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When can a landlord change the locks? A state-by-state breakdown

Installing a safe and secure landlord lock is part of a landlord’s responsibility to provide a safe and habitable home for their tenant’s. This means that, as well as providing a comfortable residence that is well maintained, free of mold and pests, the security of the property also must be considered.

A key concern (excuse the pun) for rental property security is the locks. What happens if the key is compromised? Should locks be changed between tenanciesAnd what locks are the best for each kind of rental? In this article, we discuss the best landlord lock and the circumstances in which a landlord or tenant may need to change the locks alongside the various state guidelines regarding the matter.

Landlord locks and the landlord’s responsibility for tenant safety

When it comes to thinking about the security and safety of your tenants the landlord lock is probably one of the first things that come to mind. In order for your rental property to be deemed safe, all locks (front door, back door and building if your property is a multi-unit) must be secure and functioning and both you and the tenant must have the ability to open or close them.

In most states, it is never acceptable or legal to lock a tenant out of the property for any reason, even if you are in the midst of eviction proceedings or if rent hasn’t been paid for a long period of time. This is generally deemed a “self-help” eviction and is illegal.

Furthermore, if you do not change the locks when it is your responsibility to do so, you may end up facing legal action for failing to provide a safe rental.

When you might need to change the landlord lock

Properly functioning landlord lock will not only provide protection and peace of mind for your tenants, but will also reduce the likelihood of break-ins and subsequent damage. It’s in your best interest (and your tenants) to change the locks when needed.

There are a few different circumstances in which you may need to change the locks on your property. These are:

  • Between tenancies
  • If the lock is broken or is no longer functioning properly
  • If the tenant has changed the lock without your permission and not given you a key
  • If the keys have gone missing or are in the wrong hands
  • If there has been a security breach
  • If your tenant is a victim of domestic violence or stalking (whether or not the perpetrator lives in the same building)

When should a tenant change the locks?

In most circumstances, the landlord will be liable to pay for the cost of changing the locks. However, if the tenant has taken it upon themselves to change the locks without the permission of the landlord, or if they have lost the keys, they will need to foot the bill themselves.

While the tenant may be living in the rental property full-time, the landlord needs to retain a means of entering it, should they need to carry out an inspection when the tenant is not home, or in the case of an emergency. This does not mean that the landlord can enter the property without proper notice.

Are there alternatives to traditional locks?

If you have a high tenant turnover and you live in a state that requires you to change the locks every time a new tenant moves in (or run a short term rental), replacing the locks can become a big expense on your part. If you’re looking for a more cost-effective but still secure method of changing locks, there are a couple of other options available:

Rekeyable landlord lock

Some landlord locks, like the KwikSet lock, allow you to re-key the same lock with a new set of keys. You can effectively ‘wipe’ the memory of the lock between tenancies.

This means that you do not need to change the whole lock every time. The downside of this type of lock is that you do need to be able to change it in person, which means it may not work for landlords who are managing out-of-state rentals.

Smart landlord lock

Technology is taking the rental industry into the future with more end-to-end property management solutions, energy efficient appliances and smart security measures.

As well as doorbell cameras and sensors, digital smart locks can be managed by your smartphone and do not need to be replaced entirely between tenancies. Keypad locks also negate the need for keys, adding an extra layer of security as you do not need to worry about rogue keys.

As well as being easily updated, smart locks can be managed remotely, making them ideal for landlords with a high tenant turnover or with out-of-state properties.

Related: What’s The Best Lock For A Rental Property?

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When can a landlord change the locks?: State-by-state

Now that we’ve established the different circumstances in which a lock may need to be changed, let’s get into the state guidelines for landlords. As legislation does vary, it pays to familiarize yourself with your local law to ensure you are operating within the guidelines. Note that it is not legal for landlords to change the locks as a means of forcing an eviction. Many states, however, do not have explicit guidelines regarding a landlord changing the locks between tenancies. Nonetheless, it is highly recommended that this is done when necessary to protect the safety and security of your new tenant.

Alabama

No specific provisions regarding the changing of locks. It’s assumed that tenants can change the locks if they feel threatened but must tell the landlord first.

Alaska

Tenants must obtain permission from the landlord before changing the lock, unless there is an emergency. If locks are changed due to an emergency, new keys must be given to the landlord within 5 days.

Arizona

Tenants must obtain permission from the landlord before changing the lock. The tenant must pay for the lock to be changed.

Arkansas

Tenants or landlords can change the lock in the event of the tenant being the victim of domestic violence. This is at the tenant’s expense.

California

Tenants may change the locks without obtaining permission from the landlord. This does not mean that the tenant can prevent the landlord from entering the property under reasonable circumstances. Tenants can change the locks in the event of domestic violence.

Colorado

Other than landlords being forbidden to change the locks as a way of evicting tenants, there are no specific provisions regarding the changing of locks.

Connecticut

Other than landlords being forbidden to change the locks as a way of evicting tenants, there are no specific provisions regarding the changing of locks.

Delaware

Tenants may not change locks without the landlord’s written permission. They can change the locks in the event of an emergency. The landlord must be given notice and the new keys within five days.

Florida

Other than landlords being forbidden to change the locks as a way of evicting tenants, there are no specific provisions regarding the changing of locks.

