Landlord Access Question - Did I cross a legal boundary?

4 Replies

As a new landlord of a mobile home park in Florida, I have already experienced my share of tenants moving out in the middle of the night or with extremely short, as in 5 minutes from now and I still haven’t paid rent this month, move out notice. As such, I have become very leary of more move outs when tenants go silent when they are behind on rent. Today I decided to open the door of a rental unit that is 1.5 months behind on rent to ensure they hadn’t left in the night. After getting no response to multiple very loud knock attempts and calling out the tenant’s name I opened the door with my key and (SHOCKER!) she was home and not answering the door. She became very irate immediately telling me how dare I open her door. I did not enter the property at all as my feet remained outside the trailer at all times.

Have I crossed a legal boundary as a landlord?

I doubt you're in any sort of trouble for opening the door as you had reason to believe noone was inside and you were attempting to confirm it wasn't abandoned, but the larger question is how is someone getting that far behind on rent without paperwork being filed on them?

Depending on your state what I would do is after no calls backs, text replies, or responses, then I would post a pay or quit notice on their door. It would indicate who it’s for, the date, what is owed, when needs to be paid, and how it should be paid. If they pay it before the deadline then they can stay. If they don’t then they must move all their stuff out and vacate. On the day after the due date you can go to the court and file for eviction. 

Most likely, yes, you crossed the line (I don't know Florida law, in NY definitely).  Less objectionable is to put a notice on the door that due to lost communication, you will use your key in 24 hours.  If you think there may be a health issue, doing a wellness check while escorted by a local police helps cover you against claims of theft.  If you think they bailed, put a piece of clear tape up high or down low over the door to the frame. Not strong tape, you want it to break or pull free so when you return later, you know if the door was opened or not.

Don't wait any longer than legally required to serve notices to pay or quit.  You can always cancel if you get paid, which is the goal.