Q: Do I have the right to conduct annual physical inspections of my tenant-occupied rental property?
A: There is no statute or regulation expressly giving you the right to conduct annual physical inspections, but arguably you should do so. The scope of annual physical inspections is debatable. At a minimum, it is advisable to enter each unit and test and possibly replace all smoke detector and carbon monoxide detectors on an annual basis. While testing the detectors, it is advisable to conduct as broad an inspection as possible without unduly disturbing your tenants because you have a duty to maintain your property in good repair and you could be liable for not addressing defective conditions that you know or should know exist.
California Civil Code section 1954 governs a landlord’s right to enter a tenant-occupied apartment, and limits it to four categories: 1) in case of emergency, 2) to 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, workers, or contractors or to make an inspection pursuant to subdivision (f) of Section 1950.5 regarding security deposits, 3) when the tenant has abandoned or surrendered the premises, or 4) pursuant to court order. As you probably know, you must serve written notice to enter and inspect at least 24 hours in advance, unless you are responding to an emergency, the tenant is present and consents to the entry, or after the tenant has surrendered possession or abandoned the unit.
With no law governing annual inspections, the alternative is to include language in the lease permitting you to conduct annual inspections. You should be careful, however, to phrase such a clause so it does not create an additional landlord obligation that could lead to liability if you do not do the inspection.
Some tenants might object to you entering for an annual inspection because it does not fit squarely into any of the categories identified in Civil Code section 1954. Difficult tenants might accuse you of harassment or violating the Rent Ordinance if you push for an inspection when no known defective condition exists. Depending on the circumstances, it could be advisable to refrain from further attempts to inspect such units.
You should note that landlords have an affirmative duty to inspect units between tenancies, when no tenant has the exclusive right to possession. At least one appellate decision has been published holding that when units are not occupied by tenants the landlord has a right of entry and control and, on that basis, an affirmative duty to enter and correct any dangerous or defective conditions. You also have an affirmative duty to enter and inspect after you have evicted a tenant because there is a heightened risk that an evicted tenant will neglect or damage the unit.
Copyright © 2017 by Fried & Williams LLP. All Rights Reserved. The information in this article is general in nature and should not be considered legal advice. For any specific matter, please consult with an attorney.