Anyone who rents a living unit should know the laws that apply before changing their door locks. Different states have different rules and regulations in regards to who can change a door lock and when. Those who own their own property have the right to change their door locks whenever they feel like it. Those who rent can also change their locks, but may be required to obtain permission from the property owner ahead of time. Door lock laws are designed to prevent illegal lock outs.
Tenants who are evicted from a rental unit cannot be locked out during the eviction process. All states have laws that prohibit landlords from changing a tenant's door lock without her permission, even during an eviction. For example, under the guidelines of the California Code of Civil Procedure, landlords must present a tenant with a written notice before any eviction and any lock out, can take place. Only a court of law can determine if the tenant can be legally evicted. Any landlord who changes a tenant's locks as a means of forcing her out will be fined. Fines vary from state to state.
Tenants have the right to have their broken and/or damaged locks changed by their landlord at no cost under certain circumstances. In Texas, for example, a landlord must change a lock if it's damaged by normal wear and tear. If the tenant, or a guest of the tenant, damages the lock through reckless use, the landlord can require them to change it at their own expense if such a clause is written in the lease. Otherwise, the landlord must change the door lock at his own expense regardless of how it was broken.
Certain situations allow a tenant to change his locks without first receiving permission from his landlord. For example, in Madison, Wisconsin, under the guidelines of the Madison General Ordinances Section 32.05(2), tenants have the right to change their locks in the event of an emergency. For example, if the tenant feels as if his safety is in danger, he may change his locks without prior permission from the landlord. However, the tenant is required by law to give his landlord a copy of the new key within 48 hours of the lock change. The landlord also reserves the right to change the lock back, or replace it with another one. Many states also allow tenants to change their own locks, as long as they alert their landlord ahead of time and provide them with a copy of the new key.
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