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Question: I recently changed the locks to the front door of my apartment and immediately provided the landlord with a new key. The landlord then sent a letter indicating that I violated the lease by making an “alteration” to the property. Is this correct? There is no provision in the lease about changing locks, but there is a provision that it is a violation of the lease if alterations are made to the apartment without the landlords’ approval.

Property Manager Griswold replies:

The proper handling of keys is extremely important for both tenants and landlords. There are wide differences in the legal requirements about re-keying door locks, with some states specifically forbidding the tenants from re-keying.

However, even if your landlord is within his/her rights to require advance approval of any alteration of the property, I believe that it is not unreasonable for a tenant to want the peace of mind of having changed the lockset. While a lock change is clearly an alteration to the property, it is not merely a cosmetic issue, such as painting the interior in your favorite florescent color or knocking down a wall to make one larger room out of two rooms!

The primary goal is for your safety and the comfort of knowing that only you and the landlord have the key, as it is always possible that there are keys floating around out there in the hands of prior tenants or their guests, as well as any of the landlord’s maintenance personnel or contractors.

If the landlord is concerned about your changing out the lockset then be sure to keep the landlord’s lock and replace upon move-out. I suggest you respond in writing to the landlord’s letter claiming you violated the lease and inform him/her that you changed the lock to assure your personal safety and for peace of mind, and you have given him/her a copy of the key.

It is reasonable for the landlord to require a key in case of emergency but you have addressed that concern. So what is the problem? I seriously doubt your landlord will have a legitimate response. The landlord would surely be liable if he/she forced you to keep the original lock and tragically there was a break-in or serious crime committed by someone gaining access without force. The landlord should be concerned about unauthorized alterations but not a lockset change when given the new key.

This column on issues confronting tenants and landlords is written by property manager Robert Griswold, author of “Property Management for Dummies” and co-author of “Real Estate Investing for Dummies,” and San Diego attorneys Steven R. Kellman, director of the Tenant’s Legal Center, and Ted Smith, principal in a firm representing landlords.

Copyright 2005 Inman News

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  • Ernest Weimer

    To begin with, new locks should be installed at each change of occupancy. Therefore I can understand the tenant’s concern. But permission needs to be discussed and obtained BEFORE the change takes place! For the tenant to change the locks without permission arrogant. Even demeaning to the Landlord/Tenant relationship. Besides, what if there were a fire or some other emergency while the tenants were away? (Before they were able to get a key to the landlord.)

  • C. Gabriel Lewis

    As a property manager, I do have one point I would like to make concerning the tenant changing the lock(s). While I fully understand the need for peace of mind, I wonder if they knew if the lock that they took off was re-keyed to a master? I know for all of the properties that we manage, most of them are keyed to a master so if there is an emergency – say for example water leaking from an upstairs to a downstairs unit- I can call my plumber, electrician, or my handy man, each who have a master key, to react to the situation quickly. By simply giving me a key to that one apartment, could very well disrupt the system and cause confusion as to which apartment/houses or keyed to our master or not. Having multiple keys from multiple tenants who want to change their keys when they want could be potentially hazardous.

    If it were me, I would have offered to change the locks ourselves at no charge and give them a new set of keys. This would be a win win situation- peace of mind for the tenant, and peace of mind for the property managers knowing they have access when need be.

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