When Can A Landlord/Manager Enter A Rental Property in Kentucky?

In over twenty years of managing residential rental properties in Kentucky, I think this question causes more confusion, and is improperly understood more often than just about any other subject in property management. A caveat; I’m not an attorney and am not giving legal advice here. I’ve researched the subject extensively and lived it, but if you have serious questions about your specific circumstances, consult an attorney.

One reason why knowing when it is allowed for a landlord or manager to enter a property is so misunderstood is that Kentucky law gives few specifics on it. Add to that the areas of the state (Louisville, Lexington and a few others) which are under the Uniform Residential Landlord Tenant Act have a different law than the rest of the state. I’ve seen managers enter when they clearly shouldn’t, and tenants complain about entry when it was perfectly fine. I’ve even sat in Kentucky real estate school classes where the topic was taught incorrectly. So, here’s the short version:

Kentucky has no law giving specifics on when entry by landlord is allowed, except again in URLTA areas, where two days’ notice must be given when it is a non-emergency entrance. URLTA does not define what type of notice is required (oral? written?), nor what an emergency is.

Mostly, what few answers to this question there are will come from Kentucky common law – decisions made by the courts which can then be cited. This makes things even more difficult, because researching these decisions is very hard for non-attorneys (we don’t have access to Westlaw and similar). However, Kentucky Supreme Court and Appeals Court decisions are online and searchable (though somewhat hidden on the Kentucky Court of Justice site).

The bottom line is that, within reason, in Kentucky whatever is written in the lease about entry and notice is going to be the rule – as long as it observes the 2-day non-emergency minimum in URLTA areas. I say “within reason”, because that’s what courts do – determine if a contract is “reasonable”. If your lease has unreasonable or unconscionable language concerning entry and notice, then that language can be voided by the court. So, if your lease says you can enter at any time as often as you like without cause or notice, that’s probably going to be considered unreasonable or unconscionable. The takeaway here is that your lease section on entry and notice is critical; if a question ever comes up, that’s where the court will look first.

Kentucky Courts On Leases and Improper Entry

Kentucky common law provides two main areas of general guidance –  first that “[i]n

every contract, there is an implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing.” (Ranier v. Mount Sterling Nat’l Bank, Ky., 812 S.W.2d 154, 156 (1991)). Good faith and fair dealing are common sense concepts; if your lease allows you to enter for inspection and you enter to do a self-help eviction (like taking off doors, cutting off utilities), a court isn’t going to consider that good faith entry.

Second, Kentucky common law provides that any improper entry causes damage, even if it’s nominal (Hughett v. Caldwell County, 313 Ky. 85, 230 S.W.2d 92, 96 (1950)). This is an important concept to understand because it allows for other (punitive) damages to be awarded even if no actual damages occurred.

Also, Kentucky common law provides that there can be no punitive damages for a breach of contract (General Accident Fire & Life Assurance Corp., Ky., 400 S.W.2d 685 (1966)); for instance if you don’t keep the heat repaired it may be possible for the tenants to get a judgment for actual damages they incurred, but they can’t get punitive damages. However, trespass is a different cause of action than breach of contract, and it does allow for punitive damages.

I Can Trespass On My Own Property?

Yes, it’s possible for you to have trespassed on your own property if you leased it out and enter improperly. So putting this all together, even if there are no actual damages because of an improper entry, you can be held liable for punitive damages. This also means you can’t necessarily get a summary judgment for dismissal even if no actual damages are claimed, so it makes it more possible there will be a trial and the costs which go along with it.

In real life improper entries are made all the time and nothing is done about it except perhaps a complaint to management. However, you don’t want to run the risk of litigation if it can be lessened, and your primary line of

PublicDomainPictures / Pixabay

PublicDomainPictures / Pixabay

defense is the wording in the lease. For our purposes, we divide entry into three types,

1 – Non-emergency; this would be to inspect, change filters and the like.

2 – Emergency; difficult to define, but to us if we see imminent property damage (water dripping into the apartment below, for example), or imminent danger to the occupant, we consider those emergencies. The truth is that every circumstance is going to be different and ultimately only a court can decide if there was an emergency or you had reasonable cause to believe there was an emergency.

3 –  Maintenance call; most people lump this in with non-emergency, but it’s really different. We would have tenants call us about important maintenance – say a refrigerator going out – but then complain that the repairman didn’t have their permission to enter.

Our solution to these situations over the years is this (and you can adjust as you see best of course to your circumstances):

  • For a non-emergency situation we state in the lease that we’ll give at least two day’s notice, but that the notice can be an email or regular mail (so we don’t have to post them on the door). In this day and age, for something simple like changing filters an email should be sufficient.
  • For an emergency situation common sense is that no notice is required, but we state so in the lease.
  • For a maintenance call we put language in the lease making it clear that by calling for maintenance the tenant is giving us or our agent (the repairman) permission to enter and that no further notice is necessary. We go on to say that the tenant must make entry safe and accessible for the maintenance people (secure any pets, no inside chains or locks), and that if the maintenance person is not able to enter for these reasons, the cost of the trip is the responsibility of the tenant. We add further language explaining that we don’t control the schedules of repair services like HVAC companies and that a specific entry time can’t be promised, only that we’ll pass along any requests the tenant might have.

We continue to get tenants who complain that the repairman entered, or didn’t come when they wanted, but we just remind them of this language in the lease (and that it’s frankly common sense). This maintenance section is what most boilerplate leases are missing.

So, maybe take a moment to review your entry and notice sections – other than some basic guidance from court decisions and perhaps a 2-day non-emergency limit under URLTA, whatever is in the lease and reasonable will be the law on entry in Kentucky.

By Don Shelton

Category: Property Management