April 20, 2013 • By Dennis Beaver

We’ve all heard the expression “My home is my castle,” but have you ever wondered where it comes from or how old is it?

Dating from the time of William Shakespeare — around 400 years ago — it stands for the proposition that no one may enter a person’s home without permission, and that includes landlords. Valid today as it was in Jolly Old England, there were no doubt landlords then, as today, who just don’t get it. One of them lives in Kingsburg.

For years he has rented to enlisted personnel based at Naval Air Station Lemoore. We have crossed paths with this creep in the past, usually over his refusal to return security deposits. But now he has gone from creep to scary creep. Ron is one of his tenants and e-mailed You and the Law the following:

“I am an officer in the United States Navy, based at NAS Lemoore, frequently out of town for what can be a few days to several weeks. When returning home, I’ve noticed things which just seem a bit odd, such as a drawer partially open, what appears to be a missing beer from the fridge, and mail that I thought was in a neat stack, but now looks as if someone was looking at it. But because these are so minor, it is hard to say if I just forgot the way the things were when I left, or if someone has really been in the apartment.

“On one occasion, there were dirty shoeprints right inside the entry area. I asked the landlord if he had been into the apartment and he said that a plumber was there to fix a leak. But my apartment is on the ground floor, and how anyone would know of a leak is beyond me,” Ron added.

“When I moved in, at my expense — with the landlord’s permission — I had locks changed, and I gave him a key. My brother also has one, but lives in another state and hasn’t been here for months. I can understand the landlord coming in if there is a true emergency and no one is at home, but don’t I have a right to be left alone? I’m on an 18-month lease and would like to just move, but don’t want to get sued. What should someone do in my situation?”

Landlords have a limited right of entry

All it takes is money to buy a rental and the buyer is now a landlord, but so often, new landlords — and surprisingly some who have owned rentals for years — don’t know the first thing about their obligations to their tenants.

Renters have what the law refers to as the right of quiet enjoyment, limiting the right of a landlord to enter the premises. In some states— but surprisingly not all — there are specific laws which set out clearly when a landlord may enter the rental unit. In California, Civil Code Section 1954 lists five reasons that a landlord can legally enter:

• To make necessary or agreed-upon repairs, alterations or improvements; for example, checking to see if the smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are working.

• To show the rental unit to prospective tenants, buyers, real estate agents, lenders, contractors and workers there to perform actual work at the property.

• When the tenant has abandoned the property or moved out prior to the expiration of the rental term.

• When a court order permits the landlord to enter.

• In case of a true emergency, where injury or property damage may result unless dealt with immediately.

With the exception of a true emergency or abandonment, 24 hours written notice must be provided to the tenant before entry. It may be personally given to the tenant or someone of “suitable age” at the premises or left near or under the usual entry door.

Failure to follow the law = trespassing

The landlord might own the structure, but a refusal or failure to give proper notice and then going into the tenant’s home could easily be seen as trespassing, a violation of Penal Code Section 602. In fact, landlords have gone to jail when proof of their illegal entry was established.

So, what should Ron do if he wants to get out of the lease?

The saying, “One picture is worth a thousand words” applies well here. There are so many ways of inexpensively conducting his own video surveillance, and no better proof than catching someone in the act. But that’s only part of the solution.

Even armed with evidence of illegal entry into his apartment, it is Ron who could find himself in hot water by saying the wrong things in an effort to get out of the lease. And that’s our subject for next time.

Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.