Tenant rights - was this trespassing?
June 8, 2007 1:27 PM   Subscribe

My apartment was entered without the knowledge or consent of me, or my landlord. Is this trespassing?

I live in an condo unit that is privately owned. The condo below me is privately owned. Some of the condos are owned by the building, etc. but many like mine, are privately owned and rented out. Recently the owner of the unit below mine has complained of water damage, and though she tried negotiating with my landlord to assess the situation, she ALSO went through the property management (who, once again, doesn't own my unit) and filed complaints.

Long story short...the unit owner below, along with someone from the property management, and a plumber went into our unit and did inspections of the bathrooms - ALL without my knowledge or consent. I was not informed that anyone would be entering my unit. ALSO my landlord did not know that the property management had a key to my unit.

Have any rights been violated, and should I (and my landlord) be concerned on any level?

I really couldn't find any information on this...Google only came up with tenants who ARE trespassing, and askmi came up with "am I liable for injuries of someone trespassing."
posted by othersomethings to Law & Government (21 answers total)
Did your landlord sign an agreement with the property management company? I'd see if there's something mentioned in there.
posted by clh at 1:32 PM on June 8, 2007

Where are you? There's no way of answering your question without knowing which body of law applies.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 1:37 PM on June 8, 2007

Response by poster: I'm in FL.

I am not sure about an agreement with the management company, but my landlord seemed concerned that they had a key without their knowledge.
posted by othersomethings at 1:39 PM on June 8, 2007

Looks like she's in Florida.
posted by clh at 1:40 PM on June 8, 2007

I have very limited experience as a property manager, but from what I can discern their ability to enter your unit would be contingent on whether it was an emergency (a major flood leaking into the unit below yours and causing damage) and you were unreachable.

I and many other managers I've worked with have access to a master key that will admit entry into any unit in the building, for emergency purposes only. I would be more concerned if your property management company did not have a key. What if you lock yourself out? What if paramedics need to enter your unit?

If there was no emergency and they never made an attempt to contact you or at least your landlord, that's a different story. It is most definitely unethical for the property management company (which is supposed to be an impartial third party), at the behest of your downstairs neighbor, to enter and inspect your unit without your knowledge. I couldn't begin to say whether that's actually illegal, however--particularly at the opposite end of the country from where I do this job. Either way, they ought to know better.
posted by Saellys at 1:50 PM on June 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

You'd really need to see what kind of agreement the landlord has with the management, because it probably has a clause to allow access for emergencies that would impact the common areas and structure of the building.

Certainly, if your tub was completely overflowing with water and dripping into her condo, I think you'd have to agree that it would be a good thing for a plumber to make an emergency repair. But I'd really question everyone involved for information on why you weren't contacted first.
posted by saffry at 1:52 PM on June 8, 2007

See here. IANAL, but a) I cannot see any way that the unit owner could have had the right to enter your apartment, and b) it looks like the management company owed you advance notice (unless there was a flood right at that particular moment).
posted by thomas j wise at 1:54 PM on June 8, 2007

Your landlord should check the language of the covenants, conditions, and restrictions that apply to the condo owners, if any. I don't think it's unusual for the agreements to contain provisions that allow apartment entry in the case of emergency, which can be defined to include property damage.

Regardless of whether it was legal for a plumber and a member of the management company to enter, it strikes me as odd that the unit owner was allowed to accompany them.

On preview, what everybody else said!
posted by lalex at 1:55 PM on June 8, 2007

The question is unanswerable without seeing the agreement between your landlord and the condo property management.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 1:56 PM on June 8, 2007

Response by poster: 1. it was not an emergency. The visit was actually unfounded...the leak has nothing to do with my unit.

2. a master key makes sense.

3. again, no notice was given.
posted by othersomethings at 1:58 PM on June 8, 2007

Whether or not there is a clause in your landlord's agreement with the property management company allowing them to access the unit without notice absent an emergency (which I highly doubt), it is EXTREMELY unprofessional if not outright illegal that your neighbor was allowed to tag along under any circumstances.

Even after all other questions regarding contracts, emergencies, and attempts to reach you or your landlord are ironed out, that aspect is unquestionably wrong. There are no circumstances in this scenario under which he/she would be in the right entering your unit.
posted by BigLankyBastard at 1:59 PM on June 8, 2007

The visit was actually unfounded isn't true. Whether or not their actions were legal or smart or professional, they had a valid reason to suspect that your unit was the cause of the damage. Just because that proved to be not true doesn't mean that the assumption was invalid.
posted by wemayfreeze at 2:10 PM on June 8, 2007

Morally speaking, it is perhaps understandable that property management representatives needed to go in during an emergency in which you couldn't be contacted, but it was very wrong of them to bring your neighbour through your home.
Yes, you should be concerned! You (and your landlord) should takes steps with the property management company make sure nothing like this ever happens again.

