What ”Normal Business Hours” Means For Property Owners, Tenants, and Real Estate Agents

March 10, 2014

Section 1954, subdivision (b) of the California Civil Code allows a landlord or property owner to enter a leased or rented dwelling to “exhibit the dwelling unit to prospective or actual purchasers.” Such entry may not be made “during other than normal business hours” unless the tenant gives consent, and the tenant must be given proper notice. While 24 hours is presumed to be reasonable notice, what are “normal business hours?” A decision by the California Court of Appeals in August of last year has answered this question.

Dromy v. Lukovsky

In Dromy v. Lukovsky, 219 Cal. App. 4th 278 (2013), landlord/property owner Dromy leased a condominium to tenant Lukovsky in 1994. In 2010, Dromy wished to sell the property and entered into a listing agreement with real estate agent Milstein. Lukovsky permitted Milstein to show the property to prospective purchasers by appointment, but she refused to allow weekend open houses. Dromy filed a declaratory action against Lukovsky in the Superior Court, alleging that Lukovsky’s refusal to allow weekend open houses was frustrating his efforts to sell the property. While the Superior Court ultimately agreed with Dromy, concluding that section 1954 “permits landlords to hold open houses on weekends with reasonable notice,” it sought to establish a schedule reasonable for both parties. The judgment provided as follows: (1) Milstein shall be permitted to hold two open houses per month; (2) open houses may be held on weekend days between 1:00 p.m. and 4:30 p.m.; (3) Dromy’s designated agent shall be present and tenant may be present during any open houses; and (4) Dromy’s designated agent shall provide ten days advance email notice to tenant of proposed open house dates, and tenant shall have 48 hours to acknowledge those dates or provide alternative dates. Lukovsky appealed this judgment and the California Court of Appeals for the Second District affirmed.

In affirming the Superior Court, the California Appeals Court found that section 1954 seeks to balance the competing interests of landlords and tenants. On the one hand, tenants have a right to quiet enjoyment of the property. On the other hand, the landlords have a strong interest in being able to sell their property if they so choose. The Appeals Court found that the Code section’s use of the phrase “normal business hours” is a means of balancing these competing interests, but that the Legislature did not define the phrase. The Court held that the term “normal business hours” means “objectively reasonable hours under the facts and circumstances of the case, keeping in mind the right of tenants to quiet enjoyment and the right of landlords to sell their property” and that the Superior Court’s ruling that Dromy and Milstein can hold open houses two weekends per month, during limited afternoon hours with advanced and proper notice to Lukovsky, was reasonable under the facts and circumstances.

Seek Help from a Real Estate Attorney

The Dromy decision has given property owners and tenants much-needed guidance as to the meaning of “normal business hours.” The decision is also helpful to real estate agents. The Law Office of Kristina M. Reed represents individuals and business in a wide range of real estate matters. Whether handling a litigation matter or negotiating and closing a transaction, Kristina Reed routinely represents both buyers and sellers, agents/brokers, and landlords or tenants. If you have a real estate issue and feel you may need legal help, please contact our office.

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