Is changing the locks an unreasonable task or a necessary safety precaution?

With many tenants potentially cutting multiple sets of keys to give to partners or family, landlords regularly face the issue of whether or not they should change their locks at the end of a tenancy.

When it comes to rentals, temporary ownership to a room or space can change hands often, which makes it difficult to have absolute control over the keys to your investment property.

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There’s no clear-cut answer to this issue, but there are options landlords can take to ensure their tenants remain secure, and that their costs stay down. Let’s look at both sides of the argument:

Why it’s worth changing the locks

The main reason landlords choose to change the locks after a new tenant moves in is that they are worried about the integrity of their home security. Fair call. If you consider this from the perspective of the new tenant, you can understand what this is worrisome.

Tenants want to know that their home is secure, and it’s understandably hard for them to be content with the idea that someone might have a copy of their key.

To be fair, tenants who vacate a premise are required to hand over their keys to the landlord or managing property agent, but this does not mean they don’t have copies of the key.

Why it’s not worth changing the locks

One of the biggest issues with changing the locks on a regular basis is the cost incurred. If the landlord carries out the task themselves, this would undoubtedly keep the cost of the replacement down, but it can be difficult to do if there is a high tenant turnover.

The cost of the replacement aside, there is very little stopping landlords from changing the locks for every new tenant. If the replacement was free, everyone would do it. So what’s the best possible solution?

So, should you change your locks?

According to the most recent tenancy laws (and these vary state-by-state), landlords must agree to provide and maintain locks or other security devices necessary to keep the premises ‘reasonably’ secure.

Landlords have a great deal of responsibility when it comes to their tenants. A good landlord will pay attention to the state of their investment property. If a lock is damaged when a previous tenant moves out, then the landlord should replace it with their new tenants.

If the lock is not damaged, then landlords should focus on re-keying the lock instead. This provides a much more cost-effective solution with the same benefits of replacing the lock.

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  1. As a building manager, I suggest the owner have a locksmith re-key their apartment entry door locks for numbered security keys (such as bilock or Gen6). These keys are engraved with the locksmith company and the keys are individually numbered. The locksmith maintains a register and will only cut additional keys when authorised by the owner. If a tenant attempts to obtain a duplicate key from the same locksmith, they will be refused without the owners authorisation. If the tenant takes the key to another locksmith, they will also be refused and referred back to the locksmith whose name is engraved on the key. Also these security locks are much harder to pick or to open with a bump key than your everyday basic key locks. Not much extra cost and you only have to re-key once. In the event the tenant loses or fails to hand back a security key, the lease special conditions should require the tenant to meet the cost of re-keying and cutting new security keys,

    • What’s to stop them going to their local hardware store or Walmart and getting a key cut? Locksmiths aren’t needed to duplicate keys.

  2. I agree that locks should be accessed only by numbered keys, where it is impossible for the tenant to have another key cut. If they want another key, they have to sign for it, and pay a deposit large enough to have the lock rekeyed if they do not return all the keys on vacating. The deposit would be returned if they return all keys on vacating.

  3. Rekeying a lock is far more economical than changing the entire lock. If you have a regular maintenance man perhaps he could change the lock off one of your properties, to another.
    I also believe that “Reasonably Secure” could mean that if the tenant was burgled and it could be determined that a key was used, then the Property Manager/Agent could be seen as liable. So changing a lock from one property to another seems to me to be quite reasonable. We all manage properties for owners who should not have investment properties, as they can’t afford them. Is it worth the risk and drama of being sued because the locks weren’t changed?
    That’s my opinion for what it is worth..

  4. As a Locksmith I can tell you that we REGULARLY see properties robbed where the only logical culprit is a former tenant. The unfortunate side effect if this is that most tenants don’t have insurance, and even if they do, with ‘no sign of forced entry’ stamped onto the police report, the insurance will often not pay out. At Access Locksmiths in Brisbane we have always advocated for changing locks between each and every tenancy but very rarely does a landlord or property manager agree.
    I urge those reading to contact a locksmith as it is much cheaper to get the locks changed than to be robbed.

  5. Why the need for a deposit? Surely just make it a condition of their bond that they have to return all the keys or not get their bond back?