Dear PoPville – Our landlord does not allow bikes in the building. Is it normal for him to do random inspections?

Photo by PoPville flickr user johnmcochran2012

Dear PoPville,

We live in a small building (about 20 units) between Adams Morgan and U Street. The landlord was very nice to us when we moved in and takes real pride in his units, which are being 100% renovated as tenants move out (ours is completely brand new). Our rent is very reasonable for the area, space, and amenities (brand new appliances, working wood fireplace, etc.) and we like living there.

However, our landlord does not allow bikes in the building (he says they have damaged walls/hallway fixtures in the past and is tired of dealing with it) and recently posted a sign saying that all apartments would be subject to routine inspection tomorrow. Someone will enter our apartment from 9:30-12:30. There is no reason listed on the sign for the inspection.

We have read our lease and there is a clause the the landlord can enter units during an emergency to do inspection and can do regular inspections when giving notice. This seems standard for a lease, but I suppose that we’ve never actually seen this acted upon outside of situations that call for it–broken pipes, etc. What could he hope to gain other than making all of his residents feel like residents of a live-in prison?

75 Comment

  • so, reading between the lines, you have a bike in your unit in violation of the rules.

    And it sounds like he’s complying with the lease by giving you notice of a regular inspection. Maybe he just wants to check things that many renters might ignore – e.g. air filters on heating/AC systems, leaking toilets/faucets, etc.

  • he could hope to gain knowledge of whether you are violating your lease.

    is this really hard for you to understand?

    i’m assuming the reason for your question is that you have a bike in your apartment, in violation of the lease, right?

  • Emmaleigh504

    In my building they do smoke alarm and fire extinguisher inspections about twice a year. They give us about a weeks notice and I never thought it was weird or prison like.

    If your landlord only does it a couple of times a year and never hassles you about anything else I wouldn’t worry about it.

    • We get an inspection once a year – a few weeks before we sign the leave for the new year. It really isn’t a big deal. Our property manager walks around the apartment and checks off a few things. He then asks us if we have any issues or needs and makes a note of what ever we say (i.e. sink leaks, door sticks, ect) and schedules a time to come and fix them.

  • I really don’t think it is legal to ban bikes from the building and/or inspect for bikes in apartments. I wouldn’t go to that extreme but as a landlord I can understand his frustration. My tenants will carry their bikes and drag a tire across the length of the common hallway walls and down the stairs. They will gouge the walls and railings with the pedals. I talk to them about being more careful. When they are not, it really turns into a lot of extra work. I have very few tenants with bikes, but it would never even cross my mind to handle it that way. Talking to them just once or sending out a notice usually solves the problem.

    • ah

      Why would it not be legal to ban bikes? Not saying it’s a good idea, or justifiable (or maybe it is), but it’s not like banning people of a certain age/race/sex.

    • it’s certainly legal if it’s your building. if the landlord owns it and doesn’t want bikes in it, there it is. right there.

  • Sorry, no bike in our apartment–we play by the rules. But we do feel like it’s an intrusion and something that we have never experienced in renting for 10 years in DC in row houses, large building, and other small buildings.

    • Why do you think the inspection is to look for bikes? My last landlord gave notice and came in twice a year to test smoke alarms and change air filters. Seemed a normal, non-obtrusive thing. Better than relying on forgetful-me having to worry about those things.

    • I’m starting to think that your landlord probably knows that you have a bicycle in your apartment. The best course of action at this point would be to write a letter of apology to him and start locking your bike to a rack outside.

  • Maybe you could hide or disguise your bike while the apartment is being inspected.

  • between 9:30-12:30 you’ll be at work, right? just ride your bike to work. easy peasy.

  • If you had a bike in your apartment, and that is what I am assuming based upon the wording of your post, it sounds like the landlord got wind of it and you will have to answer for that. A lease violation is a lease violation.

