If you own a rented property one of your prime considerations will be keeping it secure. However, this then raises questions of whose responsibility the security of rented properties is, and what rights landlords and tenants have with respect to things like changing locks or emergency access.
As the landlord you own the property, and so you might assume that you are the only person with the right to carry out major work such as changing the locks. The tenant may feel though that as they live there, and are the ones who need to be secure, that they should have the right to change locks if they feel it’s necessary.
So what should you do as a landlord in order to make sure that you both stay on the right side of the law, and also make ensure the safety and security of both your property and your tenants.
We asked the residential security professionals at Locksmiths Corby to help us through the minefield.
The landlord’s responsibilities
As a landlord you have a responsibility to provide your tenant or tenants with a secure home, free of hazards. While there is no minimum level of security laid down in law, you may find that any insurance you have in place is rendered invalid if you fail to maintain your property. In practice this means that all doors, windows, locks etc. are fit for purpose. They should close properly and have suitable secure locks.
Tenants are advised that they should check that they are happy with the security of a property before signing any tenancy agreement, however you should be proactive in maintaining adequate security across all your rental properties
The tenants’ rights
While you have the responsibility to ensure your property is secure this doesn’t mean that you can control access to the property. This includes giving keys to third parties, such as contractors.
Tenants have a right to be given 24 hours’ notice if a landlord needs to gain entry to a property for any non-emergency reason. If you don’t give the required notice the tenant has the right to refuse access.
If a tenant raises concerns about the security of a property then you should address them quickly and professionally. Doing this will protect you as well as reassuring your tenant.
It goes without saying that you shouldn’t just let yourself into a rental property whenever you feel like. As well as breaching your tenant’s statutory right to live in “quiet enjoyment” you may be opening yourself to accusations of inappropriate behaviour. In addition, if a tenant feels harassed they may be able to legitimately change the locks on your property, which could make things awkward in the future.
Many landlords decide not to hold sets of keys for rental properties – although these can be useful in an emergency – or use an agency to manage the property on their behalf.
Can the tenant change the locks on your property?
Apart from special circumstances, such as those outlined above, in general tenants cannot change the locks on the property they rent.
In most cases changing locks will breach the terms of the tenancy agreement in place. In such a case, you as the landlord will be within your rights to take action against your tenant, which could include eviction.
In some cases, locks are specifically mentioned in the tenancy agreement, but even when they are not, changing locks will in all probability fall under more general prohibitions to making unauthorised changes to the property. Tenants could even be in breach of the law on criminal damage.
Under what circumstances can my tenant change the locks?
The law is a little hazy on this but apart from when a tenant feels harassed by their landlord, there may be some other circumstances when it may be acceptable for them to arrange for the locks to be changed.
Although unusual, clearly if the tenancy agreement explicitly gives them permission to change the locks then this is not a problem.
If you give them the permission to have the locks changed then they can go ahead. If you do give them permission this should be done in writing. You might want to do this if for example your tenant has lost keys and you want them to pay for replacement locks.
In a similar vein if a tenant loses their keys and need the locks changing quickly they could go ahead. However, they should let you know what has happened, and ensure you or your agent has a copy of the new set of keys.
What if the tenant changes the locks without my permission? Presumably if a tenant has changed the locks without your permission they will have covered the cost of the replacement. However, they should retain the original fixtures and fittings, and if any damage was caused to your property you can deduct this from their deposit.
You could change the locks again, but if your relationship with your tenant is otherwise good it would be more advisable to discover why they felt they needed to change the locks and take it from there.
When should a landlord consider changing locks?
When a tenant moves out of a property and you are unsure if you have had all the keys back, then you should certainly consider having the locks changed. This prevents former tenants entering the property.
If your tenant raises serious concerns about who might have access you should also think about getting the locks changed. They may have noticed previous tenants hanging around or believe that someone else has had access to their keys. Whatever the reason, it’s better safe than sorry.
What if there’s a break-in?
In the event of a break-in, work with your tenants to get the property safe and secure as quickly as possible. It’s useful to keep the number of a trusted local locksmith to hand so that you know that any work done will be up to the required standard, and that you won’t be getting ripped off.
It may be worth sharing details of your chosen locksmith with your tenant, so that they can call on them if they get locked out of the property. Plus, you then know that it’s being dealt with by someone you trust.
What about emergency access?
There are a number of circumstances where you may need to gain emergency access to your property. In such circumstances you do not need to give the usual 24 hours’ notice. An emergency could cover such things as a gas or a water leak.
This is when it is useful for either you or your agent to have a set of spare keys to the property, as otherwise you will have to force entry. In summary there are a limited set of circumstances when it may be appropriate for a tenant to ask a locksmith to change their locks. In general though, it is your responsibility as the landlord to replace locks as necessary. In the long-term it makes commercial sense both to keep your tenants happy and to keep your rental property secure.