Can a Landlord Change the Locks?

Can a Landlord Change the Locks?

Being a landlord means having a relationship with your tenants. But you also must balance this relationship with protecting and managing your investment.

One way to ensure that your rental property stays safe is to change the locks. However, if you have tenants living in your rental unit, changing the locks is not as simple as calling the locksmith.

This article will dive into various situations where landlords can (and cannot) change the locks.

Can a Landlord Change the Locks?
Yes, but only under certain circumstances, such as vacancy, abandonment, legal eviction, tenant notification, and voluntary departure. In other cases, changing the locks may constitute an illegal eviction. We will discuss these situations later.

Can a Landlord Have a Key to Their Rentals?
Yes, landlords can hold a set of keys for their rental properties. In most cases, having an extra set is necessary for various situations, including:

  • Inspecting the Property
  • Conducting Repairs and Maintenance
  • Assisting Locked Out Tenants
  • Accessing the Property During an Emergency (e.g., fire or burst pipe)

That said, states have specific laws regarding a landlord's notice of entry. For example, landlords must notify tenants at least 12 hours before coming into a rental property in Florida.

Can a Landlord Change the Locks on a Tenant?
As we mentioned, there are only a few situations where a landlord can change the locks on a tenant:

  • If the renter abandons the property
  • If the tenant leaves voluntarily
  • If the landlord legally evicts the tenant and has provided an eviction notice and waited the proper amount of time
  • If the landlord has notified the tenant that they plan to change locks and provide the tenants with a copy of the keys

Under other circumstances, you must provide written notice of any lock changes. Otherwise, preventing a tenant from entering the premises could be an illegal lockout.

Can a Landlord Change the Locks Whenever They Want?
A landlord cannot change the locks while someone is living on the property. The only way is to provide written notice and copies of the new keys to the tenant. Otherwise, the property may be illegally locked, triggering a lawsuit.

When Can a Landlord Change the Locks?
As we mentioned, there are a few instances when landlords can change the locks, such as:

  • Vacancy. If no tenants are living in the rental property, landlords can change the locks at any time.
  • Abandonment. The tenant has not paid rent, and it looks like they have left the property. If a tenant has not paid on time, has not given written notice, and there are no signs of them, they may have abandoned the property.

    Check your state and local laws as landlord-tenant laws vary.
  • Voluntary Departure. You can change the locks if the tenant decides to leave voluntarily.
  • Proper Notice. If you need to change the locks for whatever reason, you can. But you must provide adequate notice to the tenants about said changes and provide them copies of the keys.

Can a Landlord Change the Locks with the Tenant's Property Inside?
There are a couple of legal situations where this might happen, and the rules differ for each one.

  • Abandonment. If the tenant abandons their rental property without notice, they may lose rights to their belongings. The rules regarding abandoned property differ in each state. However, you do not have to notify the tenant.
  • Eviction. Some states require landlords to make efforts to return belongings to evicted tenants. Other states give much more flexibility.
  • Voluntary Departure. Whether you terminated the lease, or the renter moved out, you must notify them of any left property. However, most states offer maximum flexibility on what you can do with these items.
  • Proper Notice. You have a right to have keys to your rental. If you are changing the locks because the tenant changed them on you or the lock broke, you can fix or change the lock, so you have a copy of the key and the master key. You must give your tenants notice and copies of the new keys.

Can the Landlord Change the Locks of a Deceased Family Member?
If a tenant dies, you must follow strict procedures before doing anything. While the specifics can change by state, the process usually goes like this:

  • First, notify the next of kin. Get documentation about the deceased (i.e., a death certificate), and let family members know.
  • Second, after your death notice to the family, you can change the locks and secure the premises. However, you cannot remove any property at this point.
  • Next, you work with the estate's executor to handle any personal belongings left in the unit.
  • If the tenant still has time on the lease, it is up to the estate to terminate the lease or continue payments. Do not accept any money until probate settles.
  • Finally, once the lease ends, you can clean and re-rent the property.

Can You Lock Out a Tenant for Not Paying Rent?
No, tenants have rights, and locking them out violates those rights. Furthermore, locking a tenant out for any reason is illegal and can be costly. So, even if the renter does not pay the rent, the rule applies.

Instead, landlords must follow eviction processes before changing the locks on a tenant living on the premises. Taking matters into one's own hands will often end in legal disaster, regardless of the circumstances. Usually, the renter will sue the landlord for damages and will win.

