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Locks and keys – what are tenants rights?

Landlords are not supposed to enter properties without permissionLandlords and locks and keys

Locks and keys in rented properties can often cause problems.  Landlords like to retain control over their properties and this includes having sets of keys so they can gain access whenever they want.

Tenants, needless to say, don’t like the idea of their landlord, or indeed anyone else, being able to enter their property when they are not there.

What is the legal situation regarding locks and keys?

Generally when someone signs a tenancy agreement they will then ‘own’ the property for a slice of time. A tenancy is an ‘estate in land’ and different legally from, say, a lodger situation where the lodger just has the right to use the room.

So if the tenant owns the land (or flat or whatever it is) he also has the right to change the locks if he wants. So far as I am aware, under the common law there is nothing to stop a tenant doing this, and he is under no (legal) obligation to give a set of the new keys to the landlord.

However many tenancy agreements now cover this situation and specify that the tenant must not change the locks without the landlords permission.  If the landlord does give permission, this will normally be on condition that the tenant give a set of the new keys to the landlord.

Tenants changing the locks and keys

What is the situation therefore where the tenancy agreement prohibits changing the locks without permission, but where the tenant does this anyway, and refuses to hand a set of the new keys over?

My view is that he will be in breach of his tenancy agreement, but short of getting an injunction (which is expensive and not guaranteed to be successful) there is not a lot the landlord can do about it. Not during the tenancy anyway. After the tenant has vacated he may well have a claim against the tenancy deposit for the cost of new locks and keys.

However this may not always be the case.

Landlords are not entitled to enter the property without the tenants permission. This is a fundamental right tenants have which is included in all tenancy agreements by implication, even if not specifically stated in the tenancy agreement. So if landlords start entering the property without the tenants knowledge or consent, the landlord is in breach of the terms of the tenancy agreement.

Even if the tenancy agreement says that the landlord can go in when he likes.  Any clause like this will be void and unenforceable under the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations.

Landlords using keys to gain access without permission

Over the years I have had countless tenants complain to me that their landlords keep coming into their property. Tenants often find this intimidating, particularly single women tenants with male landlords. I can remember one tenant telling me that she was terrified to have a bath, after coming out of the bathroom one day wrapped in a towel, to find her (male) landlord at the foot of the stairs leering up at her.

My advice to tenants in this situation is just to change the locks. The landlord will not be able to complain about it. Technically it may be in breach of the tenancy agreement, but the landlord’s breach in persistently coming onto the property without permission is far more serious.

A benefit to landlords of not holding keys

Incidentally there may also be an advantage to the landlord in not having a set of keys. If a landlord holds keys, particularly if he is known to enter the property from time to time, he may be in a difficult position if the tenant accuses him of theft of the tenants belongings. If he has no keys he cannot be blamed for anything which might happen in the property, as he has no means of access.

What do you think? Are you a tenant who has been bothered by landlords persistently coming into the property without your permission? If you are a landlord, what problems are caused when tenants change the locks? Have any landlords been accused of theft by their tenants?

Note – we subsequently had a long discussion on this topic here where barrister Francis Davey said that landlords do have a right to enter property even without the tenants consent but only in the correct circumstances.

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Important note. If you are reading an old post, remember that the law may have changed since it was written.

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29 Responses to Locks and keys – what are tenants rights?

  1. If you have an inquisitive landlord, dont change the locks, advise them that this is a breach of your quiet enjoyment and future breaches may terminate the tenancy.

    Let and forget at your peril- either party should check that the tenancy has a clause to allow access for specific emergencies, and that there are planned inspections on formal notice of at least 48 hours.

    For both this ensures that any disputes over condition at the end of the tenancy are avoided by picking it up early.

    There are many spy cams eg clocks for under £100, perhaps leave your webcam running- and if you can run it on your desktop at work- call him!

  2. With some landlords, telling them to keep out does not stop them. It is in this situation that I suggest the locks be changed.

    My understanding is that you don’t actually need a clause in the tenancy agreement to be able to enter the property as a landlord in case of emergency. However this can only be for a real and serious emergency such as a fire.

