My Tenant Has Changed The Door Locks, Can He Do that?

Tenant Changed Locks

A question that seems to continuously land on my doorstep (pun intended, sorry): can tenants legally change the door locks?

In short, it depends. So let’s take a look into the details…

There’s a lot of confusion around this issue, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t hold my hands up and admit doubt.

For a long time I was under the impression that tenants could freely change the locks without any issue, but after devouring the heated comments section in this wonderful blog post on LandlordLaw, which has notable contributions by legal minds, I’ve taken a 180 degrees turn.

Please note, everything in this blog post is just *my opinion” based on the information I have read, so is no shape or form should it be constituted as legal advice.

Page contents:

Generally speaking, can tenants change the locks?

From what I’m aware of, no. They can’t.

There is no general right to change locks and exclude the landlord from the premises without *cause* (and even the ’cause’ is up for debate on whether it’s justifiable). Changing the locks without permission could mean the tenant is:

  • Breaching the terms of the tenancy agreement
  • Committing “criminal damage” on the basis that the property is being modified without the landlords permission (even if damage isn’t caused to the property during the procedure)

Essentially, tenants generally don’t have any reason or rights to change the locks and withhold the keys from the landlord unless they have an actual reason to (which I discuss further down).

Why are changing locks not permitted?

I’m not *entirely* sure on this (I couldn’t find a definitive answer), but I suspect it’s because of the following:

  • It can make it difficult for landlords to enter the property to fulfil their duties, many of which they are legally obligated to fulfil.
  • It prevents landlords from accessing the property in cases of emergency.
  • Changing the locks could be constituted as making changes to the property, which generally speaking, tenants are not permitted to do without consent.

As a landlord, the above reasons for why tenants can’t change the locks without reason make sense to me.

So when can tenants justifiably change the locks?

There’s no clear cut answer from what I’ve read, and it’s mostly circumstantial as to whether changing of locks is justifiable:

  • If the tenant is granted explicit permission by the landlord (permission should be granted in writing)
  • If there is a clause in the tenancy agreement which permits it (there usually isn’t. On the contrary, there’s usually a clause which stipulates it’s NOT permitted)
  • If the tenant feels harassed by the landlord. For example, if the landlord frequently turns up to the property unannounced and without any real reason.
  • If the keys have been lost and consequently the tenant’s safety is compromised. In this case, the tenant should inform the landlord and resolve the problem accordingly, and the landlord should not be withheld from the new set of keys.

If the tenant does change the locks they should preserve the original fixtures and fittings. Any damages caused by the tenant during the procedure is recoverable from the security deposit, even if they have justifiable reasons for changing the locks.

I once actually had a tenant that changed the front door locks. This was the outcome of her handy D.I.Y work:

Damaged Front Door

The door was completely trashed.

I feel inclined to believe that she fitted the new locks with a mechanical sledgehammer.

To her displeasure, I ended up using her security deposit to replace the door. You can read more about that dramatic saga here: I’ve Fallen Out With My Ex-Tenant Over Her Security Deposit.

Tenant’s right to live in “quiet enjoyment”

Just as a reminder: it is the tenant’s statutory right to live in “quiet enjoyment”, which essentially means the landlord should not constantly disturb or harass the tenant while living in the property.

Landlords are not entitled to enter the tenant’s living area without written permission as they have the right to use the property as their home. However, the landlord has the right to ‘reasonable’ access to carry out repairs they are responsible for, but should always ask for the tenant’s permission first, and should give at least 24 hours’ notice.

Breaching this lawful right – especially on a frequent basis – could give tenants justifiable reasoning to change the locks.

What does the tenancy agreement say about changing locks?

Most standard tenancy agreements specifically forbid tenants from changing the locks. But it’s worth checking to see what yours says.

If there is no specific clause mentioning the locks, or specifically about changing the locks, there is usually a clause about forbidding making changes to the property – and I believe that covers locks.

If the locks are changed without cause or permission

If the tenancy agreement specifically forbids changing the locks or making changes to the property, the landlord is entitled to change the locks back and charge the tenant for the expenses incured during the process. The cost is typically deducted from the deposit at the end of the tenancy.

