Can a Tenant Change Locks Without the Landlord's Permission?

Last Updated: October 4, 2023 by Roberto Valenzuela

In most states, tenants can change their locks without permission as long as it’s not forbidden by the lease and they don’t damage property. A few states do regulate lock changes.

Most state laws don’t cover tenants changing their own locks. There are some exceptions. For example, New York lets tenants install their own lock separate from any provided by the landlord. Arkansas, by contrast, requires landlord permission for a lock change. Wisconsin almost always requires landlord permission, even when there’s a criminal threat.

When Can Tenants Change the Locks Without Permission?

Tenants can consider changing their locks without permission whenever state and local law are silent on the topic. Three major legal nuances still apply: the terms of the lease, the interests of the landlord, and special laws for abuse victims.

Terms of the Lease

When state law is silent about tenant lock changes, the landlord and tenant can freely regulate this issue through the terms of the lease. Leases often contain provisions about lock changes.

The most common agreement about locks is a requirement for landlord permission. Most lease terms default to having this permission be in writing. However, the landlord and tenant have broad freedom to set a policy that best fits the situation.

Protecting the Landlord’s Interests

Lock changes must take place in a way that protects the landlord’s property interests.

This can’t damage the property, or reduce the landlord’s access rights. Both of these can be grounds for eviction. Property damage and access are the most common issues related to lock changes.

This means a tenant has to change locks in a way that’s reversible to avoid potential trouble. Tenants also must almost always give copies of any new keys to the landlord after a lock change. Some places, like Maine, even let the landlord enter with reasonable force if locked out.

Laws Protecting Abuse Victims

Many states, like Arizona, have special laws to protect abuse victims. Lock changes for victim safety are sometimes part of these laws.

These are not laws which apply to most lock change situations. Tenants often need police and/or court documentation to qualify.

Most victim protection laws make the landlord change locks after getting a request from a tenant who’s an abuse victim. The tenant must usually pay all costs. If the landlord fails to change the locks, tenants can then usually do it themselves, even if the lease says otherwise.