When can a landlord use a duplicate set of keys to enter leased premises?

A CLIENT ASKED: As a landlord/owner, is it their right to have a set of keys to an apartment they are renting out? I read somewhere that in an emergency, fire or burst pipe, it is the landlords right to be able to enter (but only in the case of an emergency) and in all other instances they need permission to enter to inspect. Is there a law re this?

The short answer is that the landlord should have a duplicate set of keys, provided he or she doesn’t invade the privacy of the tenant and only uses the keys in a case of emergency. To avoid doubt, this is a provision that should be included in a lease agreement.

In terms of the Rental Housing Act, 1999, as amended, it is an offence that may result in the imprisonment of the landlord or a fine (although imprisonment is highly unlikely) if the landlord, amongst other things provides the tenant with a dwelling that is uninhabitable or fails to maintain the leased premises.

A landlord may not enter leased property without giving a tenant reasonable notice and then only to inspect the property, to make repairs to the property, to show the property to a prospective tenant, purchaser, mortgagee or its agent or if the property has been abandoned or having obtained a court order.

What about situations of sudden emergency?

A landlord may well need a key in order that he may be able to enter quickly in the event of emergency – fire, burst pipes or whatever. He may need a key to enable him or those authorised by him to read meters or to do repairs which are his responsibility.

I would suggest that a landlord should indeed hold a set of keys, to carry out necessary repairs expeditiously, with the permission of the tenant – in the ordinary course, and without his or her permission – in the case of emergency.

I fail to see how the landlord can carry out the works “expeditiously” if the landlord does not hold a key.

An agreement of lease should contain a clause dealing with Lessor’s rights of entry and carrying out of works that contains not only the usual rights of the landlord (or his agent) to enter the premises to inspect them, to carry out any necessary repairs, replacements, or other works, or to perform any other lawful function in the bona fide (good faith) interests of the landlord or the tenant, provided that:

  • The tenant’s right to privacy cannot be violated during the lease period;
  • Should the landlord wish to inspect the property, reasonable notice to the tenant must be given;
  • The landlord shall hold duplicate keys to enter the premises without notice, only in the event of emergency – fire, burst pipes or whatever – and if the tenant is not available to seek his prior permission. The landlord must handle the keys in a proper and responsible manner.

Without such written permission to hold keys and enter the premises to deal with a burst pipe, the landlord will have to exercise his discretion in good faith in the interests of the landlord or the tenant. That could lead to later legal arguments.

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