What Landlords Need to Know About Locks

The locks on your property’s doors are extremely important for your tenants’ safety, as well as your own. From choosing the right locks to changing them, there are a handful of things you should keep in mind.

What to Consider When Choosing a Lock

When choosing a lock for your rental property, consider the following:

  • Frequency of use: A lock that is used constantly by multiple tenants is going to suffer from quite a bit of wear and tear. This means the lock will probably need to be serviced more often, therefore incurring extra costs over time. On a larger property with a lot of tenants, it’s best to consider investing in a commercial grade lock. If you have a vacation rental, a lock with a keypad is probably your best bet. With new tenants checking in so often, it is better to give them a code they can use during the stay. Once they check out, you can change the code again. This will prevent short-term renters from losing your keys and it will also help maintain the conditions of your lock.
  • Rekeying: As old tenants move out and new tenants move in, locks will need to be rekeyed. There are lots of smart locks on the market, like the Kwikset SmartKey which are very simple to rekey. Other modern locks, like those with keypads, have codes that can be changed without difficulty at any time.
  • Control: When you rent out your property, you give up having control over your locks. Sometimes, that means having to change the lock entirely instead of rekeying. A tenant can easily copy keys, even if they have the words “DO NOT DUPLICATE” on them. For this reason, a patented key is probably a good idea. These keys can’t be copied without going through the landlord and a locksmith first.
  • Security: The best locks for security are smart locks with keypads. These locks cannot be picked since there’s no keyhole, and they’re difficult to drill through. (This lock has been tested against drilling.) Locks with keypads also remove the risk of tenants losing keys. If you don’t want to get one of these modern locks, then you should invest in a lock with an anti-drill plate and bump-key resistance. Locks that require key cards, like those on hotel room doors, are also pretty secure and tenants won’t be able to copy the cards.

Changing the Locks

There are lots of situations that can call for changing the locks on your units, whether that means a broken lock, a break-in, or a conflict with a tenant. If your tenant abandons the property or you find out they have changed the locks when they move out, you must notify them before you change the locks. You may also change the locks at the tenant’s expense if they changed the locks without prior authorization.

In the case of a defiant or unruly tenant, you can’t just change the locks on them — even if they are breaking the rules of the lease. You must go through the eviction process before changing the locks. Changing them while still having the lease agreement in place is illegal in almost every state.

Add a Lock Policy to Your Lease

You should include a policy related to locks in your lease to prevent tenants from changing the locks. If your lease doesn’t mention anything about locks or keys, then the tenant is free to do pretty much whatever they want. You should always have access to your property in case of an emergency. For maintenance services, access to the property is also needed if the tenant is not home (you do need to alert your tenant about repairs being made beforehand, though). Here is a sample clause for your lease agreement:

LOCKS & KEYS. Tenant shall not alter any lock or install any new or additional locks or bolts on any doors or windows of the Premises without obtaining Landlord’s prior written consent. Tenant shall cover the costs of any lock changes or repairs required by the tenant. Tenant is also responsible for costs of lock changes should they change the locks without Landlord’s’ prior written consent. Landlord for the Premises shall furnish ___ keys. These keys may not be duplicated or distributed to other individuals besides Tenant. Any additional keys required by Tenant must be obtained from Landlord at a cost of $___ per key.