A Landlord’s Guide to Changing the Locks on a Rental Property

By 5 min read • September 25, 2023
Old keys hanging on a wooden panel to symbolise lock changes.

If you’re contemplating the legality of changing the locks on your rental property, the answer isn’t black and white. It depends on your motivations for changing them and whether you’ve notified your tenants.

As a landlord, ensuring that your rental property is safe and secure for tenants is one of your key responsibilities. The locks on your rental property serve as its frontline defence, safeguarding your property, your tenants, and their possessions. Maintaining these locks is crucial to fulfilling this responsibility.

There are some circumstances when changing the locks may be necessary. This article will explore the legal conditions under which you can make such changes.

Reasons a Landlord May Legally Change the Locks on a Property

It should go without saying that you should not change the locks on a rental property without first informing your tenants and giving them reasonable notice of doing so.

You should also have a legitimate reason for doing so. It’s important to note that locks should never be changed maliciously to lock a tenant out of their home – even if you have fallen out with the tenant or they have breached the terms of their contract.

If you believe that the current locks could be compromised or are not doing their job of keeping the property secure, then this is a good reason for changing them. After all, keeping your rental property secure is one of your primary responsibilities as a landlord.

Some common reasons for changing the locks on a rental property include:

  • The previous tenants did not hand in all the keys to the property.
  • The previous tenant was disreputable.
  • To increase security between tenancies.
  • The lock is damaged or broken.
  • There has been a recent break-in or attempted break-in.
  • To upgrade to a better quality lock.
  • The tenant requested it due to security concerns.

When it comes to changing the locks on a property, it’s important to always communicate transparently with tenants about why you wish to change them and the timeline for doing so to maintain a harmonious and trusting relationship.

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Illegal Reasons for Changing the Locks on a Rental Property

If you’ve got an anti-social tenant who is causing problems, has stopped paying their rent, or has otherwise breached their contract, it can drive you to desperate measures; we get it.

Handling a difficult tenant can be extremely distressing and stressful, and you’ll want them out of your property as soon as possible.

However, it’s important to go about it the right way. So, take a deep breath and learn more about the correct process for evicting a tenant.

The Protection from Eviction Act 1977 gives tenants the right to remain in possession of their homes and prevents landlords from unlawfully evicting them.

Changing the locks whilst the tenant was out, is at the top of the list of unlawful evictions. If you resort to changing the locks to evict a tenant, then they could bring a claim against you for compensation for unlawful eviction.

If you need to evict a tenant from your property, you must follow the correct legal process, i.e. serve them a Section 8 or Section 21 notice under the Housing Act 1988 to obtain a court order possession.

This also applies if a tenant gives notice and fails to leave the property – you still need to get a possession order.

Otherwise, you can only change the locks once the tenant has vacated the property or if you have a good reason for doing so and have given them reasonable notice.

Are Landlords Legally Required to Change the Locks Between Tenancies?

Okay, so landlords are not legally required to change the locks on rental properties between tenancies. But that’s not to say that it’s not a good idea.

According to an article on the This is Money website, recent research by Direct Line found that most landlords do not change the locks on properties between tenancies, even if not all the keys have been returned.

Now, one of your key responsibilities as a landlord is to ensure that your rental property is safe for tenants. If there’s a possibility that someone unauthorised could enter the property using a key, then this poses a safety risk to your investment, your tenants, and their belongings.

A secure rental property is required to validate your landlord insurance, and your tenants could find their contents insurance policies void if items are stolen or damaged and there is no sign of forced entry.

While changing the locks between tenancies may not be a legal requirement, it is certainly worth considering, as it can improve your rental property’s security and offer both you and your tenants peace of mind.

Are There any Exceptions to These Rules?

These rules apply to most tenancies but not all. There are a few exceptions to the rule.

In the following circumstances, the landlord only needs to give the tenant reasonable notice before changing the locks. This applies if:

  • You are a resident landlord who shares facilities with your tenant (or a family member does).
  • Your tenant is not paying any rent for their accommodation.
  • Your tenant booked your accommodation for a holiday.

Once the notice has elapsed, the landlord can legally change the property’s locks.

Can Tenants Change the Locks on Their Rented Accommodation?

While it is unusual for tenants to decide to change the locks on a property, it can sometimes happen.

If you don’t want your tenants changing the locks without cause, you can insert a clause in the tenancy agreement that states that tenants are prohibited from doing so without gaining your consent first.

After all, there are some circumstances under which a tenant may have a legitimate reason for wanting to change the locks on the property.

However, it is also very important that if they do so, you are aware of the change and they provide you with a copy of the new key. This is absolutely crucial as you need to be able to access the property in the event of an emergency and to carry out maintenance and repairs.

Some circumstances where it may be deemed justified for a tenant to change the locks include:

The landlord keeps entering the property without giving notice.

Tenants have a statutory right to “quiet enjoyment” of their home, and the law states that landlords cannot enter the property without giving notice and obtaining the tenant’s permission. If you regularly turn up at the property unannounced, it could be construed as harassment and deemed within the tenant’s rights to change the locks.

There is a security risk

If the tenant feels that their security is at risk because of a broken or faulty lock or a lost or stolen key and you don’t act quickly enough to fix the problem, they are within their right to change the locks to protect their safety.

What Steps can Landlords Take to Improve Lock Security?

Maintaining the locks on your rental property to a high standard can help prevent security breaches and the requirement to change the locks.

We’ve compiled some tips and advice to help prevent you from running into any problems with the locks on your rental property.

Perform Regular Property Maintenance Inspections

One key part of the property that landlords should always inspect thoroughly during a routine property inspection is the windows and doors. Inspecting the locks regularly allows you to check their condition and ensure they are in good working order.

Use a Registered Key System

A registered key system uses restricted security keys that cannot be duplicated without an order signed by a stipulated signatory. This eliminates the risk of tenants making duplicates of keys that landlords do not know about and then not handing them all back at the end of the tenancy. Registered key systems also often use keys that open multiple doors, meaning tenants need fewer keys, and so there is less chance of issues with lost keys.

Upgrade to Smart Locks

Want to eliminate the need for keys altogether? Smart locks use Wi-Fi or Bluetooth technology to lock and unlock the door using fingerprint scanning, voice recognition, or mobile apps. They also offer many other security features, including the functionality to connect with other smart devices in your home, home security notifications to your phone, and auto-locking. Understanding the laws surrounding changing locks on a rental property is important to managing a secure and lawful tenancy. Knowing your and your tenant’s obligations regarding changing the locks can help mitigate the risk of disputes and legal complications later down the line.

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