If you have been locked out of your house by your landlord and don’t know what to do, or if you are worried that they may do so, you are in the right place.
In this article, I am going to discuss whether a landlord may lock you out and whether you can break in. I will also discuss the various remedies that may be available to you, which will depend in large part on your state and local laws.
If you don’t have the time to read through it all, here’s a short answer to the question:
You should not be breaking into your rental if your landlord has locked you out. A better approach is to contact local law enforcement to get their help in getting back in. In most cases, a landlord is not authorized to change locks while you are still lawfully occupying your property, so having the authorities sort this out is your best bet.
Ok, we’ve got a lot to cover, so let’s get into it.
The information contained in this post is for informational purposes only. It is not legal advice. You should seek the advice of a qualified legal professional before making any decisions relating to the topics covered by this article.
We may earn commissions from products and services that are purchased or recommended through our website as part of our affiliate partnerships. As an Amazon affiliate, we may earn from qualifying purchases.
When Is a Landlord Allowed to Change a Rental Unit’s Lock?
As a general matter, a landlord may not lock out a tenant, even if they are behind on their payments or otherwise violating their lease unless they have completed eviction proceedings and received some order from the court to remove you from the premises.
Even then, there are usually processes they need to follow and self-help remedies like changing out the locks while you are still occupying the premises are typically not allowed.
That being said, different states and localities may have different rules around this, so it’s worth checking (or hiring a lawyer to do so).
If you prefer to have a lawyer assist you, I would try JustAnswer. They boast access to thousands of highly-rated, verified real estate lawyers whom you can connect with via their unlimited chat service.
By clicking the banner below, you can get a one week trial membership for only $5, which you can cancel at any time.
Ok, so we know that landlords have to operate under some pretty strict rules. That begs the question of when landlords are allowed to change the locks on a unit. Typically, there are three instances when they may change the lock of a rental unit.
After Tenant Moves Out
Tenants have possessory rights during their lease period. As a result, they may restrict the landlord from entering the rental unit without permission within this time frame. However, they relinquish these rights to the landlord once they move out.
The place solely belongs to the proprietor until he finds a new tenant. So he can change the lock to secure the site and prepare it for the subsequent renter.
After the Tenant Leaves Without Notice
Sometimes, tenants leave the rental unit without notifying the landlord. This is referred to as abandonment. If the tenant has abandoned the property, then the landlord may change the lock.
What is deemed abandonment will vary by state.
For example, in Virginia, if the landlord cannot determine whether the premises has been abandoned, they can serve notice to the tenant requiring the tenant to give notice to the landlord within 7 days that they intend to remain. If they do give notice, it will not be deemed abandoned. If they don’t, they may treat the property as abandoned upon the expiration of the 7 day period.
Source: Code of Virginia 55.1-1249
After the Tenant Gets Evicted
A landlord may want to terminate a tenant’s contract after the tenant violates it terms (including failure to pay rent). However, this process can take some time. Depending on the jurisdiction, it can take weeks or even months.
But there’s really no way around it. If the landlord wants to follow the law, they will need to wait until they get final judgment on the eviction before they can change the locks.
What Happens If I Break in After I’ve Been Locked Out?
If you’ve been unlawfully locked out, you may think you are justified in breaking in, but it’s far better to take the high road and call law enforcement to assist.
After all, the landlord may have been justified in changing the locks (see above). Just as “self-help” can trigger a violation by the landlord, it can result in you getting in trouble as a tenant.
If you were not permitted to enter the dwelling, you may be cited for trespass and may be sued and have to pay out for any damages you cause to the property due to your break-in.
And breaking in can result in harm to yourself as well – you don’t know who is in the apartment at the time. They may be freaked out by you trying to bust in and attack you.
Just call the appropriate authorities and get it resolved through proper channels.
What to Do If Your Landlord Locks You Out
Ok – we know that breaking in is not the right answer.
So what should you do?
First, you will want to make sure that you’re actually locked out. Do you have the right key? Has it been damaged in any way? Has the lock, door, or doorframe been damaged in any way (perhaps someone tried to break in while you were out)?
Second, you should contact your landlord to find out whether the locks have been changed and if so, why? You should tell him that this type of action is likely a violation of your state’s landlord tenant laws and that they should come immediately to let you in.
If that doesn’t work, you can contact local law enforcement for assistance.
If none of those things work, you will likely need to find alternative housing while you sort all of this out. It’s huge hassle, but the good news is that you may be able to sue your landlord and recover your losses if they in fact locked you out illegally.
Again, state and local laws may vary on what remedies are available, so make sure you read them (or have your attorney review them) to find out what your rights are.
So there you have it – an answer to the question of whether you can break in if your landlord has locked you out and some tips on what you can do if this has happened to you. Hope this has been helpful and happy renting!