    If you did not have a bike in your apartment, this is your opportunity to tell the landlord that – while probably permissible by law – this type of search is unreasonable to you and you would like them to explain why you are being subjected to it.

  • On the other side of the coin, did the landlord include a no bike clause in the lease? Did he change the terms of the lease and ask you to sign an addendum agreeing to the prohibition on bikes?

    So the guy puts up a sign? Big deal. There’s nothing inherently dangerous or illegal about having a bicycle in a dwelling. If he wants to put up cameras in the hallway and press people for cash if he can prove damages, he’s perfectly within his rights to do so. But this seems like an over-zealous act of a landlord with a little too much time on his hands. Keep your bike and tell him where he can put it if he tells you to get rid of it.

    • exactly, if the no-bike clause is in the lease then you’re probably sol

    • This is not helpful. The OP is a renter and must comply with the landlord’s rules. Unless the OP is looking to rent elsewhere. If you were my tenant with this attitude, you’d for SURE be looking for a new place to live once your lease was up.

      • Actually, @Anonymous 12:20, If there is not a clause in the lease prohibiting bikes and there is not a clause that states that the tenant must follow “other reasonable rules established by the landlord and communicated through signage, a lease amendment, etc”, the landlord cannot legally prohibit a tenant from possessing something that local laws allow him or her to possess.

        A friend of mine had a landlord that put up a sign and sent a letter to all tenants in the building after the Supreme Court struck down DC’s gun laws stating that tenants were not allowed to possess firearms in his building. My friend and two other tenants were lawyers, who quickly and gleefully sent him the relevant sections of law – the only legal activities or property that a landlord can restrict in the District retroactively to a lease signing is smoking cigarettes by tenants over 18 and owning pets or waterbeds. Even owning pets can’t be retroactively modified to say you have to get rid of your pet or move – if the lease didn’t mention pets when you signed it, all they can do is say no *new* pets – an existing pet is allowed if it wasn’t mentioned in the original lease.

        So, unless the bike smokes, barks, or doubles as an uncomfortable aquatic sleeping surface, the tenant can keep it and use it “as intended” as long is it is stored in their own unit if it wasn’t mentioned in the original lease, and the landlord has to just deal with it until the lease comes up for renewal and then he can write in whatever he chooses and the tenants can accept it or move. They can’t, however, lock it to exterior railings where it is not permitted or leave it in hallways. Leaving it on balconies is a gray area.

        • Anon 12:20 sounds like a pretty typical landlord. They sure do hate it when they’re confronted by people who know their rights.

        • Best response – OP only read this.

        • Yeah I’m thinking you hit the nail on the head here.

        • Unless I missed it, the OP doesn’t tell us whether or not the “no bikes in the building” was part of the lease that the OP signed.

        • thebear

          The OP’s landlord did not say residents could not own or possess bikes, just not bring them into the building. If that’s in the lease or written community rules, then it *is* a valid and enforceable condition.

          We had a related situation in my building several years ago when the manager tried to prohibit bringing bicycles through the lobby or on the elevators (to avoid marring or damaging the marble floors or the walls in the lifts). The lease/community rules did not exclude having bikes in the building, management would not provide additional bike rack space in the garage to ensure that everyone in the building could have space for a bike (with 250 units, even if only 1/4 to 1/3 of the residents have bikes, that is a *lot* of rack space), and since the only access to the garage was either through the car ramp or a keyed-access entrance in the basement (having to carry a bike down the stairs from the service entrance side or open the rear of the service elevator) that would have meant everyone in the building with a bike would require garage access on a full-time basis. The tenant association got them to back down because of the logistical nightmare it would have created for residents and management. However, we were told by legal counsel that management was within its rights to designate areas as being off-limits to bikes as long as it did not attempt to ban owning a bicycle.

          There are alternatives for storing a bicycle somewhere other than in your apartment. Being required to avail one’s self of an alternative, whether they are not as convenient or lack the security, does not prevent anyone from, or constitute a denial of the rights to, owning a bike.