Instead, the landlord can start legal eviction proceedings or choose to terminate the lease. Lease termination may require a 30-day notice for the renter to leave the premises. The landlord can also try to get a court order to have the tenant leave. Also, keep in mind that tenants have more rights under the rent control rule, so these cases can be complicated.

Can the Landlord Change the Locks Because of a Late Payment?
No, landlords cannot change the locks as "retaliation" for any misconduct, including nonpayment of rent. Even the destruction of property or harassment does not give landlords the right to lock tenants out.

Can Landlords Lock Tenants Out of the Laundry Room?
Landlords can lock a tenant out of a laundry room only if the laundry room is a "discretionary amenity." In some cases, laundry room hours are posted on the door or in the lease agreement. So, locking the room within these hours may cause legal problems. Without these restrictions listed in the agreement, landlords cannot lock the laundry room.

What Consequences Do Landlords Face for Locking Tenants Out of a Rental?
If you lock a tenant out without going through the eviction process, you will face financial penalties. These penalties depend on your state laws. Some states impose harsher fines and fees, but all states allow renters to sue for damages. In some situations, renters may call the police to file charges and a report against the landlord.

Illegal Eviction Compensation
You can check out the different illegal eviction penalties here. For example, in Alabama, renters can sue for three months' rent or actual damages, whichever is greater. In Kansas, the amount is 1.5 months’ rent or actual damages.

Can a Landlord Change Locks After an Eviction Notice?
Yes, but only after the eviction notice expires. The timeframe depends on the state.

For example, Florida landlords have three days. In Arkansas, landlords can change the locks five days after an eviction notice.

In some cases, landlords can evict a tenant much faster under specific circumstances. For example, in Arizona, if a renter does anything illegal (e.g., drug dealing), the notice can be 24 hours.

Unless the tenant rectifies the situation within the period, landlords can change the locks. In addition, some states allow landlords to evict tenants with no chance of recourse.

Can a Landlord Change the Locks Before an Eviction?
No, they cannot. Landlords cannot change the locks until the eviction notice ends. Otherwise, the tenant can sue for damages.

Lock Change Notice to Tenants
Sometimes, the landlord must change the locks while tenants are living on the property. For example, if there is a break-in or an old tenant still has the keys. In these situations, the landlord must notify the tenants of the change and provide copies of the key. There are not any strict regulations about how much time to warn renters, but the more, the better.

Can a Landlord Change Locks After the Lease is Up?
Yes, assuming the tenant moves out, a landlord can change the locks after a lease is up. However, if the renter does not leave, landlords must follow eviction protocols. Otherwise, they can get sued for damages.

Do Landlords Have to Change Locks Between their Tenants?
Most states do not require landlords to change locks between tenants.

The Old Tenant Still Has Keys
In this situation, it is up to the landlord to change the locks. Sometimes, new tenants will request a lock change. In those cases, the landlord may charge the new renters for the costs. However, these circumstances must be part of the lease agreement.

Can a Tenant Change the Locks Without their Landlord's Permission?
The answer depends on the state. Some states require tenants to notify the landlord of any lock changes. In some instances, renters do not have to inform them beforehand, like in California.

Otherwise, it is up to landlords to prohibit lock changes in the lease agreement. If a tenant breaks this agreement, the landlord can charge them for a lock change once the lease ends.

Can a Tenant Break-In Illegally if the Landlord Changed the Locks?
No, tenants also must follow eviction protocols, even if the landlord locks them out. So, if a renter breaks into the property, they can still be arrested for it. Instead, renters may call the local police to report an illegal lockout.

Are Landlords Responsible for Door Locks?
Yes, landlords must make sure that door locks are in good working order. If the tenant breaks the door lock, the landlord may be able to charge for repairs. However, if a lock breaks on its own, the landlord must fix it out of pocket.

Does Landlord Insurance Cover Door Locks?
Yes, landlord insurance does cover door locks since they are part of the rental dwelling. However, you can only file a claim if the damage occurred because of a named peril. For example, if someone breaks in and theft is part of your policy.

If you have an open perils policy, all damage is covered except anything caused by a peril excluded from the policy. You can see if you have an open perils policy on your declarations page. Most DP3 policies are standard landlord insurance policies, and they have open peril coverage for the rental house, and its doors and locks.

Also, keep in mind that structural damage gets paid at replacement cost value (RCV). So, you do not have to worry about depreciation or actual cost value (ACV), although your dwelling deductible will apply.

Weigh the difference between your dwelling deductible and the cost of the lock change. Why? Filing a claim could increase your premiums and hurt your insurance score.

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Hope that helps!

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At your service,
Young Alfred