Privacy in Rental Housing

Tired of your landlord walking in unannounced at all times of the day and night? Read here to find out what you can do.


Introduction

Many tenants are subject to privacy invasion and harassment by landlords who think that just because they own the building they have a right to enter whenever they please.  One tenant complained that her landlord would let himself in at odd hours to "check things out."  He would brush up against her and other female tenants.  Another woman complained that her landlady would enter the house while the tenants were not home, rearrange the furniture, and leave them notes.  Privacy invasion by a landlord can be simply a nuisance, or it can be much more serious, as in the case of sexual harassment.

If you pay the rent, then the apartment or house is your home.  A landlord who enters without permission or notice is trespassing.  State law says tenants are entitled to privacy, although there's no definition of that right.  In Michigan a landlord must give "reasonable notice" before entering.

What is "reasonable notice" before entering?

You should set standards for your landlord to follow.  Write your landlord a letter making clear your expectations.  You might demand one to three days written or verbal advance notice for permission to enter.  The landlord's request should state who is entering, at what time, and for what reason.  You have the right to be present whenever someone enters and the right to refuse entry.

If it is not an emergency, and your landlord enters without permission or notice, she or he is trespassing.  Potential remedies include calling the police at the time the illegal entry occurs and withholding rent the next time it is due.  Write a letter explaining that you are withholding rent until the landlord stops entering without permission and agrees to set terms for entering.  Keep a copy of this letter.  Put your rent money into a savings account until you are able to work out a reasonable agreement and you feel sure your landlord will not violate your privacy.  Then negotiate your compensation for the privacy invasions.

Adding or changing locks

Some tenants feel the only solution is to add or change locks. You could add a second lock and leave it unlocked when your landlord has requested access but you are unable to be there to let her/him in.  But if there is an emergency, your landlord may need to enter your unit.  If your landlord or emergency personnel need to break down the door to get in, you may be liable for the cost of repairing or replacing the door.  To avoid this, you can give your landlord a copy of the new key in a sealed envelope, and sign the envelope across the seal.  Give your landlord written instructions to break the seal only in the case of an emergency.

If new locks are necessary because the existing locks did not work, or because the landlord had repeatedly violated the tenants' right to privacy, the tenants can deduct the cost of the new lock from their rent.  First, they should write a letter to the landlord explaining the problem and giving the landlord an opportunity to correct the problem.  If the problem is not corrected, the tenants should notify the landlord in writing that they have been forced to correct the problem by themselves.

To learn more about housing rights in Michigan and where to get help:    

Consult the Michigantenants.org website for local housing resources and tenant counseling services. 

Consult the Michiganlegalaid.org website for legal education articles and local service information.

If you received court papers or otherwise need free or low cost legal advice:

This article appears courtesy of the Michigan Tenant Counseling Program.