          • Thanks, bear, but I never said that the issues was owning a bike. I noted “no bikes in the building.” But everything else you said is point well taken.

          • thebear

            Anon 1:16: I thought I was replying to ShawGuy’s post. I made the point because that and several other replies in the discussion are erroneously equating “no bikes in the building” with “you cannot own or possess a bike.” They are not at all the same thing.

          • I would love to hear alternatives for storing a bike not in one’s apartment. I hate carrying the damn thing up and down 4 flight of stairs so it just sits there with flat tires.

          • Bear,

            I am so sorry, I see your post was replying to ShawGuy. My mistake – mea culpa.

  • I agree with emmaleigh. I’ve lived in a couple different apartments where maintenance would come through every 6 months or so to check air filters, fire alarms, window screens, etc. It was part of regular maintenance of the building. I appreciated it and didn’t feel it was at all intrusive since it’s done so infrequently and generally during the day when I’m at work. If you don’t have a bike in your unit (which you responded that you don’t) and this isn’t a regular occurrence, I’m not sure what the big deal is.

    • Yeah, same here….but those notices always spelled out exactly what was being fixed or what needed to be checked.

      • Since they’re rennovating other units, maybe they need to check something that’s interconnected like piping. Maybe it’s something that’s too complicated to explain on a sign.

  • sounds like he gave you a few days notice. that’s reasonable. you lose.

  • “[…]and can do regular inspections when giving notice.”

    I think OP answered OP’s question, though most leases specify the amount of time between a notice and the inspection.

  • I guess it’s not unreasonable, although personally the random inspection feels a bit weird and intrusive to me. Then again, I came here from New York, so I’m used to living in ignored rent-stabilized buildings where tenants had to beg, wheedle, and harass to get the landlord into our units, so…my perspective might be slightly skewed. 🙂

  • Have you considered that there is a correlation between his caring enough to inspect for bikes and the place being so well-maintained? If you feel like you’re in prison, try living in a place where the landlord lets the tenants do whatever they want and just takes their checks. You can enjoy your freedom along with broken appliances and critters.

    • I would have loved to have lived in an apartment where the landlord cared about the place and took measures to catch small problems (that the tenants might not have known or cared about) before they grew out of control. The OP doesn’t realize how lucky they are!

      I’m not sure there’s a correlation between the bike rule and the inspection, since they’re giving advance notice and anyone with an illegally located bike can just move it out. If you want to know what he’s really doing in there, why don’t you ask? Say, “Hey, I want to know what you’re inspecting tomorrow so I can move my stuff around to give you easier access.”

    • +1

      Exactly. Just because you don’t particularly like a rule doesn’t mean it’s illegal or unjustified. He gave you notice for the inspection per the lease. End of story. You describe a dream apartment yet proceed to complain about your frustration that your landlord may legally discover your violation of the building rules. Good stuff.

  • Sounds like the OP takes issue with the intrusion/inspection, not the no-bike rule.
    But, for what it’s worth, all residential buildings over 10 units must provide adequate and secure bike storage to tenants. If the landlord has outlawed bikes in the building and is not providing storage elsewhere (inside or outside on the property) then the landlord is in violation of DC law.

  • thebear

    Under the law, a landlord can enter and inspect their property for any reason as long as it’s done with advance notice and at a reasonable time of day.

    As for whether bikes are “legal” is a different matter. That falls under administrative law since a lease and any accompanying documents (such as a “Community Rules” attachment) constitute a civil contract. As long as something in said contract does not violate or contradict federal or local law, its terms and conditions are valid and enforceable. While bicycles are lawful items, it is within a property owner’s rights to restrict where they may be brought or placed on their property…anyone covered by that lease is required to comply.

    If the landlord claims a violation of the lease, they must give reasonable notice to remedy. Failure to remedy gives the landlord the right to pursue legal action.

