Can a Landlord Change the Locks?

It’s important to know your rights and responsibilities when it comes to changing the locks on a rental property.

Changing the locks without a valid reason can result in legal consequences and a breach of trust between a landlord and tenant (and can raise huge issues for the tenant if they are locked out for any significant length of time).

Table of Contents

What We’ll Cover

In this article, I am going to answer the question of when a landlord can change the locks and the proper steps that a landlord should take when doing so. I will also discuss the consequences of changing locks when it is not authorized.

Finally, I will talk about situations when a landlord must change the locks and the right way to do so.

If you have don’t have the time to read through it all, here’s a short answer to the question:

As a general matter, landlords can only change the locks in specific circumstances, such as when a tenant has been evicted, has abandoned the property, or has given consent (in the lease or otherwise). Of course, if the lock is broken and needs to be replaced that is also another valid reason to change the locks.

Ok, we’ve got a lot to cover, so let’s get into it.

The information contained in this post is for informational purposes only.  It is not legal advice.  You should seek the advice of a qualified legal professional before making any decisions relating to the topics covered by this article.

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When Can a Landlord Change the Locks?

As mentioned above, a landlord can only change the locks in certain circumstances.

Generally, a landlord cannot change the locks without the tenant’s consent or following a court ordered eviction. Just because a landlord has the ability to change the locks does not mean they can do so at their whim.

In fact, even if the tenant is late on rent or has otherwise violated the lease, a landlord should go through proper legal channels to remove the tenant from the premises, not employ self-help remedies like changing the locks.

That being said, there are some situations where a landlord can (as a general matter) legally change the locks even outside of the context of an eviction or tenant consent. They are as follows:

  1. Tenant Abandons the Property: If the tenant abandons the property, a landlord may change the locks to prevent unauthorized entry. However, depending on state and local laws, the landlord must follow specific legal procedures, such as providing written notice to the tenant and waiting a reasonable amount of time before taking action.
  2. Lease Agreement Allows for Lock Changes: If the lease agreement explicitly allows the landlord to change the locks under certain circumstances, such as if the tenant violates the lease agreement or poses a danger to the property or other tenants, then the landlord can change the locks, provided such provision does not conflict with applicable law.
  3. Emergency Situations: If there is an emergency situation, such as a break-in or a dangerous situation, the landlord may change the locks to protect the tenant and the property.
  4. After Tenant Completes Tenancy: Once a tenant’s lease ends, a landlord may change the locks (and in some cases, may be required to do so – more on that later).
  5. In Cases of Domestic Violence: Depending on state and local rules, a landlord may change the locks in cases of domestic violence. Landlords should review the applicable regulations to ensure they are in compliance.

As you can imagine, much of this will depend on state and local laws, so you will want to research the rules and regulations that would apply to your situation (or have a lawyer help you navigate through all of this).

If you prefer to have a lawyer assist you, I would try JustAnswer. They boast access to thousands of highly-rated, verified real estate lawyers whom you can connect with via their unlimited chat service.

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Proper Legal Procedures

So what are these legal procedures?

These procedures vary depending on the state and local laws, so it’s crucial to consult with an attorney or a property management professional to ensure compliance. Generally, the procedures include:

  1. Written Notice: The landlord must provide the tenant with written notice of the lock change. The notice should include the reason for the lock change, the date the locks will be changed, and how the tenant can obtain a new key.
  2. Waiting Period: In some states, the landlord must wait a certain number of days after providing notice before changing the locks. This waiting period gives the tenant an opportunity to respond and resolve the issue.
  3. Providing a New Key: After changing the locks, the landlord must provide the tenant with a new key. The landlord cannot refuse to provide the tenant with a key or charge a fee for the key.
  4. Protecting Tenant Property: The landlord must take reasonable steps to protect the tenant’s property during the lock change process. This includes ensuring that the tenant’s belongings are not damaged or stolen during the process.

Consequences of Illegally Changing the Locks

If a landlord changes the locks without a valid reason or without following the proper legal procedures, it can lead to legal consequences.

A very common response from tenants when they are locked out due to a lock change is to call the landlord, and if they are not responsive, to call local law enforcement, who will then likely contact the landlord.

Not a great situation for a landlord.

The tenant may also sue the landlord for breach of contract or violation of their rights as a tenant. The landlord may be ordered to pay damages or face penalties, such as fines or legal fees.

Moreover, changing the locks without proper notice or justification can cause significant trust issues between the landlord and tenant.

It can damage the landlord-tenant relationship, leading to the tenant leaving the property or not renewing the lease.

When is a Landlord Required to Change Locks?

Switching gears a bit, in some cases, locks must be changed and it is the landlord’s duty to do so. Here are two of the most common scenarios.

When the Lock is Broken

A broken lock on a rental property door can compromise the safety and security of both the tenant and the property. In most cases, it’s the landlord’s responsibility to repair or replace a broken lock promptly.

Under the “implied warranty of habitability” in most states, landlords are required to provide habitable living conditions for their tenants. This includes ensuring that doors and windows have functional locks that keep the tenant and their property safe.

If a lock on a rental property door is broken, it can pose a safety risk to the tenant, and the landlord must take action to repair or replace it (assuming the tenant was not at fault for breaking the lock, in which case, they should pay).

So when a tenant reports a broken lock, the landlord should act promptly to resolve the issue.

If the landlord fails to repair or replace a broken lock promptly, the tenant may be able to take legal action.

This may include withholding rent, making repairs and deducting the cost from the rent, or even breaking the lease and moving out. In some cases, the tenant may be entitled to damages for any harm or injuries that result from the broken lock.

In Between Tenants

In some states, landlords are required by law to change the locks between tenants.

This is often referred to as “lock rekeying” and is intended to protect the new tenant’s safety and security. In these states, landlords must change the locks or rekey them within a certain time frame after the previous tenant vacates the property.

For example, in California, landlords must change the locks or rekey them before a new tenant moves in, regardless of whether the previous tenant returned the keys or not. Failure to comply with these requirements can result in fines and legal consequences.

It’s essential for landlords to be aware of the laws in their state regarding lock changes and to comply with them.

Landlords can also consider going beyond legal requirements and adding extra security measures, such as installing deadbolts or security systems, to provide added protection for their tenants. By taking these steps, landlords can ensure the safety and security of their tenants and avoid legal consequences.


In summary, a landlord can change the locks only in specific circumstances, such as when the tenant has abandoned the property or violated the lease agreement. The landlord must follow proper legal procedures, including providing written notice.

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