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Tenants of homes for sale have privacy rights

July 12, 2009|Martin Eichner

Question: The house I rent is being sold because the owner is not paying the mortgage. The real estate agent wants to put a "for sale" sign in the yard and a lockbox on the front door. I'm moving next month but feel the sign and lockbox are a violation of my privacy. Can I ask the agent not to do these things?

Answer: Even without the current foreclosure problem, the process of selling rental property can be a difficult situation between tenants and property owners. However, your rights are covered by California Civil Code Section 1954.

That statute requires the owner to follow certain limitations on showing the house. For example, the owner must give you 24 hours' notice before showing the property and can do so only during "normal business" hours, although the statute is unclear about whether "normal business hours" for showing a house for sale includes weekends. Even if weekends are included, there is no provision in the statute for a general open house all day or all weekend, nor is the statute consistent with a lockbox, because you have the right to security in the premises for which you are still paying rent.

Section 1954 does not address the right to install a "for sale" sign, but the owner must still recognize your right to privacy and the limitations of this statute, which means the sign cannot be an invitation to violate your rights. On both sides, it makes sense to work out some ground rules that you can both accept, rather than fighting about the specific application of Section 1954, which may not meet the actual needs of either side.

"For sale" signs can include wording that limits showings to "by appointment only." This is one possible solution both sides can explore.

-- Martin Eichner, Project Sentinel

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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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