Amir Locke case raises questions about entry and privacy laws

Q: I noticed that in the recent murder of Amir Locke at an apartment complex in Minneapolis, it was reported that the landlord allowed police access to the apartment where the shooting occurred. What are a landlord’s responsibilities regarding these requests? Can a landlord or management company give anyone access to an apartment without notifying the tenant?

A: There is a privacy law in Minnesota that governs when and what kind of notice landlords must give their tenants before entering their apartment or house, or allowing other people to enter. It is important to keep in mind that tenant privacy requirements also apply to agents of the landlord, such as managers or custodians, or persons acting under the direction or control of the landlord, such as contractors or real estate agents.

The law states that the landlord or his agents can only enter the dwelling if they have a reasonable business purpose, so a landlord cannot give anyone, even a tenant’s parent, access to a tenant’s apartment unless there is a reasonable business purpose. The law identifies nine examples of reasonable business purposes, such as maintenance work, visits or municipal inspections, but also mentions that it is not limited to these nine examples.

If it is not an emergency, the landlord must make a good faith effort to give their tenant reasonable notice in the circumstances of the intention to enter. If a landlord enters when the tenant is not there and no notice has been given, the landlord should leave a note of their entry in a conspicuous place in the accommodation.

Additionally, Minnesota law requires property owners to deny access to tenant units to any employee who has committed a serious crime. If a landlord enters a tenant’s apartment without a reasonable business purpose, penalties could be imposed.

There is an exception to the notice requirement which states that the landlord may enter a tenant’s apartment to inspect or take action, without notice to the tenant, if the landlord reasonably suspects that immediate entry is necessary to avoid injury to persons or property due to maintenance, building safety or law enforcement conditions; or to determine the security of a tenant; or to comply with local ordinances regarding illegal activities occurring in the rental unit.

In this case, the police had a no-hit search warrant, which probably falls under the emergency exception, so the landlord could be required to give the police access to the tenant’s apartment without giving notice to the tenant. The same rule applies to firefighters, police and other government agents in that a landlord can allow them to enter a tenant’s rental unit without a warrant or notice, only if there are urgent circumstances such as extinguishing a fire.

However, if there are no urgent circumstances, a search warrant is most likely required under the Constitution. When the police have a warrant, using the owner’s master key avoids breaking down doors and causing damage to property.

The warrant itself, signed by a judge, likely required the landlord to allow police access to the building and the unit. If you want to look up the law that landlords follow whenever they or their agents enter a tenant’s rental unit, you can research Minn. Stat. 504B.211 on the Internet for reference.

Kelly Klein is a lawyer in Minneapolis. Participation in this section does not create an attorney/client relationship with Klein. Do not rely on the advice in this column for legal advice. Consult with a lawyer regarding your specific issues. Email rental questions to kklein@kleinpa.com. The information provided by readers is not confidential.

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