If there is one thing landlords need to know, it is about changing the locks. This knowledge has many benefits, including saving you the agony of changing the locks. On one side, you have the right to access your property conveniently. On the other hand, the tenants also have a right to access the space.
There is also the security issue, and the importance of locks in it is indisputable. How does a landlord strike this balance to ensure his rights and tenants’ aren’t infringed after changing the locks? This article is a must-read if you want to know these essential details. It discusses everything landlords need to know about changing the locks, so check it out!
Is it Legal for Landlords to Change Locks?
The landlord is the owner of the property, and that’s indisputable. However, he will go against the law by changing the locks without informing the tenant. Compromising a tenant’s access to a rental space is illegal unless done unintentionally. This restriction goes beyond changing locks. A landlord can’t even remove windows and locks.
However, if the landlord changes the locks and gives the tenants new keys, that’s legal. After all, the tenant’s access to the rental property isn’t jeopardized. That said and done, there are times when the landlord can change the locks without sharing the new keys with the tenant. Landlords need to know about them, and they include the following;
If a Tenant Moves Out
In this case, there is no need to share the new keys with the old tenant since he is vacating the house. Similarly, the new tenant will get the new key and doesn’t need the old one because it turns useless as soon as you change the locks. However, changing the locks at this juncture is important for obvious reasons.
That’s because the old tenant may duplicate the old key before giving it back to the landlord. They may have done it innocently, but the risk can’t be ignored. They may have shared the duplicates with family members or friends for easy access to the house when they were staying there. So, despite returning a key, there are other copies out there. Under such circumstances, other people will still have access to the rental space. That’s unfair to the new tenants since it compromises their privacy, safety, and security.
In other instances, it is a business strategy. It would be best if you created an excellent impression on potential tenants. Old locks that seem unbreakable within seconds aren’t a suitable way of doing so. However, changing the locks increases the chances of convincing the tenant to take up your rental property. It boosts his confidence in the rental space’s privacy, safety, and security. Isn’t that what every renter is looking for in a rental unit? That’s good for your business, too, thus a win-win situation.
Landlords need to know that sharing a key with a new tenant isn’t wise until the signing of the contract is over. They should also get security deposits. After the old tenant leaves and until the old one meets the necessary obligation, thus getting the key, the security of the rental property lies in the hands of the landlord.
Following the Tenants’ Eviction
Landlords are renting their property to tenants as a business. If the latter doesn’t meet his end of the deal, the former may look for alternatives. Most landlords consider changing the locks. As justified as it may sound, landlords need to know that they should follow all the legal steps to avoid getting in trouble. Yes, the tenant owes you, but that doesn’t give you a right to take the law into your hands.
On the contrary, the landlord needs to initiate a legal eviction. Legal processes are in place to guide landlords as they proceed with eviction. Until then, if you change the locks, you will be going against the law.
These legal eviction processes differ from one state to another. For instance, some states require landlords to give tenants a 30-day notice. It should be written and adequately notify the tenant about the termination of the lease. Once the period lapses, but the tenant is still adamant about leaving, that will change the setup. The tenant becomes a trespasser, which changes the rights and actions that can be taken against him.
Nevertheless, that may not be the situation in your state. Landlords need to know their respective states’ legal processes for evicting a tenant. A lawyer is an excellent professional in informing you about this matter.
When a Tenant Leaves Without a Notice
Some tenants are rude enough to leave a rented unit without informing the landlord. To make matters worse, some even leave with the keys. Under such circumstances, it is fair enough that you change the locks. Otherwise, your rental property may not be safe. However, don’t follow the tenant’s footsteps; instead, notify them before changing the locks.
The reason you need to be the bigger person and notify the client is the protection the tenant enjoys due to the lease. It gives him the right to access the house. So, until you confirm that they have left for good, don’t change the locks. Ask them if they are coming back to be sure. The answer should guide you on how to proceed. Ensure the locks stay intact if the lease hasn’t expired.
On the other hand, if they tell you that they won’t return and won’t give the key back either, change the lock. However, landlords need to know that notifying tenants about the change is smart. What if they are unreachable or won’t respond? Better safe than sorry, so avoid acting in this circumstance.
Don’t give up if they don’t get back to you. Continue trying to reach them as long as it is necessary. If they are to incur the change costs, which you will deduct from the security deposit, inform them too. Legally, that only applies if it is in the contract. If, according to the agreement, failure to return the key warrants that, that’s legal, and you can proceed to charge the tenant.
When Does the Law Require Landlords to Change Locks?
We have looked at when the law allows landlords to change locks. It is also good to mention that gone are the days when the law required landlords to change locks between landlords. Whether they choose to do it is up to them. However, there are times when the landlords may have no choice but to change the locks. These instances include;
- If the lock fails to work, but there is no spare
- When the lock is damaged, and the spare isn’t available
- Loss of the key and a spare one is unavailable
These changes will enhance safety and security; this obligation falls under landlords. Landlords need to know that they should give the tenants the new keys as soon as they change those locks.
Landlords may also have to change the locks following a case of domestic violence. Again, these laws depend on the state, but most have this requirement. Some even have a time limit; hence the change should happen within a certain period, often 48 to 72 hours. That’s understandable because the security of a tenant is paramount. In some states, this requirement only applies if the victim and the abuser share the rental property. Regardless of the reason the landlord changes the locks, the tenant incur the cost most of the time.
Can Tenants Change the Locks?
Landlords need to know whether tenants can change locks too. As the landlord, you can decide whether they can do so. You have to state it in the lease agreement. Most landlords prefer to prohibit a tenant from changing them. However, one can make it easy by allowing the tenant to change if they deem fit. Alternatively, you can stipulate when your tenants can change the locks.
As long as a tenant informs you before doing it, that’s fair enough. He should also share the new key as soon as it happens. Whether you want to know the reason they are changing the lock is also up to you. Either way, it is ideal for ensuring that the tenants feel safe.
Take Away: Landlords Need to Know About Changing Locks
Landlords need to know the above information about changing locks since failure can land them in hot soup. Unless under special and legal circumstances, it is illegal for a landlord to deny a tenant access to a rental unit as long as the lease is valid. One way of compromising that is changing the locks. However, if it is inevitable, it is okay to do it as long as you share the new key with the tenant.
In some situations, such as eviction, abandonment, or moving out, handing over the new key is unnecessary. Sometimes, the landlord has no choice but to change the locks. They include loss or damage of the key, damage of the lock, and domestic violence cases. As a landlord, you can decide if and when the tenant can change the lock. At the end of the day, you and the tenant needs to access the property conveniently.
By hiring a law firm, you can understand what landlords need to know about changing the locks better. Lawyers will know how to go about it to avoid legal problems or handle them when unavoidable. They also know the various laws in different states.