Q: I have lived in my apartment for almost four years. I might be moving out when my lease ends. About two months ago, I woke up to a maintenance person entering my apartment. I had not been given any notice that he was going to be doing some work.
Management thought I was moving out in three weeks, so they were going to start working on my unit. They want to update part of the bathroom, and make some other repairs. I told them I had no intention of moving out before my lease is up in January. I spoke with the manager to find out what was going on, and was told that they were trying to get it ready for the next tenant. Once they realized that I was not moving out before January, they have not been back to complete those updates.
Now I am worried that when I do actually give notice, they will want to make repairs while I still live in the unit. Since it’s a one-bathroom studio, it’s not like I can move my belongings to another room or use another bathroom for the several days that management will be working on my apartment. My lease indicates only that I need to be out by noon on the last day. I believe they shouldn’t be making updates until I leave. What do you think?
A: All tenants have a right to privacy, which cannot be waived or modified in a lease by either party. A landlord may enter a tenant’s apartment only for a reasonable business purpose and after making a good-faith effort to give the tenant reasonable notice under the circumstances. A reasonable business purpose includes showing the apartment during the tenant’s notice period or after the tenant has given notice, and performing maintenance work.
The exception to entering a tenant’s apartment without giving notice is when the landlord reasonably suspects entry is necessary to prevent injury to people or property, for the tenant’s safety, or to prevent illegal activity occurring within the apartment. If a landlord, or someone working for the landlord, enters an apartment when the tenant is not present, and prior notice has not been given, the landlord must disclose that by placing a written note, in a conspicuous place, stating that someone was in the unit.
There are substantial penalties for a landlord who enters a tenant’s apartment without a reasonable business purpose and without making a good-faith effort to give reasonable notice. The penalty could include rent reduction, rescission of the lease, and up to a $100 civil penalty for each violation. Most landlords are aware of this penalty and will not enter without first giving notice. The majority of landlords will give a 24-hour notice to enter if that is possible. However, reasonable notice can be one hour, not necessarily 24 hours, since determining what “reasonable” means depends on the situation.
As to updating the unit, your landlord most likely won’t be able to renovate your apartment until you leave in January, unless you agree to it. When you sign a lease, you have the right to quiet enjoyment of the unit. An extensive rehab in a studio unit would likely interfere with your right to live there. Your unit might even be considered uninhabitable if renovations are occurring in the unit during your tenancy. It sounds to me like your landlord isn’t aware of these laws. You may need to let him know by requesting that he call or e-mail you in the future to give you 24-hour notice, if possible, before entering your place. You should also state that it would be a violation of your lease, and too difficult to live in your apartment if renovations are started before your lease ends in January. Ask the landlord to wait until after you leave. If the landlord persists in entering the unit and doing work, you should then consider bringing a rent escrow action, asking that the landlord be precluded from working in the unit until after you leave.
Kelly Klein is a Minneapolis attorney. Participation in this column does not create an attorney/client relationship with Klein. Do not rely on advice in this column for legal opinions. Consult an attorney regarding your particular issues. E-mail renting questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to Kelly Klein c/o Star Tribune, 650 3rd Av. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488. Information provided by readers is not confidential.