarrassment of a tenant who may have just stepped naked out of the bathroom.

Landlords need to understand that once they have rented property, that property is no longer their exclusive domain -- for the duration of the tenancy, they have given possession to the tenant.

On the other hand, there are tenants who are unreasonable about allowing a landlord to make a reasonable inspection of the premises or to make a repair.

They refuse to make an appointment or fail to keep an appointment for repair workers to enter.

Such tenants may even change the locks and threaten the landlord with violence if he or she enters the property.

Landlords have the reasonable right of entry to make an inspection, to make repairs and to show the property. A tenant who impedes this right can be in breach of the lease. On the other hand, the tenant has the reasonable right of freedom from trespass. This is a situation more to be governed by courtesy and respect than by law.

Some points to consider:

Tenants should seek rentals that have leases that give them the right to be notified in advance of a land lord's entry -- except in emergency -- and, if possible, restrict the right of the landlord or his or her agent to show the property while the tenant lives in the property.

Unless there is an emergency or a surprise inspection necessary to uncover a breach of lease -- such as pets, when the lease prohibits pets -- the landlord should always contact the tenant ahead of time.

Male landlords, in particular, should exercise care as to time, frequency and method of entry when dealing with single women, to avoid implications of sexual harassment.

The landlord should knock loudly and give time for the tenant to answer. If no one appears to be home, give a loud yell identifying yourself before entering.

If at all possible, the landlord should come when the tenant is at home.

If the tenant is at work and this is not possible, then it is always wise for a landlord to be present when workers are in the apartment.

If repairs are being made, be sure that the tenant's property is treated with respect, that there is a proper cleanup afterward and that the door is locked when leaving.

Common sense rules but is very frequently ignored.

Be aware that as landlord you can make needed repairs, but you can't renovate the premises while the tenant is there -- some landlords have wanted to repaint the apartment for a new tenant before the old tenant has moved out.

If you want to sell the property, realize that the tenant is paying full rent for privacy and shouldn't be bothered too often. People wanting to inspect the property realize that appointments should be made with the occupants.

To gain better cooperation from the tenant and to compensate for inconvenience, why not offer a tenant reduced rent during the period of showing?

Above all else, put yourself in the other person's position -- that is, how would you like to be treated if you were the tenant or the landlord in this situation?

George B. Laurent is executive director of BNI, or Baltimore Neighborhoods Inc., a private non-profit group that works to resolve tenant-landlord problems and to eliminate housing discrimination.

QUESTIONS? Send questions to BNI, 2217 St. Paul St., Baltimore 21218. Or comment on Sundial, The Baltimore Sun's telephone information service, at (410) 783-1800 (268-7736 in Anne Arundel County, 836-5028 in Harford County, 848-0338 in Carroll County). Using a touch-tone phone, punch in the four-digit code 6171 after you hear the greeting. For questions about specific tenant-landlord problems, call the BNI staff at (410) 243-6007.


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