This is the fifth post looking at the ten most common tenancy agreement breaches by tenants, as identified by Direct Line in their survey, which I discussed in the introduction to this series.
This post is about changing the locks – and apparently some 16% of tenants are guilty of this.
Tenants changing locks
Changing the locks is an emotive issue. Tenants often feel insecure in properties knowing that their landlords (or their agents) carry keys and can walk in at any time.
For example I will always remember the female tenant telling me how she was terrified to take a bath after coming onto the landing wrapped in a towel only to see her landlord leering up at her from the bottom of the stairs.
Old Landlord Law Blog lags will remember this post from 2011 where a tenant told us how the police had taken her landlords part when she changed the locks after her landlords kept letting themselves in without consent, telling her that she would be arrested if she changed them again.
We had a furious ‘ding dong’ discussion in the comments about whether changing the locks constitutes criminal damage. The barrister in that discussion thread finally agreed that the landlord in the case was out of order and the tenant was in the right when changing the locks. In those circumstances.
However, he also made the point, that tenants do not have the right, per se, to just go in and change the locks as a matter of course.
Tenants who do this:
- May be in breach of the terms of their tenancy agreement
- May be committing ‘criminal damage’ by removing the lock without cause (especially if they then throw it away), and
- Risk being evicted at the end of the term, and getting a bad reference which will make it hard for them to rent anywhere else.
So when can tenants change the locks?
There is no hard and fast rule. It all depends on the circumstances and on the general ‘reasonableness’ of their action.
It will in most cases be a breach of their tenancy agreement. Even if there is no specific clause about changing the locks, it will usually have clauses forbidding making changes to the property – which would include the locks.
So the tenant will only be justified in doing this if there is some compelling reason.
Situations will include:
- Landlords entering to harass the tenant as discussed above, particularly if the landlord is male and the tenant is female and frightened of him
- Landlords persistently entering the property, in less obviously ‘harassment’ situations, but where they have been requested in writing not to enter without specific consent, but despite this have continued to do so
- Where the keys have been lost or stolen and the tenants fear that their security is at risk – particularly if failing to change the locks in this situation would put their insurance at risk. (However, the landlord should be notified in this situation ideally before the work is done).
If you do change the locks
Make sure you keep FULL details of everything, including (if appropriate) a diary giving details of the landlord’s unlawful access and copies of letters requesting him to stop.
In the third situation (and possibly also in the first situation) you should report the matter to the police and keep a copy of the report or incident number. If only to prove that it happened.
Tenancy deposit issues
Your landlord will usually want to charge for the cost of replacing the locks at the end of the tenancy. If you just changed the locks without permission and /or proper cause, this is something he is entitled to do.
Even if you were fully justified in changing the locks, in circumstances where it was changed without consent, it is likely that a tenancy deposit adjudicator would find for the landlord – as you were in breach of contract and tenants’ claims for trespass and harassment are not something they are authorised to consider
So in this situation, you should refuse consent to adjudication and say you will be making a claim through the courts. However, you could point out that if this is necessary you will also be making a claim for financial compensation for their harassment and trespass – this may encourage them to drop the claim!