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Landlord Trespassing?

aptsherpa · Dec 28, 2005

Imagine: you come home to your apartment after a hard day’s work, ready to kick off your shoes and relax with a beer (or your beverage of choice) and put your feet up on the coffee table. But wait–what’s this? As your turning your key you notice that the door wasn’t locked. Weird–you must have just forgotten to lock it on the way out. You kick off those shoes, drop your briefcase, and head for the fridge. On your way there you notice that half the linoleum tiles are missing from your kitchen floor. Tools and linoleum dust are scattered around your kitchen counter, and your cat is interestedly licking the linoleum dust. “Get out of that!” you yell. The cat obediently jumps off the counter and trots away. You wonder if maintenance is still somewhere in the apartment. That would explain the unlocked door. “Ummm, hellooo?” you call several times, wandering around your apartment and peeping into various rooms for evidence of someone responsible for the destruction in your kitchen (maybe the cat did it–not likely, though). You feel like an intruder on your own home. After determining that no one is in the apartment with you, you look for a notice of entry from maintenance but there is nothing to be found. You call the apartment management and leave a message about the situation. Bewildered, you decide to sweep up the dust and move on with your life.

Now imagine something like this happening week after week, with no acknowledgment made or corrective action taken by the management of your apartment. Small items like CDs have been stolen (though sometimes returned) from your home, and your friendly (?) visitor has been eating your food. Either maintenance is entering haphazardly, without notice without actually fixing anything, or a crazed home-remodeling enthusiast has somehow gotten a copy of the key to your apartment. Regardless of the situation, something needs to be done. But what?

Clarify maintenance procedures

This situation may seem a little far-fetched, but the issue of apartment maintenance or management workers entering your apartment is definitely a serious one. For this reason, most apartment lease agreements contain a clause clarifying the procedure for maintenance entry into your apartment. These agreements usually specify the hours when maintenance can enter your apartment or the type of advance notice (usually between 24 and 48 hours) they need to provide. Examine your lease agreement carefully to figure out what kind of notification the maintenance is required to offer, and contact apartment management if unannounced or un-requested maintenance visits have been made. Management should be able to clarify the maintenance procedure for you and straighten out the times and methods of entry you prefer.

If you put in a service order, most apartment complexes allow maintenance to enter your apartment at a “reasonable hour,” which sometimes roughly correlates with business hours, If entry is necessary for a reason other than an existing problem to which you alerted the maintenance department, the management should (unless it’s an emergency) provide you with advance notice, specifying the date or even time when you can expect a maintenance worker to enter your abode. You’re usually not required to be at home for maintenance work to be done, and it’s often most convenient for all parties involved if you’re not around during maintenance visits.

Here’s a sample lease agreement clause (from CS Property Management) dealing with maintenance entry issues: “Lessee hereby agrees to allow access to the Premises to the Lessor or its agents, during reasonable hours, for the purpose of inspecting and protecting same, to show the premises to prospective buyers or renters, to make such repairs, additions, or alterations thereto as may be deemed necessary or for pest control treatment.”

An apartment advice columnist cites the following plethora of reasons justifying entry into your apartment with prior or subsequent notice: “responding to request for repairs, making repairs, estimating repairs, performing pest control, doing preventative maintenance, checking for water leaks, changing filters, testing smoke-detectors, retrieving unreturned tools, equipment or appliances, preventing waste of utilities, exercising contractual lien, leaving notices, delivery, installing, reconnecting or replacing appliances, furniture, equipment, or security devices, removing unauthorized security devices, removing unauthorized window coverings, stopping excessive noise, removing health/ safety hazards, allowing entry by a law enforcement officer, showing the home to future prospects after move out notice has been given, showing to lenders, insurance inspectors, prospective buyers, appraisers and contractors.”

Showing off

At times, your landlord or apartment management may want to enter your apartment to show it to prospective tenants. You should always be given advance notice of such showings. If your landlord repeatedly shows your apartment with reckless abandon and without notification, address the issue with the landlord directly, making sure to document some evidence of your complaint. If his or her behavior continues despite your request, you may be entitled to move out or sue your landlord for invasion of privacy. If you vacated the premises, you’d be trying to pass off the consistent entrances into your apartment as a “constructive eviction” that broke the terms of your lease by denying you the reasonable enjoyment of your rented space. If you sued your landlord, you’d be trying to recover the damages of living in a state susceptible to unexpected intrusions. Either way, always make sure to seek legal advice from a tenants’ rights organization or a lawyer before taking significant action like moving out of your apartment. After all, you don’t want to be stuck paying rent for an apartment your landlord has driven you to leave.

Lock it up

Some apartment maintenance teams suggest putting your chain or deadbolt on the door while you’re sleeping to avoid maintenance intruding at a “reasonable” (to them) hour that’s not so reasonable for you. Beyond preventing awkward, unwanted encounters with maintenance workers looking to fix the shower you happen to be using at the moment (oops!), this is also a good general safety policy. If you don’t have a chain or deadbolt, request one—and ensure that maintenance enters at a reasonable time without disturbing your belongings. This would be a good test to see whether it’s your apartment maintenance or some other party making inept and unwanted entries into your home.

Keeping records

In general, management and maintenance should endeavor to be as unobtrusive as possible, and it’s to everyone’s benefit to get maintenance issues addressed quickly, before they develop into more significant issues. When dealing with obtrusive maintenance practices or strange entry patterns, as with all issues with the potential for legal action, keep meticulous records of everything that occurs and all the actions you take. Pictures of the state your apartment is in following the unknown intrusions may help; copies of certified letters sent to notify the management of the situation will definitely be important. If the management and maintenance teams claim to know nothing of the situation, you may want to get the police involved. A lock change request is also reasonable; if a former tenant or employee of the apartment complex has a copy of your key, this is a quick way to fix the situation.

Police involvement

If the mystery intruders seem to have no connection to your apartment management or maintenance team, and the unexplained entries persist, you’ll want to get the police involved as soon as possible. As always, records are important when involving officials, as is not disturbing the condition of the apartment as you found it after the break-in. Work as closely as possible with your local police department to report the crime and prevent further instances, or catch the perpetrator of the break-ins. The more you cooperate with police, the more inclined they’ll be to help you out.

Having individuals—whether apartment maintenance workers or mysterious strangers—enter your apartment without notice can be a troubling experience. However, there are ways to address and rectify the situation, with the help of apartment management or perhaps the police. Acting quickly and not putting up with unusual or unwarranted apartment maintenance practices is key in preventing a one-time freak incident from becoming habitual. Protect yourself by being assertive but not confrontational; keep careful records of the actions you take, and clarify what you feel is acceptable maintenance behavior. If you follow all these suggestions, you should be able to resolve any issues you’re having in a timely manner and go back to living the good life undisturbed.

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