What do I do if my tenant changed the locks?


I cannot get into my property as my tenant has changed the locks, where do I stand?

This is quite an emotive issue, and not one that has any ‘hard and fast’ rules. Landlords rightly feel that this is wrong as they ultimately own the property; tenants feel they should be able to make small changes as they are paying rent and want to feel that it is their ‘home’.

We would always recommend that you remain on good terms with your tenants as much as possible, and likewise, it’s in their interest to stay on good terms with you.  This is the best situation for both parties.  Mutual respect is always the best option.

Sometimes, however, this relationship may break down, and for various reasons, and you may find yourself in a position where you are unable to gain access to your rented property.

It’s fairly easy to see the situation from both sides, after all, we are all human and we are probably all capable of making mistakes and acting without consideration.  We have probably all heard horror stories from both sides of the table… landlords entering properties without permission or refusing to replace broken items, tenants damaging property or lacking respect for neighbours.  No two landlords are the same, and no two tenants are the same.

So, back to the question… can a tenant change the locks?  Is it legal?

It depends very much on the individual circumstances and how ‘reasonable’ their action is deemed to be by the courts.  It also depends on the tenancy agreement and whether it states that physical changes to the property are forbidden.

If there are ‘compelling reasons’, it may be seen as acceptable for the tenant to change the locks.  An example of this might be a landlord entering and harassing a tenant, particularly of the opposite sex, leading to them feeling unsafe or threatened.  Another example might be if the landlord has been asked in writing not to enter the property without prior notice and permission, but continues to do so.  Maybe the tenant has lost their keys or had them stolen and feels that their security is at risk.  These are all possible valid reasons for changing the locks, though, it’s still always better for the tenant to inform the landlord first (to cover their own back).

If a tenant does change the locks, it is advisable for them to keep a full diary of details leading up to the decision, for example, dates and times of landlord’s unpermitted entry, copies of letters sent to the landlord asking for notice before any visit, or a police report showing that your keys have been stolen.

As a tenant, if you do change the locks without consent, you may have breached your contract, even if it is justified, so tenants also need to be careful and cover their own backs.  You may lose your deposit if not.

The bottom line is that both parties need to keep evidence of everything.  Cross every ‘t’ and dot every ‘I’.  This way, if it ends up in court, you both have your ‘hard evidence’ and are not relying on ‘hearsay’.  Do everything ‘by the book’ and you won’t go far wrong.

What are your thoughts on this topic?  Have you ever been in a position where you could not access your own property?  What was the outcome?  Were you the tenant who needed to change the locks?  Why did you feel that way?  What happened?

If you would like any free advice on anything to do with property rental, whether you are a current client or otherwise, simply send us an email to lettings@pmslettings.co.uk or give us a call on 01243 788257.