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Most renters in Pennsylvania aren’t unfamiliar with an occasional visit from their landlord — particularly if something in their home needs fixing, or their lease term is coming to an end and new tenants need to check out the space. After all, these are usually normal, mundane parts of renting.
What are the rules about when can a landlord come into your home, and what amount of notice is required in Pennsylvania? Renters and landlords in the commonwealth have some rights in these situations, and there is some recourse if those rights are being violated.
But like with many landlord-tenant situations in Pennsylvania, the answers aren’t exactly simple ones. We’ve gathered some important information and advice on landlord entry in Pennsylvania, from your rights as a tenant to what to do if the situation escalates. Check out the basics below:
If your landlord needs to enter your home or apartment, or has been doing so already, the first thing you should do is read your lease. Many leases will have a clause in them that defines under what circumstances your landlord can enter your space, the amount of notice needed before entering, and the times of day they can do so.
For example, your lease might list common reasons why your landlord might want to come inside your home, including making or inspecting for repairs, showing your unit to prospective new tenants, and emergencies, like a flood or fire.
Those lease terms have to be “reasonable,” says Mike Carroll, a senior attorney with Community Legal Services of Philadelphia’s housing unit. Reasonable hours, he says, could generally be understood to be from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and 24 hours notice is commonly suggested. It is also not uncommon for landlords to provide written notice before entry.
One complication: Pennsylvania landlord-tenant law does not directly define exactly what is reasonable and what isn’t, whether that be reasons for entering, amount of notice, or times of day.
“Most renters have it in their lease,” Carroll says. “Many will have something in there, so if it is in there, it becomes an analysis about whether it is reasonable.”
Your landlord generally can’t come into your home whenever they feel like it, though some may believe they have that right, Carroll says. That’s rooted in a few important legal decisions in Pennsylvania, including a 1974 Pennsylvania Supreme Court case known as Commonwealth v. Monumental Properties, Inc.
That case says that when a landlord leases a property to a tenant, the law “regards the lease as equivalent to a sale of the premises for the term.” Carroll says that means that if you sign a lease, your landlord is giving you, for that period of time, all rights except “the right to sell or destroy the property.” So Carroll argues, unless there is a clause about entry in the lease, landlords have no right to go in without your permission — except in the case of an emergency.
“If the landlord is passing by and sees smoke or water, there is no court I know that will sanction the landlord for going in if they knock and no one is home,” he says. “But there is no automatic right to go in if you feel like it.”
You should, however, try to accommodate your landlord if they need to enter your apartment for repairs and showings. Carroll suggests speaking with the landlord and coming to an agreement on ground rules for entry if your lease does not state any, and getting any agreement in writing.
As a renter, you have a right to privacy in your home, which is covered by a legal doctrine called the “implied covenant of quiet enjoyment.” That means that you can use and enjoy the space you’re renting without undue interference by other people, including your landlord.
“Quiet enjoyment prohibits the landlord from doing anything that is unreasonable,” Carroll says. “It is a remedy that the tenant has if the landlord is doing things like coming in without permission or notice.”
As the Housing Equality Center of Pennsylvania notes in its renters’ rights guide, rent payments don’t just cover having a home to stay in — they also “ensure the right to enjoy the premises without reasonable and excessive intrusions by the landlord.” However, make sure you try to follow whatever your lease says about landlord entry — because, as Carroll says, many elements in these situations are “up to contract law” and the lease.
“Sit down and try and work it out — say, ‘Look, weekends are better for me,’” he says. “If things break down, you are looking at the lease.”
If you can’t resolve a problem with landlord entry, and you feel your rights as a renter are being violated, there is recourse.
If there is a pattern of harassment or you are being threatened, Carroll says, you could consider filing a complaint with the Philadelphia Fair Housing Commission. This is especially true, he adds, if your landlord is making sexual, racial, or ethnic comments, or threatening to evict you. In those cases, Carroll says, it may be possible to get an injunction that prevents your landlord from entering the property.
If things escalate to potentially criminal conduct, like threats of physical harm, or your landlord illegally entering your home and taking your property, Carroll suggests calling the police or the District Attorney’s Office. While not unheard of, those situations, he adds, are “toward the end of last resorts.”
“I don’t want to stir the criminal pot needlessly,” Carroll says. “But sometimes it is necessary. It’s important when people are threatened with physical harm.”
The Philadelphia Inquirer is one of more than 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push toward economic justice. See all of our reporting at brokeinphilly.org.