A landlord’s right of entry into a rental unit can be a contentious issue between tenant and landlord.
For a tenant, the rental unit is a private home for his or her peace and enjoyment, without unwanted disturbances.
For a landlord, the need to periodically enter the unit can be crucial for maintenance, and to ensure the tenant is happy with his or her home.
A clear understanding of expectations for entry to a rental unit by the landlord can alleviate most of the problems that can occur.
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According to the state’s Landlord-Tenant Act (RCW 59.18.150), a landlord has the right to enter a unit, provided that the landlord doesn’t “abuse the right of access or use it to harass the tenant” and “provide(s) notice before entry.”
If entry to a rental unit is requested, a tenant’s first step should be to determine if the request was served properly. A copy of the request must be hand-delivered to each tenant who has signed the lease; or by posting copies of the notice and also mailing copies from within the city where the property is located.
The period of notice prior to entering depends upon the circumstance for which the landlord is requesting entry. Situations where access is needed in order to show a unit require 24 hours notice. All other instances for which the landlord requests entry require at least 48 hours notice.
The law states that the notice to enter should contain the exact time and date of entry, or “specify a period of time in which the entry will occur, in which case the notice must specify the earliest and latest possible times of entry.” A phone number must also be provided.
In some instances, entry to a unit can be requested by the tenant. This might be a request for maintenance or repairs, in which case the tenant can expedite the time frame by giving the landlord permission to enter at the earliest convenience.
Of course, there can be complications. What if the date or time of entry requested by the landlord is inconvenient? Can the tenant flatly refuse to cooperate with a landlord? At what point do landlord notices to enter become harassing?
Answering these questions probably requires some degree of legal interpretation. But broadly speaking, they are covered within the law.
According to RCW 59.18.150 (8), a landlord who continually seeks to enter a unit to the point of interfering with the tenant’s enjoyment of the unit can be fined $100 per incident.
Conversely, a tenant who is properly notified of a need to enter by the landlord and who refuses to allow entry “just because” may also be fined $100 per incident.
Sean Martin is the director of external affairs of the Rental Housing Association of Washington, a not-for-profit association of more than 5,000 landlord members statewide. Rental Resource is the organization’s biweekly column. For more information for landlords or tenants, visit rhawa.org.