How to Gain Access to a Rented Apartment

By Peter Shapiro, the Good Landlord Consulting

Has your tenant made you furious by refusing to let you into your own property? If so, welcome to the club! Given the many exchanges on our Google message boards on this topic, let’s review how access works according to the law and what can work best.

Under MA law, leases may require tenants to allow landlords access in order to (1) periodically inspect the unit, (2) make necessary repairs, and (3) show the unit to prospective renters, buyers or mortgagees. These reasons must be in the lease.  However, even if your tenant has agreed that access can be allowed for other reasons such as to retrieve storage items, borrow the mustard, or whatever, these provisions are NOT enforceable.

There are circumstances where a landlord may enter even if the lease does not specify it: for emergencies, such as water leaks or fires; if the unit appears to be abandoned; for evaluating security deposit withholding in the last 30 days of the tenancy; or pursuant to a court order. For any of these reasons, a landlord may enter the premises regardless of what the lease or the renter says. But reasonable notice may still be required.

While the courts have generally required that landlords, as a rule of thumb, provide at least 24 hours’ notice, tenants don’t necessarily have to allow access in 24 hours.  Tenants have been advised by tenant advocates to request as much as two days or longer before allowing reasonable access, which won’t work when repairs must be made immediately.  Although it is clearly in the tenant’s interest to cooperate in granting access, landlords still need to find effective ways – combining good communication skills, patience AND persistence – to secure a workable access plan.

It goes without saying, the most important step in this process is to ask. Don’t forget to state the specifics, for example, “access in two days, for approximately 3 hours, starting at 9 am, for myself and my contractor.”  If your tenant pushes back, you can ask why and negotiate terms that meet everyone’s interests. Negotiating will work out better for you than asserting your plan over the tenant’s objections.  Make sure to document your good faith efforts in case you don’t succeed.  For tenants who are unreasonable, denial of access may be a breach for which you have recourse in court. In emergencies, it is possible to go to court and get a temporary restraining order same-day to compel access.

Better if you can maintain the kind of tenant relationship that maximizes cooperation whenever possible – while maintaining the kind of paper trail that will make eviction successful if needed!

At least this way you won’t break your door down – at your own expense!

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