10 Things Landlords Need to Know About Keys

by Chris on November 25, 2013

Every landlord has a duty to protect their tenants’ security, and along with that the desire to protect their own property.

A crucial part of that protection is the proper handling of keys.

tenant screeningThe use of keys plays a role in many landlord decisions, including whether to use master keys, which employees will have access to keys, and how to handle day-to-day issues like maintenance requests.

Here are some things you can incorporate into your key-handling policy:

1. Never turn over the keys to a new tenant until you have finished running the tenant background check, and the individual has signed the lease agreement. Otherwise, you may have no recourse but to file for an eviction should you discover later that the tenant is not a good fit.

2. Use the same care when screening employees. Ask for references when using outside contractors. Make sure you limit access to master and duplicate keys to only those individuals who have been trained about security.  Create a check-in/check-out system for keys to track who had access.

3. The use of master keys is an extremely risky strategy. Other alternatives, like individual locks, keypad locks or pass cards may provide better security for your tenants and your property.

4. When using duplicate keys, be sure to label each using a code system that is not accessible in the case of theft. The more random the code the better. Do not use names or unit numbers on key tags.

5. Duplicate and master keys must be kept in a secure location, away from high traffic areas like the leasing office or lobby.

6. Create a list of all keys that a tenant is given, including gate keys, laundry room, garage doors and so forth. Check that list at move-out to assure the tenant has returned all keys.

7. Prohibit tenants from duplicating keys to reduce the risk.   Using keys marked “Do Not Duplicate” will prevent reputable locksmiths or key makers from creating duplicates that could fall into the wrong hands.

8. Make sure tenants understand that they are responsible for their individual safety, and that leaving keys around the exterior of the property could place them at risk. Also, tenants should be instructed to avoid tagging their keys in ways that would tip off thieves to their name, address, unit number or specific door.

9. Using multiple means of entry can cut rental costs. For example, using a keypad lock allows for easy “re-keying” for new tenants,  and avoids hassles when tenants misplace their keys. Also, that method allows for a temporary password entry for maintenance workers that easily can be changed to prevent security lapses. Coupled with access cards for laundry or pool areas, the theft of one tenant’s keys or a master key does not create the need to re-key every lock on the property.

10. Always change locks between tenants to reduce landlord liability in the event a former tenant, guest, or thief gains access to your new tenant’s home.

This post is provided by Tenant Verification Service, Inc., helping landlords reduce the risks of renting with fraud prevention tools that include Tenant Screening, Tenant Background Checks, (U.S. and Canada), as well as Criminal Background Checks, and Eviction Reports (U.S. only).

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Disclaimer: The information provided in this post in not intended to be construed as legal advice, nor should it be considered a substitute for obtaining individual legal counsel or consulting your local, state, federal or provincial tenancy laws.

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Christopher Manning October 2, 2015 at 10:07 pm

we seem to have a system where the manager has a key that once inserted in the deadbolt, this type of key can be seperated from the part that is now in the lock. There fore keeping every one out until the person with the other part of the key can open it. What is this system and how does it work?

Thanks very much

Chris Manning

LH October 28, 2016 at 9:43 am

Christopher, I’m not an expert on this, but I think what you are describing is a method for locking out someone who has a key to the lock. For example, if a tenant failed to pay rent, an unscrupulous landlord might lock the tenant out of his apartment using this method. (That’s illegal.)

All it is, is a key that’s been cut into two pieces. You hold them together to form the key and insert it (both pieces, as one intact key), then you remove the big part, leaving part of the key in the keyhole. No other key can then be inserted. The only way to get the piece out is to insert the other part of the key and pull both pieces out together.

Legal situations for dong this are few, I think. You can’t lock a tenant out. I suppose and example of a legal use might be if you were working on the public laundry room and sent a notice around that the laundry would be out of service for 4 days because you’re pouring a new floor, then you might use this method to make sure no one forgets and tries to enter the laundry room when it is dangerous for being a construction site.

LH October 28, 2016 at 9:47 am

This article offers great advice and I’m going to run, not walk, to change the tags on my duplicate keys for tenant apartments. It’ll be a hassle using a code instead of a name, but it is important advice.

When friends have given me keys to their places in case of emergencies, I’ve always tagged them with unidentifiable info (such as “His mom has cats” or “Cher concert”). Same principle should apply to one’s tenants’ keys.

LH October 28, 2016 at 9:51 am

The article fails to offer guidelines as to giving rules to tenants re duplication of keys.

(And by the way, it is near useless to stamp “Do not duplicate” on keys. Many locksmiths will do it anyway, especially if you say “I’m the landlord.”)

Is it reasonable for a landlord to tell tenants they may NOT give their keys to anyone else? Surely they can give a key to grandma, who’s visiting from out of state and wants to come in and out while the tenant is at work. But what about local friends that tenants want to be able to come and go. What’s reasonable and what isn’t? Where do you draw the line? What would be good written wording for advice (or rules) to tenants on this?

Doug Dooley January 24, 2017 at 12:02 pm

I found out my landlord uses the same key for all of his units. So my key will open my neighbors door and everyone else’s door. This cannot be legal right?

