Assume that tobacco smoking indoors is legal, but there is also a (legal) lease provision that smoking in the unit is against the lease and grounds for eviction.

Can a landlord legally enter the leased premises without notice to 'catch' or otherwise confront a tenant who is smoking against their lease if they smell tobacco smoke outside a unit?

Alternatively, can a landlord issue a blanket notice to all tenants that they will enter premises unannounced if, in the near future, they suspect a tenant is smoking?

I am in the US state of Wisconsin, but I'd also be interested in cases or more specific legislation elsewhere.

I have looked at guides for landlords and tenants, and although it seems clear that reasons for "emergency" entry are quite narrowly defined (i.e., there has to be some immediate risk to the property such as a current water leak), and smoke that may indicate a fire seems obviously included, I have so far been unable to find an answer on this specific question or similar situations involving suspicion of lease violations.

Certainly if a landlord suspects illegal activity, they could contact the police, but this is a situation where the suspected activity is merely against the lease. Additionally I am not asking whether a landlord can evict a tenant for smoking, since it is not necessary for a landlord to enter unannounced to observe smoking in a unit to evict.

  • 2
    I'm good at picking my fights. I would not want to be on the landlord end of that one. Dec 10, 2019 at 23:10
  • @Harper-ReinstateMonica Yeah - I talked with a landlord friend of mine who pretty much said the same thing since he wasn't sure. In this case, I'm a tenant, and not one suspected of smoking, so I'm not personally involved on either side - if I was, I'd be asking a lawyer rather than asking here. I think my landlord's main concern is insurance. Dec 10, 2019 at 23:26
  • Whatever steps the landlord may be able to take to investigate suspected smoking, entering without the tenant's consent is not among them. If the landlord really wants to determine whether the tenant is smoking and evict him or her if so, the landlord should hire a lawyer. The lawyer can advise what steps may be taken to gather evidence for the eviction proceedings.
    – phoog
    Dec 11, 2019 at 3:29

2 Answers 2


The landlord tenant act of Wisconsin states

...The landlord may upon advance notice and at reasonable times inspect the premises, make repairs and show the premises to prospective tenants or purchasers; and if the tenant is absent from the premises and the landlord reasonably believes that entry is necessary to preserve or protect the premises, the landlord may enter without notice and with such force as appears necessary.

There is no "emergency" clause. It would be far-fetched to maintain that a reasonable person would deem entry to be necessary to enter the premises in these circumstances. Note also that the tenant has to be absent (it does not say that the landlord has a reasonable belief that the tenant is absent).

The administrative interpretation in the administrative code restates the statutory condition that states the conditions under which a landlord may enter, adding the condition that "A health or safety emergency exists". A person smoking is not sudden does not create an urgent need w.r.t. safety or health, so does not constitute an emergency.


If a law does not define a word then courts turn to its normal English usage

So, as you call out the US we'll turn to Merriam-Webster:

1: an unforeseen combination of circumstances or the resulting state that calls for immediate action

2: an urgent need for assistance or relief

the mayor declared a state of emergency after the flood

I'll let you be the judge of if "suspicion of smoking against the terms of the lease" falls into that definition.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .