Too many landlords have been faced with a situation where they’ve arrived at their rental property to conduct an inspection or have maintenance done, and found that their tenant has unexpectedly changed the locks on the unit. This all too common situation can be extremely stressful for landlords, as it can be a difficult thing to navigate correctly (and legally), and can completely change the dynamic between landlords and their tenants. The question that arises in this situation is can tenants legally change the locks on their unit, and what can landlords do if this happens?
Are tenants allowed to change the locks in Ontario?
All tenants have a right to privacy and peaceful enjoyment of their unit or rental property, but are they actually allowed to change the locks? In Ontario, tenants aren’t allowed to change the locks at a rental property without first receiving permission from their landlord – this generally covers both exterior and interior door locks. Landlords are allowed to change the locks to the rental property at all times, provided they provide tenants with a new set of keys to match the newly installed locks. Other provinces (most notably Alberta) state that tenants can add locks on the inside of the unit, but nothing externally that could prevent a landlord from entering the unit.
Why locks are changed by tenants
This can be a difficult situation, and may have arisen from a number of things. The most notable reason for changed locks is that the tenants no longer feel safe or secure in their rental property. This can be easily remedied by landlords, who can work with tenants to add extra security measures to the unit. Other reasons for suddenly changed locks include lost keys (which should be reported to landlords), a recent break-in, a recent change in relationship, and sometimes even an abusive situation. Wherever possible, tenants should make sure to get permission from landlords before they change locks, as doing so may break the lease and thus can lead to eviction.
How landlords should deal with suddenly changed locks
It’s important that landlords have the ability to enter rental properties in the event of an emergency or to conduct routine maintenance or inspections. If the locks have been changed without your permission, the first thing you should do is attempt to communicate with your tenant and request a new set of keys.
Landlords would then inform the tenant that what they’ve done is against the law, and that they’re responsible for changing the locks back. If tenants don’t comply with your request, you’ll have no choice but to report the incident to the Landlord and Tenant Board. The LTB will be able to order the tenant to provide a key and/or pay for the cost of changing the locks back. Remember to document everything along the way, as the changing of locks may lead to an eviction – especially if tenants continue refusing to comply.
How you can prevent the threat of tenants changing locks
The best and most effective way to prevent tenants changing their locks is to properly screen tenants before you rent. The screening process is the most valuable tool a landlord has, and done right, will result in very few (if any) incidents with tenants. Another effective plan is to proactively make your properties safer and more secure.
One of the biggest reasons for suddenly changed locks is that the tenant doesn’t feel safe, or has experienced a break-in. You can make them feel more secure by ensuring that all doors and windows are in healthy working order, by installing doorbell cams and other home security technology, and by installing alarm systems on windows and doors. Finally, telling tenants that if they lose their keys they can always go to you for a spare – this will ensure that they come to you before even thinking about changing their locks without permission.
HighGate Properties is your one-stop shop for Toronto property management services. Our experienced team works with both residential and commercial landlords, handling things like tenant screening, maintenance, and day-to-day issues so that you can focus on the more important things in your life. To learn more about the Toronto property management and real estate services offered by the team at HighGate Properties, contact us today.