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The question of who has the right to change the locks in a rental property can be quite a sensitive one. On the one hand, landlords have a right to expect that no changes will be made to their property without their consent. At the same time, there are a number of circumstances when a tenant may not feel safe unless they change their locks, whether because of criminal activity or even harassment from their landlord.

If you are a tenant and wish to change the locks on your property, it is important not to act too rashly. Change the locks without first discussing the issue with your landlord and you could have the costs deducted from your deposit, or you could even be evicted!

When the time comes to change the locks, make sure that you book a professional lock replacement service with an experienced local locksmith. Changing a lock can be tricky work and most insurance providers will insist that a professional does the job. While it may seem expensive, keep in mind that locks serve a crucial purpose, ensuring both your safety and that of your belongings.

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When can a tenant change the locks in a property?

In the eyes of the law, tenants are very much entitled to their privacy, at least to a certain extent. Legally a landlord must provide a minimum of 24 hours’ notice before entering the property, except in the case of an emergency. If a landlord arranged a repair job and told the tenants a week in advance, said landlord would be well within their rights to turn up and let the Pro inside the property, and so on.

Unfortunately, there are always landlords who shirk this rule. There are plenty of horror stories of landlords turning up without notice, even if they just expect to be able to hang out with their tenants. Many of the worst examples involve male landlords harassing female renters, often resulting in legal action.

However, a tenant cannot simply change locks without notice. This can:

  • Breach the tenancy agreement - This can allow the landlord to evict the tenant. Tenancy agreements usually mention that tenants cannot make unauthorised changes to a property, so locks do not have to be mentioned specifically.
  • Constitute criminal damage - This is particularly risky if the lock was removed without any warning and doubly so if it was thrown away.

In order for a tenant to be able to change a lock, they usually require a compelling circumstance. In other words, they need to be able to justify the work.

There are a number of possibilities:

  • The landlord is persistently entering the property without giving verbal or written notice, despite multiple requests to do so.
  • The keys have been stolen or the lock broken, putting the tenant’s security at risk. This can also endanger any active insurance policies. In a situation like this it is important to inform the landlord as soon as possible so that they can arrange an emergency locksmith.

If you change the locks without permission or proper cause, or without informing your landlord beforehand, the landlord will be entitled to recover any costs by deducting them from your deposit, or even to evict you. Whatever your reasons, most of the time an adjudicator will take the side of the landlord.

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How to change the locks on a rental property

Even if you have a compelling reason to change the locks on a property which you rent, it is still important to follow an appropriate procedure and establish a paper trail. 

Start by keeping a diary of any incidents of unlawful access to your property, whether by your landlord or criminals. This should include any responses from your landlord. If you make a report to the police, be sure to keep a record of the incident number.

Take your time in choosing a local locksmith. You may be eager to get the lock replaced as quickly as possible, but you should not let cowboys use this urgency to take advantage of you. Look for a locksmith who has excellent reviews and be sure to collect several quotes to compare. Do not simply choose the cheapest option out there: when it comes to security, it is worth paying for lasting quality, and Pros who undersell their competition rarely do good work.

Once the lock has been replaced, keep a copy of your invoice and send another to your landlord. If they attempt to charge you for the work, but you have due cause and a compelling situation, you can attempt to claim the money back through small claims court. Be sure to mention that you are prepared to make a claim for compensation and trespassing - seven times out of ten, this will be enough to make them drop the claim.

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How much does it cost to change a lock?

The cost of changing a lock depends on the type of lock and the extent of the work required. Yale locks are the most common type in the UK, and they are fairly simple to replace. However, this kind of work still takes experience. Many insurance providers will also penalise you if you attempt to change the lock yourself without the proper training and qualifications.

Even after hiring a professional locksmith, it is still important to check what type of lock they are using for the replacement. Their choice ought to meet the requirements set by the British Standards Institution. Again, this is not just a matter of personal security - insurers may also demand it. Luckily, this is fairly easy to check: all you need to do is look for the British Standards Kitemark on the lock’s packaging.

Installing a standard deadlock in a wooden door usually costs between £125 and £250, though this includes parts and labour. You can supply the locks yourself, in which case the labour would cost between £40 and £150 per hour.