Question: I rent a room in a house, as do two other tenants. We use the bathroom, kitchen and living room as shared space. The landlord comes in the house on a regular basis, though she does not live there. She hangs out in the living room for hours on end, and I feel she is checking on the tenants.
I did a little research and told her that I didn't think she had the right to just come into the house, but she pointed to a clause in the lease that specifically gives her the right to enter the rental premises at any time.
Since I signed a lease with this clause, do I have to put up with her presence at random times of the day?
Answer: The very specific rules regulating a landlord's right to enter a rental unit are set forth in California Civil Code Section 1954. This statute requires a landlord to give you 24 hours' written notice before entering.
Even with notice, the statute provides that a landlord can enter only during normal business hours and only for certain specific reasons, such as to make repairs, unless you explicitly give permission otherwise. Checking your habits is not one of the approved reasons listed in Section 1954.
Some rental agreements, particularly those that are out of date or obtained from questionable sources, contain the type of clause you describe in your question, which essentially purports to waive your statutory rights. California Civil Code Section 1953 declares any such waiver unenforceable.
Thus the clause in your lease can be considered null and void. Technically, your landlord is trespassing if she enters your unit without meeting the requirements of Section 1954.
If you feel uncomfortable discussing this with your landlord directly, contact the local mediation program in your area. A mediator can bring you and your landlord together under conditions that are neutral and convenient.
Mediation would allow you to look for ways to maintain a positive relationship with your landlord or at least mutually agree on an acceptable solution that is consistent with California law.
For more information, contact a local fair housing or mediation program, or Project Sentinel at (888) 324-7468, or visit http://www.housing.org.
Van Deursen is director of Dispute Resolution Programs for Project Sentinel, a Bay Area nonprofit. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.