Can a landlord enter a tenant’s unit to merely “inspect” it?
No. Tenants should note that a general inspection of the unit, even if only done annually, is not a permissible reason for entry under California law. Random non-specific inspections are not legal, regardless of whether the tenant was provided proper notice or not. When the landlord states the purpose for entry is to generally “inspect” the unit, the tenant should have the landlord clarify what specifically they are planning to inspect and have them put it in their written notice to the tenant. The request for inspection may be a lawful one, or the landlord may be attempting to enter the unit with an ulterior motive. In that case, when the landlord refuses to specify a legitimate purpose behind the inspection, the tenant may be able to reasonably refuse to allow the landlord access.
Because the landlord is responsible for keeping the property in a habitable condition, they may need to enter to make periodic inspections (likely deemed “necessary services” under section 1954) for specific reasons such as to inspect the plumbing, electrical wiring, and smoke detectors to make sure they are operating in accordance with industry standards. Such inspections still necessitate that the tenant be provided with a twenty-four hour written notice before the landlord enters. If, however, the tenant believes that the notice is not in good faith and that the landlord’s real intent is to invade the tenant’s privacy with a general inspection entry, which is prohibited, they should consult with an attorney.