All tenants have the legal right to privacy; as a landlord or property manager, this means you’re required to give up some of your rights to the property when it’s occupied by a tenant. For example, you must provide adequate notice before conducting an inspection, changing the locks, or other activities that could somehow violate the tenant’s right to privacy. As a rental housing professional, it’s important to know when it’s legally appropriate to access the property.
However, what should you do if the police request access to your rental? Here’s a short guide to help you understand your rights and the rights of your tenants in this situation. Please note that this is not intended as legal advice, but for information only. Laws may vary depending on your location.
Can Landlords or Property Managers Allow Police Searches at Their Properties?
The police may want to search a property for a variety of reasons: they could be looking for a suspect, acting on a tip, looking for drugs, or following a lead on an investigation. However, to be able to search a property legally, whether it’s occupied by a tenant or a homeowner, the police are required to get a search warrant that’s signed by a judge.
In the end, whether the police have permission from the landlord isn’t important; it’s whether the police have a warrant. There are three scenarios when police can conduct a search on a rental property:
- If the current tenant provides consent.
- If the police have a search warrant signed by a judge.
- If the police believe there’s imminent danger, such as hearing gunshots inside the home or calls for help.
If the tenant doesn’t allow the police to enter the residence, they can only enter if they have a warrant. What can be tricky for rental housing professionals, though, is determining their role when it comes to allowing the police access to the rental property.
Essentially, landlords and property managers can’t give consent to the police to search a rental property as long as it’s occupied—that permission can only be granted by the tenant unless a search warrant has been issued. Once the police have a signed search warrant, the landlord is obligated to allow them to enter the property, regardless of whether the tenant is home.
As the Landlord or Property Manager, Can You Search a Rental Property?
The law clearly states tenants have a right to privacy—but are landlords and property managers allowed to search a rental property? The answer depends on why you’re accessing the property, how often, and the state your property is located. For example, every state (except Arkansas) either has no statute or allows rental housing professionals to enter rental properties in an emergency.
If you need to perform maintenance, you’ll need to provide proper written notice. Rental housing professionals are also required by law to enter the apartment if there’s an emergency. Although it may seem like a police request to enter the property would be an emergency, a search warrant is still required.
Some examples of situations that would be legally considered an emergency include water or gas leaks, fires, or other situations where the property would be damaged if the issue isn’t addressed as soon as possible. Since a police search doesn’t fit into that category, it would be against the law for a landlord to grant police access without a warrant.
One loophole to this is if the tenant has a roommate. If the tenant’s spouse or roommate grants permission for a police search, the police can enter the home and search common areas, like the bathroom or living room. They can’t, however, search private areas (like the tenant’s bedroom) without the tenant’s permission or a search warrant.
Understanding Your Legal Obligations
Just as there are legal ways for landlords and property managers to gain access to a rental property, there are legal steps the police must take as well if they want to conduct a search. Although it may seem necessary to cooperate with police if they request a search, granting them access to the property without a signed search warrant is against the law without the tenant’s consent. If you need to access the property for any reason, make sure you’re well-versed in all applicable laws and provide the tenant with proper notice.
While there’s no surefire way to prevent criminal activity or other circumstances that would require a police search, tenant screening can help reduce the risk and help you find responsible, reliable tenants. With screening packages available for residential and commercial properties, TSCI makes it easy for you to find tenants with a solid rental history. Sign up for free today or contact us at (800) 523-2381.
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