Reminds me of the TSA!
October 17, 2005 5:39 PM   Subscribe

"Your apartment was subject to a management inspection on October 4th. The housekeeping of your apartment was found to be in a very unsatisfactory condition and a fire hazard"... Can our landlord come in to see if we've tidied up unannounced?

Tonight a note came under our door from the apartment manager, it says the above, and goes on to talk about how residents are asked to maintain 'a clean and orderly apartment by keeping all floors and appliances clean, dishes washed, the bathroom cleaned, trash removed from the apartment... etc'.

Then it says that we "must clean (our) entire apartment at once. We will re-inspect your apartment again on Friday October 21st, and if this situation is still not corrected, we will be forced to take further action"

This really creeps me out, it feels really invasive. We live in a huge apartment block, in a huge complex. It isn't a particularly fancy complex, and from what I've seen of other people's apartments, we're more than averagely tidy. I mean, we both work long hours, sometimes we leave clothes on the floor, or dishes in the sink. On a random weekday with no notice, everything they list isn't going to be perfect, but we keep our apartment in (what I thought was) pretty good shape.

I checked our lease and the apartment 'Rules and Regulations'. Nothing about tidiness in the rules, the lease seems pretty clear that management will not enter the apartment without warning, unless it's an emergency or impractical to warn us. There's absolutely nothing about random cleanliness checks. It's pretty well understood that they come in twice a year to change air-conditioning filters and make a basic inspection then (and they warn about that well in advance). We've lived in the same complex since 2001 and never had this happen before or heard of it. It's also very odd that we were supposedly inspected on the 4th, but we had no idea they'd even been in until today, the 17th.

What I can find about the law on this says that they have a right to come in but have to give notice unless it's impossible or impractical. Basically what the lease says. We're in Virginia if that matters.

So I guess I'm personally offended by the suggestion that we're so untidy it's a fire hazard (!) But I'm seriously creeped out that they did this. They didn't warn us, didn't ever say it was a possibility, and didn't let us know they came in until two weeks later. I'm probably paranoid but I can't help wondering if they just want us out, although I'm not sure why they would. We're pretty visibly gay, have sex stuff around the apartment, have complained about some stuff like fire code violations, and refused to have the kitchen sprayed for bugs (we have cats and no bugs), but we're generally quiet and pay our rent on time.

So what the fuck is up? Am I overreacting? Is this normal? Legal? What can we do?
posted by crabintheocean to Law & Government (26 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
In Michigan, a landlord must provide 24 hours notice before entering a property. They can make demands regarding cleanliness (and are obligated to do so) if untidyness presents a fire hazard or a nuisance to other renters.
Here's a look (from the Washington Post) at Virginia rental laws.
Generally, your landlord overstepped their bounds. In Michigan, there are specific financial penalties for doing so (which are generally modified by the city or county).
posted by klangklangston at 5:52 PM on October 17, 2005

Can't tell you about legality, so I'll reserve comment on that... but (and I'm not trying to be sarcastic, just wanted to make sure all bases are covered) ... can you rule out a prankster/malicious neighbor? Seems from what you described that either your landlord's management style has changed drastically, or you're not communicating with who you think you are.

Good luck in any case and I hope you get some good advice for dealing with this bizarre situation.
posted by SuperNova at 5:54 PM on October 17, 2005

Is it possible that it's a prank?
posted by interrobang at 5:55 PM on October 17, 2005

IANAL, but I'd bet it depends a bit on your location. I don't know what Virginia's laws are like, but Ann Arbor, Michigan has a pretty good tenants union who have written up a list of tenant's rights that have to be provided to new renters. it might provide you with some useful info.
posted by i love cheese at 5:55 PM on October 17, 2005

Short answer: If one of you has a cell phone, and your landlord has its number, this kind of unannounced inspection is almost certainly unlawful, although specific laws about this vary from state to state.

Long answer: In Virginia, the Virginia Residential Landlord and Tenant Act forbids non-emergency entry. A housekeeping inspection cannot constitute an emergency.
I think the first step would be to confirm with the apartment manager that he or she indeed was the true author of the note you read; another possibility is that someone is harassing you with a false notice.

If confirmed, however, the next, polite question to ask the manager would be, "By what means did you attempt to give us notice of your inspection?" If the apartment manager doesn't have solid evidence that he tried to contact you 24 hours before making this inspection, you should politely abandon the conversation right there and find out whether your landlord knows that his employee is breaking the law on his behalf.