  3. I am landlady and I think there are too many rights for tenants and too many responsibilities for landlords. It is anfair game. Landlords always lose! You pay mortgage, insurance, tax, repair house and tenant just enjoy quit living! Ah! They do not want to pay rent, damage house, have parties, change locks and they are still upset! Unbelievable! If I knew that I would be treated so badly by tenants, builders, insurance companies then I would never become a landlord myself. I help them, I clean houses myself, I paint, I wallpaper them, I fit new carpets all the time. And they split in my face, they use and abuse all that. I do not go to houses without permission but they still change locks. Windows smashed, laminate dissapered but I can not go to house even to see what repairs need to be done. Why? Because tenants never owned house and they have no idea that house needs repairs so why they should let you ever in? Tenants do not answer phones, do not open door, do not care to respond on your letters! ‘Who are you? Landlord? Get out!’

  4. I think now we can talk about Tenants abusing Landlords! We need a law protecting us, Landlords! Enough is enough!

  5. It sounds to m e Lana as if you are not choosing the right tenants! Not all tenants behave like that. As many landlords will confirm.

  6. I’m a landlord by default as I couldn’t sell, three sets of tenants on the trot have defaulted. Latest set have changed locks. I agree the tenants have all the rights and are freely able to abuse their tenancy with little recourse, (unless we want to spend thousands pursuing them for years on end.

    I’ve used two different letting agents and always do full credit checks. How do these people get through the checks?!

    We’ve had threats of violence, illegally withheld housing benefit, damaged property, you name it we’ve been through it.

    In my opinion it’s not worth the grief, particularly as the law favours tenants, and give no regard to the poor landlords having to clear up after them.

    I can’t wait to sell up and wave goodbye to being a landlord. People assume we’re rich and have a stack of houses.

  7. You do seem to have had bad luck. And yet you know, I have had lots of landlord clients tell me that they have had marvelous tenants with no problems.

  8. Hi Tessa

    I was locked into the bathrooom because the locks failed to work and my housemates had to call a locksmith.

    The tenancy was for a year and for a room within a 2 bedroom flat.

    I paid for the locksmith fixing the bathroom lock and forcing the door open, but am I entitled to be reimbursed since I am only renting a room?

  9. This will depend on whether or not it came under the landlords statutory repairing covenants. These are the same whether you rent a room or a large house.

    The repairing covenants provide for landlords to keep in repair the structure and exterior of the property and the installations for the supply of services such as gas and electricity. I don’t think an internal door lock falls within that.

  10. i have a house with tenants in who should have moved out on the 26 of last month and now i have to go to court to get them out its not right landlords have no rights. what i want to know is can i use my keys to let myself into my house?

  11. What is the law in regards to COMMUNAL doors and locks?

    We have had our keys stolen, and the Landlord is claiming that it is our responsibility to pay to replace the communcal door lock, and the replacement keys for all three flats in the communcal space. It is an expensive secure door, and we are quoted 4-500 to get the new locks and keys.

    Our contents insurance doesn’t cover this, and I@m wondering if it is something that the Landlord should be responsible for? Considering we haven’t LOST the keys – they were stolen (we have a crime number).

    Thanks to anyone who can help!!!


  12. I see where you are coming from, but I have to say that I am on the landlord side here – assuming he can’t claim on his insurance that is.

    Although it is not your fault, it is even less the fault of the landlord.

  13. Our landlord has been giving keys to tradesmen without our permission. We made it clear that we would wish to be here whilst tradesmen are doing work and have taken reasonable steps to enable this. However we are now concerned that anyone who has been given the keys could have had a set cut & could return any time. Would it be reasonable for us to change the locks and do we have to send the landlord a set of the new keys?

  14. Your landlord should not give your keys out to anyone without your permission and you are right to be concerned about this. If you get new keys cut you would, I think, be justified in witholding these until you leave at the end of the tenancy (at which time you should let the landlord have all keys).

    If your landlord objects tell him it is becuase he has compromised the security of your property by giving out keys without your permission, which is in breach of the covenant of quiet enjoyment. Technially it could be construed as harassment which is a ciminal offence.

