Q: My husband and I live in the upper half of a duplex in Minneapolis. The duplex has been for sale for several months, so we've been dealing with potential buyers coming through our place for a while. It hasn't been that big of a deal until last week. When we got home from work, we discovered a message that had been left on our answering machine at 10 a.m. saying the Realtor was going to show the house at 2 that afternoon. Since neither of us work from home, and we were already at our jobs, we had no idea there was going to be a showing at our place that day. The Realtor has my work telephone number, but did not bother to contact me at work. Although there is a clause in our lease regarding the times that the unit can be shown, isn't the owner still required to give us 24-hour notice? Does this same law that applies to landlords regarding notice also apply to their real estate agents? We really feel our right to privacy has been violated. I would appreciate any information you could give me on this.
A: Minnesota law states that a landlord may enter a leased premises only for a business purpose and only after making a good-faith effort to give reasonable notice. This statute does not prohibit a landlord from entering a unit when tenants are away, but the landlord is required to provide a written disclosure of the entry in a conspicuous place if he or she entered the property without giving advance notice and while the tenant was away.
Basically, trying to show the property will always be considered a legitimate business purpose. In addition, the landlord may have given advance notice by calling and leaving a message on your answering machine. Whether this would be considered a good-faith effort, knowing that the Realtor has your work number, is an open question.
In addition, the Realtor is usually at the mercy of the prospective buyer. When the buyer calls, the Realtor almost always has to make the unit available, even if the Realtor doesn't have advance notice. So four hours' notice probably would be considered reasonable, especially if the Realtor called you right after receiving a call indicating interest in the property.
Whether calling your home answering machine, knowing you are probably at work, is considered a good-faith effort is an open question. I would say most courts would probably find such a call to be sufficient notice. In order to prevent this from occurring in the future, you should send a letter to the Realtor asking that he or she call your work telephone during your work hours, or maybe leave a message at home and then call work also, just to make sure you get the message. Remember, you have no right to keep the Realtor out, and the law is designed to protect you from visits without your knowledge. In this case, you did know about the visit because of the telephone message.
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, 425 Portland Av. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488. Information provided by readers is not confidential.