Georgia

Tenants may change the locks and keep the keys, unless the lease specifies otherwise. They may be liable for damage payments if they do not change the locks back or provide the landlord with a new key.

Hawaii

Other than landlords being forbidden to change the locks as a way of evicting tenants, there are no specific provisions regarding the changing of locks.

Idaho

Other than landlords being forbidden to change the locks as a way of evicting tenants, there are no specific provisions regarding the changing of locks.

Illinois

Tenants can request that the locks be changed in the event of domestic violence. Landlords must change the locks between tenancies if they live in a county of more than 3 million people.

Indiana

Tenants can request that the locks be changed in the event of domestic violence.

Iowa

Tenants may be allowed to change the locks unless the lease agreement specifies otherwise.

Kansas

Other than landlords being forbidden to change the locks as a way of evicting tenants, there are no specific provisions regarding the changing of locks.

Kentucky

Landlords cannot change locks without the permission of tenants. Tenants are discouraged from changing locks, although they are not legally prevented from doing so.

Louisiana

Tenants may be allowed to change the locks unless the lease agreement specifies otherwise.

Maine

Tenants and landlords both need explicit permission from the other party, should they want to change the locks.

Maryland

Tenants may be allowed to change the locks unless the lease agreement specifies otherwise.

Massachusetts

Tenants may be allowed to change the locks as long as they get permission from the landlord first. They can also request that the landlord changes the locks in the event of domestic violence.

Michigan

Other than landlords being forbidden to change the locks as a way of evicting tenants, there are no specific provisions regarding the changing of locks.

Minnesota

Tenants may be allowed to change the locks unless the lease agreement specifies otherwise.

Mississippi

Landlords may change the locks without permission or notice. Tenants may be able to change locks without permission.

Missouri

No specific provisions regarding the changing of locks. Tenants may be able to change the locks without permission.

Montana

Tenants and landlords both need explicit permission from the other party, should they want to change the locks.

Nebraska

Other than landlords being forbidden to change the locks as a way of evicting tenants, there are no specific provisions regarding the changing of locks.

Nevada

Other than landlords being forbidden to change the locks as a way of evicting tenants, there are no specific provisions regarding the changing of locks.

New Hampshire

Landlords must obtain the tenant’s permission before changing locks. The tenant may request a lock change in the event of domestic violence. The landlord is liable to pay for this.

New Jersey

Tenants can change the locks if the lease agreement allows it.

New Mexico

Other than landlords being forbidden to change the locks as a way of evicting tenants, there are no specific provisions regarding the changing of locks.

New York

Other than landlords being forbidden to change the locks as a way of evicting tenants, there are no specific provisions regarding the changing of locks.

North Carolina

Tenants may request a lock change in the event of domestic violence. If the landlord does not comply, the tenant may change the locks themselves as long as they provide the landlord with a new key within 2 days.

North Dakota

Other than landlords being forbidden to change the locks as a way of evicting tenants, there are no specific provisions regarding the changing of locks.

Ohio

Other than landlords being forbidden to change the locks as a way of evicting tenants, there are no specific provisions regarding the changing of locks.

Oklahoma

Tenants can change the locks if the lease agreement allows it.

Oregon

Tenants can change the locks if the lease agreement allows it. In the event of domestic violence, the tenant can request a lock change by the landlord. The tenant must cover the cost.

Pennsylvania

Tenants may be able to change the locks as long as they have permission from the landlord first.

Rhode Island

Tenants may be able to change the locks as long as they have permission from the landlord first.

South Carolina

Tenants may not change the locks without permission from the landlord.

South Dakota

Other than landlords being forbidden to change the locks as a way of evicting tenants, there are no specific provisions regarding the changing of locks.

Tennessee

Other than landlords being forbidden to change the locks as a way of evicting tenants, there are no specific provisions regarding the changing of locks.

Texas

Tenants must get permission from the landlord before changing locks. Landlords may change the locks under certain circumstances.

Utah

Tenants may request that the locks are changed by the landlord if they have documentation to show that they are the victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking or burglary.

Vermont

Other than landlords being forbidden to change the locks as a way of evicting tenants, there are no specific provisions regarding the changing of locks.

Virginia

Other than landlords being forbidden to change the locks as a way of evicting tenants, there are no specific provisions regarding the changing of locks.

Washington

Tenants may request that the locks are changed by the landlord if they have proof to show that they are the victim of domestic violence. They can also request additional locks, at their own expense.

West Virginia

Tenants may be able to change the locks without permission from the landlord first.

Wisconsin

Tenants may change the locks or request that they are changed if they or a child is in danger.

Wyoming

Landlords can change the locks without permission or notice. It is assumed that tenants cannot change the locks without permission.

Final words

Properly functioning locks are integral to the safety and security of your tenants and the property itself. Nonetheless, you will need to ensure that you are within your rights when you wish to change the locks. The same applies to tenants, as the law varies depending on what state the rental property is in.

Disclaimer

“We hope you found this blog interesting! However, do note that the information in this article does not constitute advice. This blog is for general informational and educational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for competent legal and/or other advice from a licensed professional.”

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Ben Luxon

Ben is the editor and lead writer for Landlord Studio. He has worked with real estate professionals all over the world and written educational articles on tech, real estate, and financial growth for sites such as Forbes, TechBullion, and Business Magazine.

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