Legally speaking, we don't know enough about the agreement between your landlord and the property management company.
posted by Count Ziggurat at 2:17 PM on June 8, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for the input...I will have a call to my Landlord and ask her to look over their agreement to work that out.

The only reason I state that the claim was unfounded is that the report had already been made to us and to the landlord, and I inspected all the plumbing and wet areas of my home and gave them the report. I guess they decided to bring in their own plumber - hence the ensuing visit.

Otherwise, yes, obviously the claim would have merit. There are some other aspects to this situation that include dishonesty and shady tactics on the part of the other owner, but I just needed to know if there had been trespassing or if my rights as a tenant had been violated, and what recourse might be available.

Thank you for the information, I'm going to call my landlord and look through those links.
posted by othersomethings at 2:25 PM on June 8, 2007

As an aside, you may want to change your lock. You don't need to replace the entire lock -- just the cannister. You can do it yourself for about $10. A locksmith would charge around $100.
posted by acoutu at 2:29 PM on June 8, 2007

I live in a condo in Florida, and have had similar issues in the past. Basically, condos aren't quite the same as apartments in that in addition to the actual owner of the unit, and the landlord, and the property management company, there's almost always a condo association with a big ol' set of bylaws and/or rules and regulations, which invariably seem to have some sort of clause about how a representative of the association has the right to enter the premises for purposes of inspection, yadda yadda yadda. (See here.)

Now, when you say "property management," are you sure that's not actually the condo association?


they had a valid reason to suspect that your unit was the cause of the damage.

Yeah, sounds that way to me too. If I had water damage in my ceiling, I'd want the upstairs unit looked at immediately, though just to be a nice person I'd want to notify the occupant that I'm sending people into the unit.

Oh, and I wouldn't recommend changing the lock -- that would almost certainly get you in trouble with the condo association, assuming that's what you're dealing with.
posted by Gator at 3:31 PM on June 8, 2007

Er, if you don't want to read the whole page of Florida condo law that I just linked to, see here:

(5) RIGHT OF ACCESS TO UNITS.--The association has the irrevocable right of access to each unit during reasonable hours, when necessary for the maintenance, repair, or replacement of any common elements or of any portion of a unit to be maintained by the association pursuant to the declaration or as necessary to prevent damage to the common elements or to a unit or units.
posted by Gator at 3:33 PM on June 8, 2007

Yes, your bylaws probably give the association the right to enter your unit if it is necessary to to prevent damage to other units or the building. That's the price you pay for living in a multi-unit building.
posted by Justinian at 3:36 PM on June 8, 2007

You can have those provisions in the strata bylaws and still not give them a key for access. The downside is that you might have to pay their locksmith costs if there's an emergency.
posted by acoutu at 10:44 PM on June 8, 2007

"Property management" could easily be a professional property management company hired by the condo association, especially if the association has condos they rent out. I would question whether they have the same legal rights as a landlord does in your unit, but if they were acting on behalf of the association, which it is not clear they were, they probably have the same legal rights as the association.

They probably do have access to the keys, though.

BigLankyBastard is correct, though -- speaking as a landlord, giving another person access to your rented premises is just astonishing, something for which I can imagine no legal justification.

The only explanation I have for this is that the property management company may not really be an experienced and professional business, but some sort of ad-hoc chummy thing to grab a contract with the association. Condo associations are notorious for that sort of thing. Anyway, a criminal trespass charge won't stick -- generally people have to be warned (e.g. NO TRESPASSING signs) and caught doing it, and even then the police will often see if they can't just get the person to leave. You might have a civil claim against the association, though (see this Nolo article), but it may not be worth pursuing. Certainly, though, this should be formally brought to the attention of the condo association board.
posted by dhartung at 1:48 AM on June 9, 2007

*slaps head*

Of course. It occurs to me that should you dig deeper into this incident, you will probably find that the other unit owner sits on the board or is even an officer, and was thus exercising hir fiduciary duty to the board and fellow owners by inspecting the potential damage wrought by you, a mere tenant.

This is why some people hate condos. You can't get away from the sticky conflicts-of-interest.
posted by dhartung at 3:54 AM on June 9, 2007

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