Landlord Tenant Q&A with LAURENE H. YOUNG

LAURENE H. YOUNG, RMP, REALTOR
Young Hawaii Homes, Inc.
2011 President, Oahu Chapter
National Association of Residential Property Managers

Q. I own a rental property and have a tenant on a one year lease. His lease expires in 2 months. I want to do a walk-through of the property before I extend his lease. I gave the tenant 2 days notice that I wanted to do this, but he has refused to allow me into the unit. I heard from neighbors that he has a lot of guests and I want to make sure they haven’t damaged the unit and are not doing drugs. Can I go to court to evict the tenant even though he always pays on time? Can I just go into the unit after giving notice and take a friend or relative as a witness? When I went to the unit, the tenant refused to let me in.

A. I understand your frustration. It is definitely a good idea to look at your unit before writing a new lease. However, I wouldn’t go into the unit if the tenant has expressly refused you access.

Section 521.73 of the Landlord-Tenant Code states that “the tenant shall be liable to the landlord for any damage proximately caused by the tenant’s unreasonable refusal to allow access…” If the landlord had been able to do a walk through, he might have noticed early termite activity or a small leak or another minor item that may have been easily repaired at that time. Notify the tenant that you are trying to mitigate damage to your unit and they will be responsible for damage related to your inability to do the walk through. In the meantime, do NOT enter the premises without the tenant’s consent. The landlord “shall be liable to the tenant for any theft, casualty, or other damage proximately caused by an entry into the dwelling unit by the landlord or by another person with the permission or license of the landlord.” Even if you have someone with you to verify that you didn’t steal that $500 on the counter, the tenant could claim that you worked together to steal from him when he wasn’t around and refused you access.

When you did your credit checks and interviews before the tenant moved in, you got a general idea of the type of tenant you were allowing into your unit. Since the tenant pays on time and you don’t have any real evidence that there is illegal activity in the unit, you have to decide if you want to continue the tenant on a month-to-month lease when his current fixed lease is over, or terminate his tenancy. If he had a good credit score and good references from previous landlords, he is likely a good tenant who fiercely values his privacy. However, if you are worried that this tenant may be damaging your unit and/or involved in illegal activity, you may want to terminate his tenancy at the end of the lease.

Eviction proceedings cost a lot of money and are time consuming. Plus, you probably don’t have a cause of action in this case. If you don’t want to continue the lease, send the tenant ample notice that you will not extend his lease when it expires. You need to provide at least 30 days notice prior to the end of a fixed lease and 45 days notice with a month-to-month lease. If he does not leave at the end of the lease, he will be considered a holdover tenant. You can then begin court proceedings and the tenant may then be liable to you for up to twice the monthly rent for that period when he is still in the unit. You still cannot enter the unit until you have the writ of possession from the courts.

In the future, one way to give you some peace of mind that the tenant is maintaining your home is to ask your repair people to glance around when they are repairing something. The tenant may only allow them access to the repair area, but you can get a general idea of the condition of your home this way. The repair person usually has to walk through the living area to get to the item to be repaired.

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