    Aside from looking for contraband, the landlord could well be inspecting for problems that must be corrected to avoid being cited by the city for violations. DCRA is performing inspections of every rental property in town and a smart landlord won’t give them (or tenants) anything to complain about.

  • The wings & mambo sauce at Lucky Carryout are pretty f**king awesome. Steak & cheese isn’t bad either. Try them next time you go to Wisdom for cocktails or Trustys for a beer. Tell em Monkey sent ya! They’ll shrug and call the police.

    • Do they allow bikes there?

    • Meh, their sauce is more sweet and sour than mambo, but after downing PBR’s at trusty’s and absinthe at Wisdom who the hell cares! And they will let you rent the bikes in the window as part of the Lucky Carryout bikeshare program.

  • Right…. unit inspections = prison. I hope you can see what a ridiculous statement that is now that its posted on the internet.

    Inspections are normal events in well maintained buildings and he is following the provisions of your lease. In fact its not clear from your description that the inspections have anything to do with bicycles being in the building.

    From everything else you’ve said it sounds like your landlord is great. Just be thankful he cares enough to inspect the building for problems and is keeping your rent reasonable. Many landlords aren’t like that.

  • Already pointed out by others but I think it’s worth repeating the following:

    From what the OP has said I can’t see any connection between the “no-bikes” rule and the fact that the landlord is doing an inspection. Either OP has omitted something or is wrongly connecting unrelated items.

    From what the OP has said, it seems that the landlord is better than many and is playing fair (or at least by the mutually agreed book.) Not sure what there is to complain about here.

  • I don’t know that they can ban bikes, it’d be fun to challenge in court. While landlords can ban smoking, other incendiary things (candles, barbecues, combustion engines, gasoline, flammables), and pets, I don’t think they can do much more than that without crossing into some gray areas about discrimination.

    Any tenant law people out there know?

    • “I don’t think they can do much more than that without crossing into some gray areas about discrimination.”

      It’s a bike, not a race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. Now if he only banned black bikes, or bikes without a crossbar, you might be talking discrimination.

  • Is this a serious question? According to the lease, your LL can do routine inspections if given notice, which it appears that your LL has done. Your LL takes pride in the units and the building, which is the very reason that your LL no longer wants bikes, since people can be careless when bringing them in/out and damage walls, etc. Makes reasonable and good sense. Everything has bee outlined. No your likening your LL’s inspection (even when done correctly with the proper notice) as to living in a prison. Do you even know what living in a prison would be like? If you did, you might not use that for hyperbole. Seriously, it sounds like you have a good situation.

  • Can’t you slipcover the bike or hide it under the sheets on the bed? “My skinny cousin Angie is visiting but it’s okay to come in, she’s sleeping now.

  • I used to live in a (much smaller) building where the rent included a monthly cleaning service. It was quite clear, though unspoken, that the cleaner (who did a FAB job) was also a spy for the landlord, making sure we hadn’t moved in a waterbed or started breeding ferrets. (This was in addition to the annual smoke alarm/ furnace filter etc maintenance.) Wouldn’t it be awesome if more landlords went about their inspections this way? Landlord gets regular info on what’s happening inside, tenants get a valuable service.

  • Seriously? A live-in prison?? You don’t own the unit, you’re leasing it. The terms of the lease seem quite clear. Be grateful that you live in a nice, well-maintained, low-cost place and leave your bikes parked outside.

  • If things don’t work out, you could always move back into your parent’s home, which may or may not be cool

  • “A live-in prison”?!? How freaking dramatic can you be?

  • In a city with a lot of bike theft such as DC, it would make me nervous to leave my bike locked outside all the time. Hope the landlord is providing some safe bike parking/storage space if bikes are not allowed in the units.

  • Buy yourself a Dahon folding bicycle and this issue is moot.

