Q: My tenant is not allowing me and my handyman into her unit. There is a leak in her ceiling, and I want to take care of the it as soon as possible to prevent the problem from getting worse. However, after giving 24-hour notice to enter and hiring a handyman, she still won't let us into the unit. I also get charged every time the handyman comes to the property. Can I pass on those fees to the tenant? How do I handle this situation?
A: California law allows a landlord to enter a tenant’s unit on 24-hour notice to supply necessary or agreed-upon services, or during an emergency. Although the seasons have recently been dry, the leak may well qualify as an “emergency” if it is not fixed before rain returns. Water penetration to the interior of a dwelling can obviously produce multiple cascading problems and severe structural damage, so you are wise to be concerned.
Outside of an emergency, repair of the leak is similarly a “necessary” service to maintain the property in habitable condition. A 24-hour notice is required to enter, but the tenant is not required to be present. If the tenant does not want to be disturbed by the repairs, you can schedule the repairs when the tenant is absent.
If the tenant is actively obstructing the repairs by changing the locks and physically blocking entry to the unit, the tenant can be evicted for unlawfully denying the landlord access to the unit. You should consult with an attorney before attempting any eviction on these grounds to ensure that you have sufficient evidence and have served the proper notices. Depending on where the property is located, you may have to give the tenant a warning notice first. If the tenant continues to deny access after receiving lawful notice to cease, you can sue for unlawful detainer and demand an eviction.
You should expect to bear the costs of hiring the handyman, so make each attempt at repair count. If the tenant is being hostile and directly refusing the repairs, you may be able to recover the costs in small claims court, but only for the times your workers came out and were denied entry. It will be much harder to pin the responsibility (and therefore costs) on the tenant if it is just a matter of coordinating schedules. Repair costs will not be recoverable in an unlawful detainer lawsuit, and would have to be sought after the tenant moves out. Most tenants are difficult to find after they are evicted, making further claims against them impractical and unappealing once the eviction is complete.
Copyright © 2018 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.