If it turns out the landlord did conduct a non-emergency, non-announced inspection, you have the right to terminate your lease early.
posted by ikkyu2 at 5:56 PM on October 17, 2005

Response by poster: I'm pretty sure it's not a prank, the whole layout and tone of the letter is very in-keeping with other routine stuff from the management co. I'm also pretty accomplished at writing (non malicious) prank letters myself, and I think I would have been hard pressed to come up with something this convincing.

Thanks for all the quick responses! What should we say or do re Friday's 're-inspection"?
posted by crabintheocean at 6:04 PM on October 17, 2005

You might want to consider that they're trying to drive you out, also (although this seems unlikely from your description of the complex..). This happened to my aunt years ago in Cincinatti when they wanted to raise the rents building-wide.
posted by sohcahtoa at 6:22 PM on October 17, 2005

Response by poster: We're not locked into a lease (we served out our year, and now we're month to month) and I think we're probably financially better off than most of our neighbors. If they are trying to get rid of us I can't help but think it's personal.

I wonder if the guy down the hall who smokes so much weed you can smell it in the corridor 24 hours a day got one of these letters..!
posted by crabintheocean at 6:27 PM on October 17, 2005

Oh no. That's horrible-- and absolutely ridiculous!

Document everything. Have no conversations, if it can be helped, that don't take place via letter.

And there's a lawyer in your very near future. Get ready.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 6:31 PM on October 17, 2005

Change the locks. You're supposed to give the landlord a key if you do that. Don't.
posted by jellicle at 6:36 PM on October 17, 2005

It does sound like there is something fishy going on. I agree with what ikkyu2 said: you need to talk to management directly and raise the objection that what they did was probably illegal.

From a landlord's standpoint, it's entirely reasonable that if a tenant had an extremely messy kitchen that was habitually dirty, that it could cause cockroaches or other infestations which would affect all the other units as well. So, the idea isn't entirely out of left field. HOWEVER, they still don't have a right to enter without trying to contact you, AND from what you said your kitchen is nowhere close to being in such a state.
posted by Rhomboid at 6:53 PM on October 17, 2005

They didn't have a right to do that. I would go talk to him/her about it, but keep in mind that it sounds like a prank.
posted by Count Ziggurat at 7:06 PM on October 17, 2005

I would call (and write to) them immediately. It's possible they sent the notice to the wrong address. My landlord left me a scathing message on my answering machine about diapers on the roof (yeah, weird) and I had to call and remind him that I have no children and therefore couldn't be the diabolical criminal he was after.

If it wasn't an error, then they have violated the terms of your agreement by entering without 24 hours notice. You have not violated your agreement at all. Tell them you'll be speaking to a tenants rights organization about them and that they are the ones who need to clean up their act.
posted by stefanie at 7:07 PM on October 17, 2005

Change the locks. You're supposed to give the landlord a key if you do that. Don't.

posted by jellicle

You're supposed to listen to jellicle. Don't.

Countering a possible lease violation with a definite one of your own is foolish, especially if a legal dispute is in your future, especially if the management is looking for a pretext to get you out, and especially for something which has a good and valid purpose. The landlord needs a key to protect his/her assets, your safety, and the surrounding tenants. If that necessity has been abused then the perpetrator is an asshole, but this can be better handled through legitimate means.*

* ikkyu2's advice is excellent. If it turns out mgmt really did enter without emergency conditions or reasonable notice, then raise a stink and insist that (a) the person who did that have your key access revoked, (b) the landlord pay for a lock change or re-key, and (c) that the new key only go to someone who's been given a stern lecture on appropriate use.

For legal advice, check with the local landlord-tenant board, fair housing dept (if you have any evidence of discriminatory motive), legal aid society (if low income), or a real estate attorney.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 7:08 PM on October 17, 2005

Crab: Without meaning to be a jackass, I would suggest that you clean house before the next inspection. The landlord is allowed to conduct inspections with notice, as long as they are not so frequent as to constitute harassment. That way, if you eventually need to go after your landlord in court, all the lease violations will be on his side of the docket.
posted by ikkyu2 at 7:33 PM on October 17, 2005

Also, if they are spraying for bugs, that means they probably have bugs somewhere else in the building. And bugs love people that leave dishes in the sink and clothes on the floor. Even if your dignity is offended, I'd recommend some cleaning anyway.
posted by MrZero at 8:02 PM on October 17, 2005

Did you hang out with anyone on Oct. 4th that you have plans to see on the 21st?

