Question: Some homes we manage have very expensive locks, and changing them can be cost prohibitive. If the departing tenants return all the keys we gave them at move-in, we do not change the locks before the new tenants move in. Are we required to change locks?
Answer: There is no legal requirement to change the locks, whether or not the departing tenant has returned all the keys. However, it is a prudent thing to do. You have no idea if the former tenant made copies of the keys. Even keys with the message, “Do not copy” means nothing. You can get them copied. We have seen a case in which a former tenant got drunk, forgot about his recent move and went back to the former residence and passed out on the couch.
Worse yet, a former tenant could break in and burglarize the unit or commit a serious crime, and most likely your company would be one of the parties held liable.
We always recommend a lock change as a cost of doing business, even if the previous tenant returns all keys. An owner who tries to save money by not changing locks is putting both himself and your company at great risk.
Harry Heist is a partner in the law offices of Heist, Weisse & Wolk, P.A., which concentrates on property management-related legal issues.
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