Evicting tenants that change locks

If you’re concerned that your tenant has changed the locks with the intention of refusing you reasonable access to the property to carry out essential duties, such as inspections, viewings or to attend repairs and maintenance issues, I would personally look into terminating the tenancy.

In the event that the tenant unreasonably prevents access, you can apply to the county court for an injunction.

21 Comments- Join The Conversation...

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Iain Hamilton 16th February, 2010 @ 15:47

That is rather crazy photo, ok if they want to change the locks then yeh no problem, but not getting a professional in to do it!? We've never seen anything this odd over here yet..

Iain,
http://www.spectrumproperties.co.uk

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Adam Hock 16th February, 2010 @ 23:45

I think, that's depending on the reason of what they do. But can be terrible thing if happen to me :D

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Jools 17th February, 2010 @ 08:15

Thing is Iain,

If they do that to a lock/door they probably do not have the intelligence to call in a professional!

Jools

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Stuart John 28th February, 2010 @ 21:33

I suite all of my door locks so I only need to carry one key. To stop the tenants changing them I round off the screw heads and I put a clause in the contract that lost keys are £50 to replace. Cheers. Stuart John. http://www.landlordsblog.co.uk

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Jon 12th September, 2011 @ 21:55

I'm a landlord and I always encourage female tenants to get the locks changed. In one case I paid for that myself as she was really hard up. If you don't do this then she doesn't know who might have a copy of the key and she's living in fear all the time. If I was a tenant myself I would always change the locks on day one. Even for a bloke it's creepy to think that the landlord could just walk in at any time. If you have taken a sufficient deposit then just let your tenants get on with their lives.

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Glen 30th January, 2013 @ 12:27

I have no problem if the tenant wants to change the locks as long as they let me know first. I use a guy who has a great reputation locally, reasonable rates and does a great job. I send this dude round and the tenants pay (they want the change after all).

If I can change the locks when I move house then they should be able to as well.

http://gcpropertylettings.co.uk

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damian cornish 14th February, 2013 @ 10:51

can i just clarify the crazy picture" that was no lock replacements that door was kicked off its hinges, trust me i can tell, so if anything its a " crazy photo" of a S*** repair!

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Alistair 2nd November, 2014 @ 09:26

Agree (Damian) - obviously tenant lost key.. locked out.. kicked door in.. bad repair. New door from deposit.
Stuart John - i think you're misinformed; security is a primary concern for anyone in their own home.. your suited locks are convenient to you, but unless you use security keys (that only you can get cut) so that you are able to assure tenant that no other keys exist.. they deserve to have a lock change. Possibly, even to control your access. They can still get someone skilled to drill those screws, but what a lot of needless hassle?
Do replacement keys cost £50? I doubt it.

Landlord here has visited by agreement (builder quoting repairs & sale viewing) in my absence and rifled through 2 piles of my documents, removing a couple of letters (I know, because I sorted those papers & removed especially confidential items that morning - I don't trust him, huh?) Judging by the text message I missed, landlord was looking for items of his mail (still arriving here 4 years since he moved house!?! Something suspect about that? Since Court he has given updated address to his bank/mortgage(?).. but home insurance still arriving! What is he worried about I wonder.. but he left no note about taking anything. Ugly behaviour. Lock change the obvious next step.. easy: latch cylinder & euro cylinder.

Such amateur landlords, even with the best education UK can provide, are the very worst - he thinks renting out his house is *all* about him, but failed to protect deposit; had clause about no lock changes in tenancy; efficient(!) 33yr old boiler; rewireable fuseboard; duct tape to 'seal' top of electric power shower; no extractor fans; full set of dripping taps; 8yrs of ivy growth atop roofing felt extension(bedroom) roof; lack of maintenance with water penetration (some fungi grew from edge of ceiling by backdoor, and there was mould in a subfloor void.. months of inaction. It has been a joy. ;)
Court action: he refused to enter sensible negotiation prior to court date.. my legal & counter-claim fees were substantial. And he still thinks I owe him goodwill..
Kicking myself for failure to spot smell of hidden mould during viewing, regardless of landlords subsequently discovered limitations.

