With your permission, a tenant may change the locks on your property. However, are they allowed to change locks without permission?
Whilst unusual, occasionally a tenant will take it upon themselves to change the locks of their rental property. This could be because they feel you have breached their privacy, perhaps they feel unsafe in their home, or it could be because of a breakdown in the relationship between yourself and them.
In this article, we take a look at what you need to do to determine if the tenant is justified in changing the locks and what legal recourse you have.
Generally speaking, tenants aren’t allowed to change the locks. Landlords have statutory obligations to ensure the property is safe for habitation. This means conducting regular health and safety inspections for things like electrical and gas appliances.
If the tenant isn’t home, the landlord should have a key available to let tradespeople in to perform essential work and carry out legal inspections. The tenant changing the lock removes the landlord’s ability to perform this duty.
It is also essential for the landlord to have access to the property in the case of an emergency, whether this is to deal with a gas leak or burst pipe. Alternatively, if the police need to carry out a welfare check and nobody is answering the door, the letting agent or landlord can then use the key in their possession.
As such, most standard tenancy agreements will stipulate clearly when and how the landlord is allowed to use their key. Additionally, it should stipulate that the tenant cannot make major changes to the property without the landlord’s permission. And of course, changing the lock is a major change.
It’s always a good idea to draw your tenant’s attention to important clauses in the tenancy agreement to ensure both parties are clear on their roles, responsibilities, and rights throughout the tenancy.
In spite of the above, there are in fact, some circumstances where a tenant can argue they were justified in changing the locks.
While landlords maintain the right to access their property for routine inspections, maintenance, and emergencies, they cannot simply enter the property whenever they want. Proper notice needs to be given to the tenant in writing prior to the landlord entering the property. Tenants have the right to quiet enjoyment of the property and so, apart from in the case of emergencies, landlords cannot enter without permission.
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).
Should the landlord persist in entering the property without adequate notice and should the tenant feel sufficiently threatened, then under these circumstances, it would be justified for them to change the locks to prevent you from entering the property again.
Should a key be lost, stolen, or duplicated and the tenant feels threatened by the party that now has access to their home, they will likely want to get the locks changed for security purposes.
The tenant should first consult with the landlord and request they change the locks, but if you don’t act promptly enough they would be within their rights to get the locks changed themselves. One thing to remember is that your landlord’s insurance policy will also be invalidated should the property not be properly secured, so it is in your best interest to act quickly.
Unless the tenant can justify their actions, changing the locks on the property without the landlord’s permission is a breach of the tenancy agreement and in a worst-case scenario could be cause for eviction.
The first step, however, is to work with your tenant to understand why they changed the lock and ask for them to provide you or the letting agency with a copy of the new key.
Changing the locks isn’t massively expensive. You can expect to pay a locksmith around £100 for a new standard cylinder lock.
Unless the tenant is upfront with you, you likely won’t know that the locks have been changed until you go to enter the property and find your key doesn’t work. If the issue is resolved, the tenant gives you a copy of the key and can justify their actions, then no further action will need to be taken. However, if they caused damage when changing the lock, or you need to change the locks again as the tenant refuses to give you a copy of the key, you may want to consider asking them to cover the costs. In this scenario, it is their responsibility to pay to fix the issue.
The tenant changing the locks without the landlord’s permission is a breach of the tenancy agreement. Without access to the property, you can’t do maintenance, carry out inspections or gain access for emergency purposes. This is both a safety hazard (for which you could end up being liable) and a threat to your investment.
If you cannot resolve the issue with your tenant then your best course of action is to start the eviction proceedings. You can read more about evicting your tenant here.
If you do go down this route, make sure that all evidence is collected, all communications between yourself and your tenant are recorded in writing, and you have made reasonable attempts to resolve the issue without it escalating further.