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I rent a “Mother-In-Laws quarters” (guest area) that is on the side of my house. It has a private entrance.

If I'm concerned something has happened to the tenant, am I legally allowed to enter the building without giving notice?

Some background: For the first time, my tenant is late on rent, and hasn't contacted me in any way which seems very unusual for her.

Yesterday I texted once to remind about the rent, and a second time asking if they are okay once I noticed there was still mail from a few days ago in her mail box right by her door with no response.

I also couldn't hear TV through the wall which I usually can, and her curtains were never opened which I notice she usually does during the day. The air conditioning also wasn't on all day, which is also unusual. She's elderly and I'm afraid she may have fallen or even worse.

I'm planning on knocking on her door on my lunch break. If she does not answer the door, I'm trying to figure out if I can go ahead and enter the property and make sure everything is okay.

  • 78
    Call the police and have them do a welfare check. – BlueDogRanch Aug 5 at 15:59
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    And let us know the outcome. – Gregory Currie Aug 6 at 13:15
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    Did she answer the knock at the door? – Stephen DiMarco Aug 6 at 19:19
  • Your tenant could be indisposed in a hospital somewhere. Got any contact data from family of your tenant? – Tschallacka Aug 6 at 20:09
100

Most leases have a provision allowing a landlord to make entry without notice in an emergency, but the better course of action, as noted in a comment by @BlueDogRanch, is to call the police and ask them to make a "welfare check." You would ordinarily be permitted to cooperate with police by unlocking doors in furtherance of their welfare check.

The police are trained to do this properly in a way that properly balances the need to aid someone who is sick or ill, the need to preserve evidence if there was a death or crime that needs to be understood legally, and to protect the legitimate privacy interests of the tenant.

You are not. You could incur liability for failing to prevent death or aggravating injury, could be wrongfully implicated if physical evidence from you contaminates the scene or you destroy evidence showing the true cause, and could be sued for invading the tenant's privacy if it was found that you entry was unreasonable and that it wasn't really an emergency which is always easier to conclude with 20-20 hindsight.

As it is, your biggest potential source of liability is delaying in calling the police seeking a welfare check. They often respond quite quickly to these by the way, although it is not the very highest priority for law enforcement.

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    Thank you. I found some legal code online that said emergencies were okay, but listed things like fire or plumbing leaks and didn't know if this would apply. Following the advice here, I called the police for a welfare check. She was not in the building. The officer didn't do much, and had me enter the building myself, and seemed to think this was entirely about rent, which was a little annoying but I'm still glad I called and at least know she's not dying and in need of help. – Kyle Aug 5 at 20:30
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    Good move. You've immunized yourself from liability and taken steps to prevent a possible harm. You probably want to stay alert to the possibility that she has gone missing or suffered a mishap somewhere else. If it goes too long, consider calling a contact number if you have one for the tenant. – ohwilleke Aug 5 at 20:34
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    @Acccumulation Since it refers to 20/20 vision, that would be the way to write it. – takintoolong Aug 6 at 15:50
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    @ErinB: The law is an ass. If you don't call the police, and end up in court, the judge is going to look dimly on such explanations no matter how valid they may be. As far as judges are concerned, calling the police is The Way Things Are Done in this situation. – Kevin Aug 6 at 17:13
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    @Kevin yeah fair enough, I guess this is "law stack exchange", not "moral quandry stack exchange". – Erin B Aug 6 at 17:31
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When you are doing-the-right-thing you don't need to be afraid of the law.

An European point of View, trying to be human first, and not moralizator-I-take-no-responsibility-stack-exchange ; a late-answer maybe, but I think people shall take their own responsibilities in their lifes, not delegate responsibilities to others because there might be problems with the law :

  • Ring the bell, knock at the door, call the person, you might need to yell if she is deaf.
  • You believe this is an emergency, so open the door, and search her, she might need you to call an ambulance instead. I mean, you are concerned about her health, not the paiement.
  • If you couldn't find her, Leave a message at the door, saying that you were concerned for her health, and tried to contact her. (Maybe next time she will tell you when she leaves).

Why call the police, If there is no criminal concern ? She might just be visiting a friend.

ps: I'm sorry but from an overseas point of view it is just shocking to read or hear stories like "a neighbour called the cops for {insert stupid reason here} and.. something turned wrong". But why did they called the cops in the first place?

  • In the United States, the police aren't just there for criminal activity. They do all kinds of civil services like directing traffic, first responders during (CPR, Heimlich, first aid), clear road debris, health and welfare checks, ejecting solicitors, ... I called the police when a rabid animal bit my son a few years ago and the animal control department was closed for the weekend. I'm glad he had a gun. (Son is fine - had to get rabies shots ugh! We found the animal dead a few days later.) – Moby Disk Aug 8 at 13:43
  • Hi @JB, welcome to the site! Note that the Law Stack Exchange is intended for legal information, so a good answer would be based on the local and national law of the asker: this question is tagged with California so a European law answer probably isn't appropriate. – DaveMongoose Aug 8 at 14:03
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    I asked on law.stackexchange to get legal advice. – Kyle Aug 8 at 21:16

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