It sure sounds like a prank.
posted by miles1972 at 9:21 PM on October 17, 2005

ยง 55-248.18. Access; consent.
A. The tenant shall not unreasonably withhold consent to the landlord to enter into the dwelling unit in order to inspect the premises, make necessary or agreed repairs, decorations, alterations or improvements, supply necessary or agreed services or exhibit the dwelling unit to prospective or actual purchasers, mortgagees, tenants, workmen or contractors. The landlord may enter the dwelling unit without consent of the tenant in case of emergency. The landlord shall not abuse the right of access or use it to harass the tenant. Except in case of emergency or if it is impractical to do so, the landlord shall give the tenant notice of his intent to enter and may enter only at reasonable times. Unless impractical to do so, the landlord shall give the tenant at least 24 hours notice of routine maintenance to be performed that has not been requested by the tenant.

From the The Virginia Residential Landlord and Tenant Act handbook (pdf).
posted by Orb at 10:09 PM on October 17, 2005

That not only sounds like a prank but it sounds like a totally awesome prank that I am going to play on those fuckers who put the bowling ball in my luggage last year. Topic: if it's not a prank I would straight up ask the landlords what they mean and what constitutes a "breach of tidiness", preferably in writing. Then I would be there and would take pictures of the apartment when they re-inspect. If you get the sense that they are trying to get rid of you then you have some thinking to do I guess, but I'd at least try to gather that information first. Perhaps your building was sold to someone who wishes to get rid of standing tenants or they hired a new manager with little experience and too much time on their hands? I would also approach any neighbours I was on good terms with and see if anyone else was inspected. If you really want to go for broke, invite the fire department round to tell you if you are a fire hazard: they have people who do that for free in most places.

Either way you have my sympathy: renting sucks.
posted by fshgrl at 10:57 PM on October 17, 2005

Your state may allow you to sue for violation of a warranty of quiet possession.
posted by dsword at 12:14 AM on October 18, 2005

My mother worked for a property management firm in Northern Virginia and told me stories about how she constantly had to lecture property owners about tenant rights because the property owners would take it upon themselves to conduct random inspections at their rented units. The random inspection situation got so bad with one owner that the renter sued the owner and the company for violating their tenant rights.

So, yeah, they have the right to demand you keep your place clean but they don't have the right to make random inspections.
posted by necessitas at 12:31 AM on October 18, 2005

Are you friendly enough with any of your neighbors that you can inquire as to whether they got "inspected?"

Write a note to the landlord and inquire as to what prompted this inspection as a concerned resident who wants to know if the building is infested (the only plausible reason for a "housekeeping" search.)

(When my building changed management, we got a very young building manager who seemed to think that her constant notes in the elevators and in our apartments on fairly trival matters made her seem "in charge.")

They're on the wrong side of the law. If they defend their "right" to inspections, politely let them know that you're uncomfortable with this and you'll need the proper 24-hour notice in the future.
posted by desuetude at 6:13 AM on October 18, 2005

are you sure it didn't go under the wrong door?

Hire a professional housekeeper for this cleaning, and document that (save the receipt) so you can nail his ass if you get this again.
posted by By The Grace of God at 8:40 AM on October 18, 2005

I concur, this sounds like a totally awesome prank unless you keep a dead cat somewhere in your apartment.

Definitely verify that the management sent it - in writing, if possible, and be sure to ask them to provide you in writing with information about when they gave you notice of the initial inspection. That will set them up in the event legal action follows.

That said, if they give you the required notice, they can come in.
posted by mikewas at 9:32 AM on October 18, 2005

Oh, and tidy up before the inspection, but I wouldn't go overboard. Just do the dishes, wipe down the counter, and pick most of your clothes up off the floor.

They're way out of line, and you don't have anything to prove. They cannot evict you for having dusty picture frames or mail all over your coffee table, for gods' sake.
posted by desuetude at 12:43 PM on October 18, 2005

Response by poster: Posting a follow up way late, for anyone who's interested...

We went down and asked them about it. They were apologetic about the tone, and agreed that it was way over the top, but said that they had a lot of people who were way messier than us (they agreed that we weren't that bad) who they were trying to give a big warning too because the cockroach situation on some of the floors was getting out of control.

The day they came in turned out to have been the day they put down poison for the cockroaches, which we did have notice for, just no idea that they were inspecting at the same time. They said that they didn't go in any other rooms than the kitchen. and that we just had to clean up the kitchen.

Basically, they had a form letter aimed at the messiest tenants, and anyone who had any dishes in the sink, or food out when they came to lay the poison got a copy of the letter.

We did tidy up, but I have actually no idea whether they came back or not.
posted by crabintheocean at 3:36 PM on February 19, 2006

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