    • Hi Tessa,
      I have a similar issue. The flat I am renting is managed by a letting and property management firm, which also manages the other flats in the building. I knew they held a copy of the key to my flat, to which I agreed in the event of an emergency.
      However, I just found out that every time they send a contractor to do repairs in ONE of the flats, they give the contractor a big keyring with ALL keys to ALL flats in the building.
      When I complained to the management firm, I was told they weren’t going to change the procedure of handing out all the keys on one keyring because of one individual’s complaint, and that in fact a number of “trusted” maintenance companies had their own copies of all keys as well.
      It is stated in my tenancy agreement that I am not allowed to alter, change or install any locks.
      Do I have the right to change the lock regardless or is there a better way to deal with the scenario?

  15. You could try writing to the management company saying that if there are any break-ins at your flat you will hold their company responsible and ask if they are covered by insurance for this. You could add that unless they confirm that they have full insurance cover, you consider you will be within your rights to change the locks.

  16. Hi there, I am supposed to be moving in to a new flat on the 11th March, however, I have been called by the letting agency to ask me if I would not mind moving on the 18th (I very much mind, as everything is arranged!) because the current tenants have missed two appointments to hand their keys back and they do not have mobile numbers for them, apparently. They are worried that the tenants will not turn up on Monday 28th February to hand in their keys, and the landlord will then need time (10 days) to go through the flat and check for breakages etc. What is my legal position on this? Is there anything I can do? I could possibly get hold of the landlord directly, would that be a good idea? Is it still harrassment if the landlord doesn’t enter the property without permission, just rings the doorbell? Please help. I look forward to your reply. Thank you.

  17. If the previous tenants do not move out – you cannot move in!

    But you would be able to claim compensation fromt the landlord.

  18. Hi Tessa
    I recently changed the locks on the fflat that I rent as the Landlords family were letting themselves in whenever they wanted. Today the Landlord tried to gain access again and as I was in I called the Police. The Police immediately took the Landlords side and the officer himself changed the lock giving a key to the Landlord and telling me that if I changed it back I would be arrested. What can I do?

  19. Hi Karen

    The police had no right to do that. You know, you may well have a claim against them. I suggest you speak to a local housing solicitor. They may be willing to offer you a no win no fee agreement.

  20. Thank you; having finally found a Solicitor that deals in Legal Aid I am pursuing this in the hope that Norfolk Constabulary actually train their officers to deal with matters like this in a better way. I can live in hope.

  21. Hi, having recently moved into my first flat I’m concerned about the landlords having a set of keys, they only live across the street and could just let them selves in at anytime, both my sisters who are renting say that the estate agents have a set of keys for their properties but not the landlord, can I change the locks? I am not even comfortable sleeping at night knowing they could come in at anytime, and that we have a lot of expensive equipment in the house and I’m sure my insurance wouldn’t cover any theft if the thief had a set of keys.

  22. It is fairly normal for landlords to hold a set of keys. For example so they can get access in case of emergency. Or also so they can get a new set cut when tenants lose their keys (which apparently many tenants do!).

    Have a word with your insurers if you are worried about your insurance cover, they will advise you.

    However bear in mind that if your tenancy prohibits changing the locks, doing this will put you in breach of contract – and you will not be able to justify this by saying that the landlords keep coming in without permission – as they have not actually done this. You are just worried about it.

  23. Hi Tessa,
    My current tenants have twice changed the locks on our property – despite their contract stating this is not allowed (this was pointed out to them after the first instance). We would like to claim for the cost of changing the locks, once they have moved out (due to next week), from their damage deposit. Are we within our rights to do so?
    They have not retained the original lock – so we cannot simply put it back.
    Thanks for your help.

  24. Yes, you should be able to claim for the (reasonable) cost of this. Although perhaps not if the replacement lock is perfectly all right and they have given you all the keys back. It will depend on the circumstanaces.

  25. @jason I don’t see why not. But you should give it to the landlord or agents when you leave.



About the post author:

Tessa Shepperson

Tessa is a lawyer and specialises in creating products and services which help landlords and letting agents learn and understand landlord & tenant law. For example, she runs the Landlord Law website (now in its 14th year) and is a director of Easy Law Training Ltd and Your Law Store. Tessa also sits on the Property Redress Scheme Council. When not working she enjoys reading, cooking and messing around on the computer. You can also find her on Google

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