A new landlord came into our office not long ago - he'd recently begun renting out a property, and he had a problem with the tenant. The tenant had complained about a repair that needed to be done, but then, when the landlord sent repair people to take care of the issue, the tenant wouldn't let them in.
Landlord entry tends to be the canary in the coal mine when it comes to problems in the tenant-landlord relationship: the idea of who gets to come in and when really deals with the core of who gets control over the home; who the space belongs to. There are some pretty clear laws about landlord entry that guide the whole situation, though, and I'm talking about those today - what they mean, and what they don't mean.
Here's the gist of the landlord entry laws:
- According to Wis. Stat. 704.05(2), a tenant has "exclusive possession" (ie, it's only theirs) except when the landlord gives advance notice to come in at "reasonable times" to "inspect the premises, make repairs and show the premises to prospective tenants or purchasers." A landlord may also enter without notice in an emergency.
- Meanwhile, ATCP 134.09(2) fleshes out the details. A landlord has to give at least 12 hours advance notice, in order to enter for inspections, repairs or showings. A tenant can choose to allow the landlord to come in with less than 12 hours notice. A landlord must always announce him/herself before entering the unit.
- We go into more detail on our landlord entry page, so click on over if you want more explanations of what the laws mean.
People are often surprised to discover these facts about landlord entry laws:
- Tenants don't have any rights to deny the landlord entry, if the landlord has given proper notice. (Other laws might get involved here, beyond the scope of tenant-landlord law, if there were restraining orders, or safety issues that made it unsafe for the landlord to be near the tenants or the tenant's property.)
- Tenants cannot require that the tenant be there during the time that the landlord has chosen to enter. A tenant isn't allowed to say, "I have to be here in order for you to come in." If the tenant happens to be there during the time that the landlord has chosen to enter, it's perfectly allowable under these laws for the tenant to stay. It's just that the tenant cannot say, "I must be home in order for you to enter my apartment."
- A landlord cannot require that a tenant NOT be there during the time that the landlord has chosen to enter. Similar to the above point, a landlord doesn't have the right to tell the tenant that they may not be in their home during the landlord's entry.
- A tenant may always choose to let the landlord in sooner than the 12 hours advance notice. If a landlord wants to assume that they can come in quickly for a repair request, without waiting for the tenant's explicit permission, they must add that the NONSTANDARD RENTAL PROVISIONS, on the lease.
- "Landlord," in these laws about entry, means the person who owns the property, the person who is leasing it out, the manager, the maintenance guy, the repair people, the real estate agent. It can mean the owner, but it can also mean the agent of the owner. In other words, it can be anyone that the "real" landlord has sent to the rental property and has asked to enter on their behalf.
- The times that landlords are allowed to come in isn't well defined in these laws. It says that landlord entry must take place "at reasonable times," but there aren't clearer expectations beyond that. We generally think of "reasonable times" as during regular business hours, but that might not be reasonable for a landlord who works days, or a tenant who works nights. This is something that should be resolved through good communication between landlords and tenants, and, as always, we encourage folks to put things like this in writing.
Pro Tips for Landlords:
- When you are sitting down to sign your lease with your about-to-be tenant, it is a great idea to get some information upfront about how they want to be contacted about landlord entry, and anything you should know about coming into their unit. I've written up a sample form, available here, but you can add or remove parts that aren't helpful for you.
- If you know of an upcoming issue, where you (or an employee or representative) will need to spend a lot of time in the rental home, make a point of working it out with the tenant. If there's a long repair that needs doing, figure out the best time to do it. If you're going to be selling the house, and you need their cooperation to make it sellable, then offer something in return (a discount on rent? Use of the yard? A gym membership?). The key is to work through it, if at all possible, and make arrangements that are the most likely to succeed. (Need help with this part? Communication tactics are here, and negotiation tactics are here. Make sure to get everything in writing.)
Pro Tips for Tenants:
- If your landlord doesn't ask, make sure to tell them your preferred ways of being contacted. Send them a letter and give them all the information in the form above, including your cell phone, if you like receiving text messages, when during the day you really don't want the landlord to come in (ie, when you're sleeping), and any pets that might be loose during the times when you aren't home.
- If something isn't working for you - a long repair or renovation, for example - then write a letter and explain why you think their actions aren't reasonable, and what you'd prefer as a way of resolving your concerns. (Need help with this part? Communication tactics are here, and negotiation tactics are here. Make sure to get everything in writing.)
- In a worst case scenario, you can file a complaint against the landlord for not following landlord entry laws, or sue the landlord for costs associated with not following those laws.
I offer you now two examples of particularly tense landlord entry disputes:
Example 1: If a landlord attempts to sell the home while tenants are living inside it, the process of selling it can pose many challenges to tenants. In situations where it is a single family home, and the landlord uses a realtor in order to sell the house, the realtor may attempt to stage the furniture (ie, move the tenant's stuff around), ask that the tenant's keep the home extra-clean, and ask that the tenants leave the house in order for the home to be shown to prospective buyers. These requests are not in line with landlord entry laws, or the tenant's right to exclusive possession.
In this example, landlord entry laws would require that the real estate agent be let into the home (if at least 12 hours notice was given), but would not allow the real estate agent to say how the furniture was arranged, would not allow the agent to say how clean the house needed to be (as long as it complied with building code), and would not allow to ask that the tenant leave for the showing.
We would encourage the tenant in this situation to contact the landlord with a letter, and explain that they don't think the real estate agent is asking for things that are reasonably within the landlord's rights. At that point, the tenant could offer to do those things (for a price), or say that they don't plan to comply with the realtor's request: extra cleaning or being away from the home.
Example 2: If a tenant asks that their home be renovated or repaired, they are often surprised to discover how invasive renovations and repairs can be. We often hear of tenants requesting repairs, and then balking at the amount of time that repair people need to be in their home in order to resolve the problem. Sometimes, a tenant will not allow the landlord or the repair people to come into the apartment to do the repairs, even if they gave proper notice.
In this example, the tenant doesn't have the right to deny the landlord/repair people entry into the home, though they could request times that are most convenient for them. (Though the landlord isn't required to comply with those requests).
This is a situation where the landlord does have the rights to come into the rental unit, though it will be much easier for them to do so if the tenant is on board with the plan. It might make everyone's life easier if they try to work a solution that works for everyone. Perhaps a hotel which the landlord pays for, during the worst times to be in the unit? Perhaps the landlord avoids Finals Week, or a time in which the tenant's work is likely to be particularly stressful? Perhaps there is a discount on rent while the work is ongoing? Perhaps the tenant stays with a family member, or arranges to take their out-of-town vacation during that time?
Ultimately, a landlord has control over when they want to come in (as long as they give correct notice), and the tenant may file a complaint with DATCP or sue the landlord if the tenant feels that the landlord didn't comply with the laws.
Hi! Did you know that we aren't attorneys here at the TRC? And this isn't legal advice, either. If what we've written doesn't sound right to you, consult with someone you trust. A list of housing attorneys is available here.