Amber March 21, 2017 at 9:51 am

I never even received a key for basement inlaw suite (which allows access to the whole house)….wouldnt be to much of a worry if i wasn’t in the most grungy unsafe area of the city right off of a high traffic alley. Yup. That cant be legal. Landlord neglects to bring it even after asking numerous times. Also broken gate (due to winds) leaves my whole backyard available to strangers (have had a few incidents, good thing no one has tried opening a door (as far as I know))

Deb woody November 23, 2017 at 4:26 am

Landlord made new keys to my retail unit. Then gave the keys without my knowledge or consent, to other tenants in the building? Is this legal?

nancy January 12, 2018 at 11:30 am

Is it illegal for the landlord to withhold keys. My rental has a front and rear door with different locks/keys. The landlord will not give me the key to the rear door that leads to the back yard as he said I do not need it.

patricia January 30, 2018 at 12:40 pm

Do you have to give your landlord and superintendent a key to your apartment when you live in toronto ontario?

patricia January 30, 2018 at 12:42 pm

IF requested by a tenant does the Superintendent have to show papers or crudentials that they are legally a superintendent of a apartment building if their requesting your apartment key

Nicholas C Albergamo February 14, 2018 at 1:19 pm

My girlfriend and I are both on the lease. She has the key. We are split up now. Does the landlord have to give me a key so that I can get in to get clothes

Sally March 29, 2018 at 7:29 pm

Is it legal for a property manager in an apartment complex to change locks on doors to building entrances and then charge the tenants $5.00 for new keys?

Stephanie July 26, 2018 at 2:23 am

Is it legal to only give one key for two tenants on the lease? I was refused an additional key for two people on the lease agreement. It’s does not sense for two occupants to only be permitted one key and fob to get into the building. This made living and working frustrating and impossible to access getting into the building where you pay rent. Thank you.

Chris February 3, 2019 at 6:14 pm

In my apartment managers office all the keys are hanging on the wall labeled 1 2 3 4 5 and so on and so on but apartments are like A101. A102 and so on and so on.. why is that

Lily March 4, 2019 at 12:18 pm

Is a landlord allowed to let a “trusted,” anonymous, non-employee tenant to have access to all the units “in case of emergency.” (He can get the keys out of the manager’s office.)

Marcella September 3, 2019 at 7:58 pm

Hi, I’ve been at my job for 30 years as a receptionist desk clerk that lives on site. I was given a key to access residents units in case of an emergency. I had lost my keys and the maintenance supervisor gave me another set like the one I had. One of the residents said that someone stole something out her apt. And she’s getting her locks Chang. We have a new manager for almost 2 years. Really don’t know what she’s doing. She asked the maintenance assistant who on staff has a master key? He told her I did and I was told to return the key. Only managers and maintenance can keys. So now if it is an emergency, to call the maintenance assistance. The new manager don’t involve me in meeting and she’s stealing from the residents and company. Also have the nerve to say that her supervisor is wrapped around her finger. So you really don’t know who to trust. If you tell HR, then what you said to get advice they tell the whole company , then you get written up. At my age I’m trying to retire from my job, but this new supervisor is taking certain jobs away from me and not putting anything in writing. I’m just wondering if this is legal? How can you tell upper management, when they at like you shouldn’t say anything. A job shouldn’t be this stressful but this is what I’m dealing with. Any suggestions?

Kim Welsh January 20, 2020 at 10:54 am

Will you please answer this question for me? I did not see a response. I live in Florida.

Doug Dooley January 24, 2017 at 12:02 pm
I found out my landlord uses the same key for all of his units. So my key will open my neighbors door and everyone else’s door. This cannot be legal right?

Kayle May 7, 2020 at 2:22 pm

I live in a house that uses a keypad to enter the house. I “moved out” due to Covid 19 but still paying for the rent. The landlord will be changing the code soon and won’t be giving the passcode to me.
Is there anything that would consider that illegal?

M. DeNye Holland June 20, 2020 at 4:42 am

As I read through the questions people are asking there seem to be few, if any, valid responses, esp. legal advice with respect to a) the renters point of view “is it legal?” yes or no or b) from the landlords prospective, perhaps believing “I can do anything I want to at my property/properties” (yes, within the law) as if there is no legal ramifications on either side. Is the landlord or the tenant in violation of the respective law in that state? How do I get this addressed? Proper rent deduction and you make the repair with failure to do so after 90 days may be an option in your state, unless the landlord in a wannabe slumlord. May I suggest for the company that “leads” the dialogue for this site, to state, say see your real estate attorney, I can not answer that question. With that stated, I am not going to ask my question about the State of Kentucky and the landlord not delivering all of the keys for the various locks. Which reminds me in the State of Illinois; a fob or key card for each person on the lease (prepare to refuse 1st month rent payment at the start if that’s not on the list or items you have or will receive b/c they could deduct the cost of these items from your rent at the end of your lease . Have an amazing day! ALL LIVES MATTER TO GOD!

M. DeNye Holland June 20, 2020 at 4:44 am

…. they could deduct the cost from your SECURITY DEPOSIT if that item appears on the list of things they gave you at the start of your lease.

Camila Bloch September 5, 2020 at 11:30 am

My tenants have changed the lock on my duplex in Ohio and have not given me a key. Is that legal? I have also given them 24 hours notice to show the property and they have not responded. Is this legal?
Also, they tell me the tenant on the other side of the duplex (which has a different owner) smokes and the secondhand smoke is causing my tenant asthma. They want me to install an exhaust fan in the attic and seal all the places in the attic connected to the other duplex to prevent her asthma. When asking businesses to do this none of them will guarantee the outcome as “fixing the problem” and it would cost thousands of dollars to do. Do I have an obligation to do this?

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