Landlords 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.