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Lease can't waive legal rights

August 09, 2009|Martin Eichner

Question: I now realize that when I signed my lease three months ago, I didn't read all the fine print.

My landlord has come into the unit several times around 10 p.m. She says she wants to check on whether I am keeping the place clean. I told her that I didn't think she had the right to unilaterally make these late-night inspections, but she pointed to a clause in the lease that specifically gives her the right to enter the rental premises at any time to inspect their condition.

Because I signed a lease with this clause, am I out of luck?

Answer: The very specific rules regulating a landlord's right to enter a rental unit are set forth in California Civil Code Section 1954. Among other provisions, 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 cleanliness 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Some rental agreements, particularly those that are out of date or obtained from questionable sources, contain the type of clause you describe in your question, which essentially purports to waive your statutory rights.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 law, in Civil Code Section 1953, declares any such waiver unenforceable. Thus the clause in your lease is null and void.

Technically, your landlord is trespassing if she enters your unit without meeting the requirements of Section 1954. You might consider explaining this to her and working out an arrangement that would meet her concerns while protecting your rights.

-- Martin Eichner, Project Sentinel

Eichner is director of Housing Counseling Programs for the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based mediation service. To submit a question, go to www.housing.org.

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