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A Landlord’s Reliable Guide to Changing Locks

person opening door using key

According to statistics, there is a burglary in Australia every three minutes. Australia records over 200,000 burglaries on both residential and commercial properties annually.

An in-depth analysis of the statistics reveals common security mistakes by tenants and property owners. These mistakes make their properties an easy target:

  • Leaving doors or windows open.
  • Easily detectable locks.
  • Minimal security on the property.
  • Easily accessible backyards.
  • Fake security systems.

Based on the list, landlord and tenants need to work together to ensure the rental property is safe.

An obvious starting point is the choosing and installation of locks.

The Legal Guidelines

The Australian 1997 Residential Tenancies Act provides legal guidelines for changing locks.

In the act determines that landlords have a responsibility to ensure the rental property is secure at all times.

Security measures covered in the act include providing locks on all external doors and windows.

The act also provides guidelines for changing locks for both landlords and tenants.

Either party should seek consent from the other party before changing the locks. The party that changes the lock should provide the other party with a copy of the key as soon as possible.

Your role as a landlord, legally and ethically, is to make sure your tenants feel safe at all times.

Choosing Locks

Locks play an important role in securing your property. They also boost a tenant’s confidence in the security of the property.

Once you install the lock and handover the keys to the tenant; you cannot change it at will.

You must consult your tenant and ask for their approval before changing the locks.

In many Australian states, tenants can sue you for not securing a property. If they can prove that the robbery was successful due to a security failure, you may have to pay for the lost property.

When are Locks and Keys Important?

The issue of locks will come up several times during a tenant’s stay on your property.

Most often, you will take charge and change locks when necessary. In some cases, your tenant will change the locks.

Some important scenarios that might require you to change locks include:

1. During Move-In

Hold on to the key to your property until a new tenant has paid the deposit and other pre-tenancy charges in full.

Legally, you are responsible for the property’s security. Ensure you change locks or rekey locks between tenants. Even if you collect the full set of keys from a tenant, there is no way of knowing if they made extra copies.

In today’s market, consider installing a smart lock. You can rekey or reset it after every tenant without having to pay for a locksmith.

It also saves you from having to make copies. If a tenant is locked out, you can reset the system offline.

Changing locks between tenancies is not a legal requirement. It is an optional step you can take to secure your property and avoid liability.

Some tenants will ask if you’ve changed the locks. If your answer is no, they might offer to pay for a locksmith. In such a case, make sure you get a copy of the new lock from them immediately.

2. At the End of the Lease

Once tenants move out, they should give you the exact number of keys you gave them at the beginning of the lease. They should also be honest and let you know if they made copies during the tenancy. This should include information on whether such copies were ever lost.

3. A Tenant Changes Locks and Leaves Before their Lease Expires

Sometimes tenants will decide to move out a few weeks before their lease expires. E.g. If they’ve paid rent through the end of the month, they can decide to move out on the 20th.

If they’ve changed the locks on the property, can you interfere with the lock before their lease expires at the end of the month?

In such scenarios, you have two options:

  • You can write or call the tenant and ask them to change the lock back. If they do not respond, you have to wait until their tenancy period expires to engage a locksmith.
  • You can ask for the tenant’s consent and then proceed to change the lock. In such a case, you might need to provide the tenant with a copy of the key for the remaining days. They will need to return this key at the end of the tenancy.

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4. A Landlord Changes the Lock During the Tenancy

As a landlord, you cannot change the lock without the tenant’s consent.

There are laws in every state that provide guidelines on how to change locks. They only apply after a tenant moves into the property.

In most states, the guidelines require you to consult the tenant before changing the lock.

Exceptions apply if you have a reasonable excuse, such as:

  • An emergency.
  • A Tribunal order.
  • The termination of tenancy for a co-tenant.
  • A tenant or unit occupant is removed from the property by apprehended order.

In such situations, you should provide your tenant’s with a new key copy immediately.

5. A Tenant Changes the Lock

Legally, tenants cannot change a lock without the landlord’s consent.

Exceptions apply for situations where a tenant feels he or she is in danger. For example, a tenant living with a violent partner.

In such cases, the tenant can get an order from the local authority to change the lock without your consent. The order also covers tenants whose name might not be on the lease but are in danger.

If this happens, the tenant should alert you immediately and give you a copy of the key as soon as possible.

6. If a Tenant Loses Keys

Keeping track of lost keys is impossible. There is no way of knowing whether the keys will end up in the wrong hands.

If a tenant loses their key, you might need to rekey or change the lock.

Usually, you can charge the tenant for the rekeying or lock change.

Make sure you have guidelines for loss of keys in the lease agreement. This will protect you from incurring unnecessary charges should tenants lose their keys.

In all Tenancies:

  • Have a ‘habitability’ clause in the tenancy agreement to address the change of locks.
  • State how many key copies you’ll give your tenants when they move in.
  • Provide guidelines tenants should follow if they want to change the locks.
  • Always keep a key to your property for emergencies.

How to Proceed

While changing locks, make sure you abide by both national and state laws. If you are unsure, do your research to avoid breaking the law.

Choose locks that offer you the best security for your property, and are convenient for both you and your tenant.

Currently, there are several smart lock options on the market. Some of the options include:

  • Locks linked to your phone; you need to have your phone 
  • close to the lock for it to work.
  • Locks you can open through an app on your phone that you can operate remotely.
  • Locks controlled by voice commands.
  • Locks that require a pin, a key card or your fingerprint to unlock.
  • Motion sensor locks that open and close automatically.

Smart locks make it easier to access the property and reduce the need to change locks frequently. Unfortunately, they do not solve all your security problems.

You need to invest in quality locks and control access into the property.

While tenants know that you can access their homes or office; informing them every time you intend to do so makes them feel more secure.

Managing your Rental

One of the roles you’ll take on once you start managing your property is the installation and maintenance of locks.

Invest in a smart security solution and stop worrying about changing locks between tenants.

You can reset systems offline when tenants lose their keys. You can also reset the locks on a regular basis to help tenants feel safe.

By tapping into technology, you can simplify the property management process. Additional technologies can help the process include property management software from Lodge.

In addition to helping you with all the information you need to manage your property, Lodge will help you streamline the management process.

You can start experiencing the benefits of technology by signing up to Lodge’s free property management software today.

Photo: Schluesseldienst