August 2014 Landlord Advocate
A picture is worth a 1,000 words – right?
Tenant refusing to give you access? When can you legally enter after they say “NO”?
Connecticut law permits landlords to enter the leased premises at reasonable times for inspection, repairs, maintenance, and to show the unit to prospective tenants and/or contractors, among other things, upon reasonable advance written or verbal notice to the tenant. Tenants cannot unreasonably withhold consent to a landlord entering the unit after receiving such notice of the landlord’s intent to enter, except in an emergency when consent is not required.
So, can a landlord enter if the tenant is present at the appointed date and time and unreasonably refuses consent even after the landlord gave appropriate notice? In a non-emergency situation, no. In an emergency, yes, but we strongly recommend that the landlord enter only after involving the police and/or fire department.
Let’s look at each situation in turn, starting with a tenant’s refusal to permit entry in a non-emergency situation. Over the years, housing mediators have hared with us that they continue to see these kinds of cases, which often include the police arresting the landlord and/or the tenant suing the landlord for damages in a civil lawsuit. Under one of the governing civil statutes, the tenant will get at least one (1) month’s rent and attorney’s fees from the court in such a case.
Sound unfair? Not really, because the law provides landlords with powerful rights in this situation to file a special kind of case that does not require a pretermination (or Kappa) notice or notice to quit. This case is a declaratory judgment or injunction action and:
- demands the judge’s immediate attention, as in the judge must stop everything and address the landlord’s claim;
- results in either a court order compelling the tenant to give access, or terminating the lease and permitting the landlord to pursue eviction; and
- makes the tenant pay the landlord’s damages and attorney’s fees for the experience.
We have several clients who have taken advantage of these statutory rights, to the immediate detriment of the tenants involved and a clarion bell sounding for other tenants in the community about the seriousness of a landlord’s reasonable notice of intent to enter the unit.
Accordingly, rather than enter, we recommend that landlords simply smile, walk away, and call your landlord attorney when the tenant unreasonably refuses consent to enter after you have given notice- the tenant has given you a gift that will keep on giving. See our June 2009 article,“Landlord’s a-knockin’ but he can’t come in” for more details.
How about an emergency situation? Here, Connecticut law says clearly that a landlord may enter without the tenant’s
consent and, if necessary, at non-reasonable times (for example, late at night or early in the morning). Nonetheless, landlords still face the risks described above when entering without the tenant’s consent, because it may become a debate about whether there was in fact an emergency, and debates mean increased risk, expense, and uncertainty for the landlord. Remember, a tenant can sue a landlord for anything- the question is not whether the court will hear the case (it will), but whether the tenant will win or lose.
In this situation, we recommend that landlords call the police or fire department on the tenant. If there is a true emergency, there will be a need for one or both to respond.
On the police side, the tenant who intentionally or recklessly damages the landlord’s property has committed a crime, which (depending on the monetary loss involved) can range from a misdemeanor to a felony, and the police can and will arrest the tenant on the spot. Fire department personnel are generally even less forgiving with people interfering with their ability to handle or address something falling within their purview.
We’ve all heard it before. However, when it comes to pictures of potential evidence in a legal case, a picture’s value can easily grow to over 10,000 words. The difference can be summed up in one word – perception.
Even the most artful poet and author, whose eloquence creates exquisite images for their readers, will create a different image in your head than the one conjured up in mine. Our histories filter anything we perceive, and listening to a description of someone’s “messy” apartment, for example, will simply look different in each of our minds based on our own experience. If you lived in a “museum” as a child, a sock lying on the floor in the hallway may be messy to you. If you lived in my current home (we have three children- need I say more), several piles of laundry in various places around the house don’t even get a second glance. That’s why a picture can be so valuable.
Let’s look at the “messy” apartment scenario a bit closer as an example. Assume you are dealing with a tenant whose persistent housekeeping issues are causing you fits and creating problems in your community. If your sole evidence is an inspection report and your personal description of the problems in the unit, simply stating your case could be considerably less effective than if you had just one single picture. Here’s why. You can tell the judge that “ingress and egress are blocked causing safety issues”. Or, you can show the judge a photo of a window that is encased in trash bags, piles of clothing and children’s toys all piled up on the dresser that is pushed in from of and blocking the window. Also in that photo are stacks of books head high that surround a recliner that is piled to the ceiling with bags of empty soda cans and plastic bottles. Access to the window in the picture appears to be a minefield of challenges to evacuate the unit in case of emergency. Get the picture?
Now, some of you may be asking “What about the tenant’s privacy?” Well, first and foremost, a tenant is responsible for their own privacy, not you. If they are unable to maintain their unit properly and you discover that during a properly-noticed inspection, you have every right to enforce your lease and obtain the evidence necessary to do so. It is their conduct that has invited you to take the photo in the first place, not you being nosy or invading their privacy. The tenant can avoid you snapping shots of their housekeeping and safety issues by eliminating the problem to begin with. You are not invading their privacy; you are simply gathering valuable information regarding the condition of the unit. And, should you need to use that information to enforce your lease, you can.
So, get the picture- it’s not only your right, it could prove to be a valuable tool in your efforts to combat a tenant’s disruptive and dangerous behavior
The reading of this newsletter does not form an attorney-client relationship. The contents of this newsletter are for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. Nothing in this newsletter is intended to imply or predict the outcome of any legal matter that you may be considering or be involved in. The Landlord Law Firm makes no warranties of any kind regarding the information contained in this newsletter.