When should I change the locks on my buy-to-let property?

As a landlord, your tenants’ safety is a responsibility you should take very seriously. You need to make sure that locks and keys are working properly. If your properties aren’t secure, and you aren’t careful about who holds the keys, your landlord insurance could be invalid.

When to change the locks

In addition, your tenants have a right to privacy and quiet enjoyment of their home. So, even if they’ve broken the terms of their tenancy agreement, you must follow the correct legal procedures – which means no changing the locks to keep them out!

Based on our experience of working with landlords, we answer some frequently asked questions about your responsibilities and obligations in this area.

Should I always change the locks between tenancies?

Landlords are under no legal obligation to change the locks on a rental property during the period between one tenant leaving and a new tenant taking up residence. However, a tenant who has just vacated a property may have cut – and kept – multiple sets of keys. If these keys have not been handed back at the end of the tenancy, this potentially undermines the security of the new tenants. You also run the risk of invalidating your insurance, was an incident to occur as a result of keys being unaccounted for.

When should I consider changing the locks?

Keys and locks are subject to wear and tear. Even if you don’t change the locks between tenancies, you should consider it from time to time.

You should also check that locks are fitted properly and meet the criteria of your insurer. It is always easier to do this at the start of a tenancy before you hand over the keys to a new tenant.

Can a landlord change the locks if the tenant is in rent arrears?

If you’re stuck with a troublesome tenant, who won’t pay their rent, it may be tempting to think up ways of regaining your property – changing the locks and putting their belongs out on the street, for example. The simple answer to anyone asking ‘can you change locks if tenant doesn’t pay the rent’ – is an emphatic NO.

Do-it-yourself evictions of this kind are a criminal offence and would put you on the wrong side of the law. Changing the locks would also be seen as harassment of your tenant and make it very difficult for you to pursue them through the courts by legal means.

This rule applies, even if you have served your tenant with a Section 21 notice and they refuse to move out or pay you the rent owed.

The only possible exceptions to this rule may apply if you are living on the premises yourself or if your tenant is living at the premises rent-free.

Can my tenant change the locks without my permission?

Once a tenant has moved into the property, it becomes their home and they can change the locks if they choose. They are not legally obliged to give the landlord a key unless this is included as a clause in the tenancy agreement. However, it is worth suggesting that your tenants do so, in case there is an issue with the property while they are away, for example.

Remember, as a landlord you can’t let yourself into the property whenever you like. You need to give the tenant 24 hours’ written notice to inspect the property or carry out repairs. However, you can gain access in a genuine emergency.

What if a tenant loses their keys?

If a tenant loses their keys this undermines the security of the property. You should change the locks and pass the cost on to your tenant.