  • I suspect I know this building (Florida Ave) and this landlord. The landlord is within his rights (to ban bikes and to enter your apartment without notice) and you can fight it but it is going to take a lot of time. I went to DC Office of the Tenant Advocate and they sent a strongly worded note which helped the landlord to identify me as a “troublemaker” but didn’t stop the ban on bikes or the random inspections. The reality is he has keys to your apartment and he can come in at any time and that can start to make a person feel unsafe in their own home. I would start looking for a new place.

    • I’m having trouble understanding your rationale about LL having keys to your apartment and therefore feeling unsafe; therefore, person should move. The LL had (or should have had keys to all apartments in bldg, as per lease) so that in the case of an emergency they can access your apartment. You know this, or should, when signing a lease and moving into a rental. Did you start feeling unsafe suddenly because you went to complain/question your rights as a tenant and then the LL received notice that was able to identify *you* as a troublemaker and hence, now you feel unsafe? I just don’t get the order of events you outlined here.

      • I suspect that the reason that Rachel is uneasy is that, although landlords have keys to apartments and have the right to enter apartments, most landlords would do so only rarely, and only in order to perform maintenance or in response to some kind of emergency.

        It’s one thing if your landlord has the right to enter your apartment. It’s another if he/she chooses to exercise that right on a frequency that makes you uncomfortable.

        • If it’s the same LL, it appears for the original letter writer that that LL gives written notice about when entering an apartment and doesn’t just do random unannounced inspections. The reality, though, of renting is that LL’s typically do have keys to their units, so if that situation makes you feel uneasy, what other options would a person have other than to buy and own a place? I’m not being snarky but that’s a difficult situation to be in. I could understand that there are probably some LL’s that might take advantage or are creepy and that situation would make me feel really uncomfortable. But hopefully as a renter you can do your best to vet out those potential bad seeds.

        • thebear

          As I said in an earlier posting, THE LAW IN DC is that landlords (or someone they designate) may enter apartments at any time, for any reason, WITH ADVANCE NOTICE. The exception is in case of an emergency like a broken pipe. All leases contain language that states that the tenant agrees to such access.

          If you have proof of a landlord or staff entering your apartment without proper notice and not in conjunction with an actual emergency, then you need to send them written notice (certified mail) that such conduct is a violation of both the terms of the lease and the law and they are to immediately cease and desist. Request they acknowledge in writing that they understand and will comply. If that doesn’t do it, then call the cops on them for unlawful entry and get in touch with the Office of the Tenant Advocate.

      • I know that having access to your apartment is part of the renting deal. The unsafe feeling comes when your relationship with your landlord turns sour. Then you realize that all the tenants’ rights in the world can’t prevent your landlord from entering your apartment unannounced – when you are home alone or while you are gone. I did not feel safe “suddenly,” I felt unsafe after being systematically targeted for “inspections” and then having the locks changed on my apartment while I was out of town thus preventing my pet sitter from entering my apartment to feed my animal. In my case, the bike ban was the beginning of the cycle so I am just advising caution. There are plenty of good landlords. Go find a place where they allow bikes and provide written and regular notice of entry.

        • Rachel, I thought the law in DC is that while a landlord may enter a unit at any time, they may do so with advance notice, unless in the case of an emergency. I’m not sure on how much notice is required (24 hours is decent and what many other states, though not all, as it varies from state-to-state) but maybe someone can answer as to what the requisite amount of time is in DC related to giving tenants advance notice to entering an apartment.

  • So can a landlord choose to ban whatever he/she decides to ban? Can they ban alcohol?

    I’d assume that these inspections are limited to examining safety and infrastructure and that the landlord can’t go through your underwear drawer and bathroom cabinets.

    • There’s a big difference between a landlord not wanting bikes to go through hallways where they damage walls, stairs and going through your underwear drawer. Please understand the difference. If it’s the former, the tenant is causing damage to the property. If it’s the latter, then you have bigger issues as a tenant.

    • What’s hard to understand – some apartment rentals allow pets, some do not. Some animals cause problems or damage places, so that is why some landlords do not allow pets.

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