But, if your landlord has a reputation for showing up at your door at all hours of the day or night, either demanding entry or simply letting himself in, you can fight back. But first, you need to know some basic facts about tenants’ rights.
New York City has some strict regulations when it comes to tenants’ privacy and landlord access. Under most circumstances, a landlord or manager cannot enter a tenant’s apartment unless:
- Entry is made at a reasonable time after providing reasonable notice if the purpose of the entry is to provide necessary or agreed upon repairs, or services to show the apartment to prospective tenants or purchasers. According to the New York Attorney General’s office, courts have interpreted “reasonable notice” to mean 24 hours notice for an inspection, and one week’s notice for repairs. Notice must be given in writing and must state the nature of the repair. “Reasonable time” has been interpreted to mean access is limited to 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, holidays excluded.
- Entry is made in response to an emergency, such as fire or a water leak.
- The tenant invites the landlord to enter the apartment with little or no notice.
What should you do if your landlord isn’t respecting your right to privacy? The folks at the online legal resource Nolo Network suggest taking the following steps:
Talk it out
Sit down and have a conversation with your landlord or manager. In the friendliest tone you can manage, ask that the behavior stop. If you suspect your landlord’s actions are well intentioned, acknowledge that. (“I really do appreciate that you responded to my call about the drafty window in my kitchen.”) Then explain that you’d appreciate it if he’d give you reasonable notice in the future. (“But, next time I hope you’ll give me a week’s notice so I can arrange to be home when the repairman comes by.”)
Put it in writing
Follow up your chat with a friendly letter that reiterates what you talked about. If your problem is with the manager, send a copy of the letter to the landlord. Make sure to include all your relevant email addresses and phone numbers so the landlord has no excuse for not providing advance notice in the future.
If your friendly conversation and follow-up letter are ignored, you may need to be a little firmer. Write another letter, this time telling your landlord that you are going to pursue your legal options if he continues to disregard your right to privacy. It’s a good idea to send this letter via certified mail and to keep copies of all correspondence with your landlord; if you decide to escalate your grievances, you’ll need evidence that you previously attempted to resolve the matter.
Consider mediation or court
In mediation, a neutral third party hears both sides of a disagreement and helps develop solutions. Several community mediation centers offer free mediation services including: New York Peace, which has offices in Manhattan and Brooklyn; Bronx County’s Institute for Mediation and Conflict Resolution; Mediation and Conflict Resolution Inc. in Queens; and New York Center for Interpersonal Development in Staten Island.
If mediation doesn’t work, it is possible to file a legal claim against your landlord (most likely in small claims court) for invasion of privacy, trespass, harassment, violation of your right to enjoy your home free from the landlord’s interference, or intentional or negligent infliction of emotional distress. It may be difficult to convince a judge that your case warrants a hefty monetary award, but the threat of legal action may be enough to change your landlord’s behavior.
If your landlord still won’t stop, you may be justified in breaking your lease without liability for future rent. After all, your landlord’s actions have violated the “warranty of habitability” covenant that’s present in nearly every rental agreement, so his breach leaves you free to go.
Remember that, while the landlord may own the property, the fact that he’s rented it to you means he’s agreed to let you live there. You don’t need to tolerate a landlord who barges in any time he wants.
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