Most tenants do not routinely change the locks in their rental home, but you should be aware that it can and does happen on occasion, especially in aggravated eviction cases. Read on to find out whether your tenant is justified in changing the locks and what you can do about it.
Why Tenants are not Allowed (Usually) to Change the Locks
Landlords have certain statutory obligations they must fulfil. These include ensuring a rental property is safe for tenants, which means conducting regular boiler checks and making sure smoke alarms are fully functional. If the tenant isn’t at home, a landlord with a key can let tradespeople in to carry out essential work.
It’s also essential that a landlord has a key in the event of an emergency. For example, if the police need to enter the property to carry out a welfare check and nobody is answering the door, the letting agent or landlord can use the key in their possession.
Imagine there is a reported gas leak and the tenant is on holiday – if you have no key to allow emergency workers fast access to the property it could end up causing damage to both the landlord’s property and the surrounding properties too.
Most standard tenancy agreements clearly state that a tenant is not allowed to make changes to the rental property without the landlord’s permission.
Newsflash: changing the locks is considered a major change.
For the avoidance of doubt, do check your tenancy agreement, just to be sure what it says about changing the locks. Ideally, there should be a clause about making material changes to the property. It’s a good idea to draw your tenant’s attention to this clause if they change the locks and you believe it has been done without justification.
What Happens if a Tenant Changes the Locks?
Unless the tenant can justify their actions – see more below – changing the locks on a rental property without the landlord’s permission is a breach of the tenancy. You should work with your tenant to understand why the locks have been changed and if appropriate you should ask the tenant to provide a new copy of the key to you or the letting agent.
When a Tenant CAN Change the Locks
There are some circumstances where a tenant can argue they were justified in changing the locks. It is a grey area. However, it’s best to ensure you don’t end up ticking any of the following boxes:
The Landlord Keeps Accessing the Property Without Giving Notice
Landlords usually retain a key to their property, so they can enter in an emergency or let the tenant in when they have lost their key). In theory, there’s nothing stopping a landlord from popping over and letting themselves in for a quick look around. However, most landlords understand that tenants have a right to quiet enjoyment of their property and that landlords cannot enter the property without permission obtained with adequate notice.
The right to “quiet enjoyment” is enshrined in law and, therefore, not negotiable or ‘optional’.
Landlords must give reasonable notice to tenants before entering a rental property to carry out repairs or do a routine property inspection.
The law states you cannot enter a tenant’s home without permission unless certain conditions prevail (i.e., it’s an emergency).
If you persist in visiting the property unannounced, whether your intentions are innocent or not, your tenant may feel sufficiently threatened to change the locks to keep you out. Your actions could be construed as harassment. Even if the tenant can’t claim they feel threatened it’s still out of order and a tenant will be within their rights to change the locks to prevent you from entering with no notice and breaching quiet enjoyment.
There is a Security Risk
Tenants have a legitimate reason to change the locks if their keys have been misplaced or stolen, and you, the landlord, don’t move fast enough to call a locksmith. It’s not OK to tell your tenant you’ll sort it out “at some point”. Remember, any insurance policy you or they have will be invalidated if the property cannot be secured.
How Much Does it Cost to Change the Locks?
It’s not a massively expensive job but expect to pay around £85+ to change a standard cylinder lock on a uPVC door. If you need to change the locks out of hours factor in a hefty call-out fee.
Why Would You Need to Claim Damages When a Tenant Changes the Locks?
A professional locksmith knows their stuff and you won’t have a clue if the locks have been changed until that awkward moment when the key doesn’t work.
If, however, a tenant attempts to change the lock themselves and this causes damage to the property (for instance if the door is damaged during lock replacement) you should be able to ask the tenant to cover the cost of making right the damage. This can either be claimed from the deposit if the tenant is moving out, or you can ask the tenant to cover these costs if they are staying in the property long term.
Evicting a Tenant for Changing the Locks
Without access to the property, you can’t do maintenance, carry out inspections or gain access for emergency purposes.
It should go without saying, but if a tenant changes the locks without your permission and isn’t justified in doing so or is refusing to allow you access to conduct essential repairs, your best course of action is to start eviction proceedings. You can read more about evicting your tenant here.
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