Ask Lucas 016: What are the Rules for Entering and Showing an Occupied Property?
Michael from Fresno, California is a new landlord, and needs to show his property to a prospective tenant. Can Michael showcase the property while the dwelling is occupied by a tenant, and what are the rules for giving proper notice?
Tools Mentioned: Cozy
Lucas: Hey, everyone. This is Lucas Hall from Landlordology and Cozy. Welcome to the 16th episode of Ask Lucas. This is a bite-size Q&A show where I answer your questions about landlording and property management. If you have a question, just leave it as a recorded message on landlordology.com/ask-lucas and I’ll answer it in this podcast. Today’s question is from Michael from Fresno, California, but first, let me tell you a little bit about Cozy.
Cozy is an online rental management tool designed for landlords like you and me. I really do think it’s the best way for landlords to collect rent online, accept online rental applications, screen their tenants, and then order credit reports. It’s super easy to use and my tenants absolutely love it. The thing I enjoy about it most is that it sets up automatic rent payments for my tenants, so they can’t forget. In fact, 99% of my incoming rent is on time thanks to Cozy making it automatic. The best part is Cozy is completely free for landlords. That’s right, it’s really, really, really free for landlords. I used to use another system that charge me about $40 a month to have the same rent collection and screening tools, and Cozy does it for free. I switched over, and now, I’m a lot happier because I can take my wife out on nice dates a lot more often. Check it out. Get Cozy at Cozy.co. That’s C-O-Z-Y-dot-C-O.
Now, let’s hear from Michael.
Michael: Hi, Lucas. It’s Michael from Fresno. I have a lease ending in about six weeks. My tenants don’t want me to show the place, but I want to have showings too so I can get someone in there as soon as possible. How soon can I start showing the place and what rights do I have? This is my first time renting a place and I don’t know what’s normal. Thanks a lot.
Lucas: Hey, Michael. Thanks for your question. It’s really great to hear from you. I think we met at the expo in San Mateo last year, so it’s good to hear that you kept up with landlording. I do want to say that I’m excited for you because you’re about to go through your first tenant turnover and it is super stressful the first time you do it, but it’s not that bad. You’ll figure it out and I’m here to help. After you do it one time, you’ll be able to do it pretty easily from here on out as long as you just set a clear process on how to handle things. With that said, let me get started.
Your main question was really about how to show the unit to a prospective tenant or applicant while you still have a tenant living in the property and what are your rights there and how do you exactly go about doing that. I think that is an awesome question because we all have to deal with that, especially turnover. The answer to that is not simple. First of all, it varies by state. Since you’re in California, I’ll let you know what the rules are for that and you can find these laws in California Civil Statute 1954, I think, subsection A through D, possibly.
Basically, what it says in California is that a landlord is allowed to enter the property in order to make repairs, decorations, alterations or anything else that has been agreed to by the tenant or even some things that just need to happen because it’s a repair issue, but also not only just a landlord entering but the people who actually make those repairs are allowed to enter with proper notice. A landlord can also enter in cases of emergency, which does not need proper notice, and then a landlord can also enter surrendered or abandoned premise without proper notice, and then enter due to a court order like an eviction judgment or something, they can enter for that too.
I want to go back to the proper notice. In California, what is presumed to be reasonable notice is actually 24 hours. It goes on to further state that it needs to be in writing and then what is considered acceptable is if you deliver it by paper to their doors, slide it under the door, slide it in the door, or give it to them in person, or if you mail it, assuming that you don’t have any sort of tracking mechanism on it, six days prior to the intended entry would be considered proper notice if you’re mailing it, so that you give the mail six days to get there, which is more than enough. It doesn’t go on to say whether or not email is acceptable. Please don’t take this as legal advice, but what I found in the courts is that oftentimes, the judge will just look at the tenant and say, “Did you know that he was coming?” If they say yes, regardless of how it was delivered, if they say yes, then that’s considered being notified. I guess other judges might just typically or might actually have an issue with it and say that it has to be by book, but that’s a risk you have to take, I guess.
Anyway, back to the point, once you give proper notice, then you can go in. A tenant cannot keep you out unless they have some really, really good reason like they fear for their bodily harm or they have a right to suspect you’re doing some sort of criminal activity. If they just don’t want you in their house, that’s not acceptable because you’ve given proper notice. It’s your house. It’s your property. You’re allowed to go on it to do and conduct business.
If the tenant gives you a hard time about that and actually starts harassing you, then you can just say, “Hey, we’ll call the police” or “We’re going to let the cops handle it and figure out what’s going to happen from here.” Oftentimes they’ll just step aside and let you in. I’m sorry that you’re in that situation or that you think you might be. In order to show the house, I actually think that you should do something that I call the landlord’s open house. What that is where you pick a day, like a Saturday afternoon and tell your tenant, “Hey, listen, I’m going to show the property from 1 to 4 on Saturday. It’d be great if you would just kind of catch a movie somewhere and just disappear for like four hours or three hours and just clean up before you go and that’d be great.”
What you do is, starting on Monday that week, you post a bunch of listings and actively try to market it and then start scheduling showings for Saturday afternoon. When you start to get confirmed showings, you schedule them back-to-back. One at 1:30, one at 2, 2:30, 3, 3:30 and literally plan about 20 to 30 minutes for each showing. That’s it. What that does is not only does it utilize your time well and it respects the tenants’ personal space, but it also creates the sense of urgency among the applicants that do show up and they pass each other as they come and go and they get a sense that there is this buzz about the property. I’ve actually had a lot of success doing that. Most of the time, I can get a place rented in one weekend just by doing that method.
It’s also sometimes delivered multiple deposit checks in one afternoon for me. Obviously, I don’t cash them all, but I use it to hold the property until I pick one of those three applicants. It’s worked well, so I’d give that a try. If you don’t have a lot of interest and you’re just getting onesies, twosies every few weeks, then just call up the tenant and say, “I’m coming by on Thursday afternoon at 6:00.” As we said earlier, if you and the tenant agree to your arrival, let’s say you do call them up and say, “Can I come by at 6:00?” and they say, “Yeah, that’s fine,” then that does constitute proper notice.
I hope that helps. Good luck to you, Michael. You’re not alone at this and I’m here to help. If you want to learn more about California state laws, go check them out on Landlordology. It’s landlordology.com/state-laws and then from there, you can click on the State of California and learn a whole lot more about notices and grace periods and what to do for evictions and things like that. They actually have the direct links to the statures. Again, good luck to you. We’ll do this together and I’m sure you’ll be great. Thanks and have a great day.