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renee 18th November, 2014 @ 21:41

does anyone out there know- can a person who lives with someone change the locks while the other person is at work because they're splitting the sheets. I didn't think you could legally do that because its his home as well. Any comments or suggestions please thank you

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Nick 28th January, 2016 @ 11:22

1. Tenants have a legal right to secure the property in any legal way (alarm systems, lock change, etc). A lock change is not considered a renovation so no need to notify landlord. Reinforcing a door with may be considered renovation, however may be reasonable, necessary and recommended in areas where the local crime is significant.

2. As a landlord, and son of parents who have been landlords for 15 years, I don't recommend challenging a tenant on this matter. Legally they have an upper-hand as a judge will agree with their right to safety over your narrow rights to maintain a property you lease.

3. Someone asked: Can a tenant change a lock on another tenant? No this is illegal, and the courts can punish the person that changed the lock to keep someone who resides there out. Also a landlord must never change the lock on a tenant until they have possession of the property by court documents OR if the tenant has abandoned the property for certain amount of time or moves out (each state is a bit different on this though, so be sure to learn your local laws).

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priorygirl 2nd February, 2017 @ 19:57

My tenant has changed the COMPLETE FRONT DOOR and lock - from a victorian wooden door with locks, bolts, chains to a plastic door. They didn't like the draft from the wooden door. ripped out the wooden frame too. All is dumped in the back garden . What can I do?

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bob 12th May, 2017 @ 19:17

@priorygirl.
be thankful for the free upgrade

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John 1st September, 2017 @ 20:13

In my Assured Shorthold agreement it states I cannot change the locks,

However because of my bad past experience with landlords I have changed them.

Can my Landlord come with lock smiths and change the locks and in the processes enter my property?

I have paid all my rent on time for 7 months in a row.

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John 1st September, 2017 @ 20:13

Also forgot to mention, I am living in a flat.

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Bob 23rd January, 2018 @ 12:18

Not really, John. It may happen, but you then take them to court. There's precedent for that, the tenant won.
Of course, you may not have told them what you've done, in which case you should keep quiet. Then, the only way the landlord could know is if they attempt entry, which is unlawful.

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Alexandru 30th June, 2018 @ 08:29

I am a tenant and i wake up with the agency guy in the flat... he didn't ask my permission to come in and he didn'send me letter message or phone up ,my question is can i change my door lock

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Bob 30th June, 2018 @ 09:03

Alexandru Go ahead. Changing the locks is a hotly debated topic, but they may never find out, unless they attempt trespass again. It may technically put you in breach of contract, but they have broken the law, and your security is important, and your right of entry pretty much exclusive and absolute. If it were me, I may also be making noises about making a complaint to the police on account of the trespass.

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Alexandru 30th June, 2018 @ 09:44

I have call emergency and they said ...because it is a civil dipute they cannot asist me .....so i have change the door lock 5 minutes ago ...i mention that they Agency" cut the wires from the heathing and try to release the gas pipe i sware i'm not inventing nothing keep in your mind that i have a baby 1 month old....

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Paul M 20th September, 2018 @ 16:49

What I would want as a tenant to do is this...

Fit a second lock, which only I have the key to.
On inspection day, I would leave that lock unlocked, thus allowing the landlord or agent access.

I would also be happy to put the key in escrow, so that the landlord could get the key to the second lock in appropriate circumstances.

Paul

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Paul M 20th September, 2018 @ 16:55

actually, what you need is THREE locks!!

the key to the first is shared between landlord and tenant, and left unlocked most of the time except on inspection days.

the key to the second is not shared, only owned by tenant, and left locked most of the time, but left unlocked on inspection days.

the key to the third is not shared, only owned by the landlord, left unlocked most of the time. If the landlord evicts the tenant, legally, he/she can immediately lock the door and exclude the tenant!

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Paul M 20th September, 2018 @ 17:09

p.s. copies of the tenant-only and landlord-only keys should be held in escrow to allow each party to unlock the other's lock, for emergencies or to prevent abusive situations etc.

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