By Linda Mullins
The excitement and expectation of moving into a new home can sometimes overshadow the many details involved with the process itself. Whether moving into a single-family home or condo rental, a large part of a tenant’s comfort and peace in their new place is resting assured that no previous tenants have access to the home.
Providing this peaceful enjoyment is foundational to landlord responsibilities and includes some safety measures. A chief concern is rekeying the unit when a tenant begins a new lease. While the expectation is for landlords to be diligent about this, situations arise when some may refuse to rekey. This article will provide step-by-step instructions on how to request to have the landlord rekey a rental home, within the law and hopefully without the need for legal action.
Though the laws vary from state to state, tenants will see mention of “locks and keys” within the law code of every state. For instance, the tenant law in Florida says that landlords must make “reasonable provision for locks and keys.”
Texas, on the other hand, has a more stringent, seven-day turnaround, which bodes well for tenants. Because of the mandatory rekeying laws in the latter state, the remainder of this post will focus on Texan tenants.
Why would a landlord refuse to rekey, even if it would help tenants feel more secure? While there are good landlords, others may offer less-than-excellent service. Whether it is an issue of expense, being busy or refusal to rekey, it happens. Rather than focus on the why, this step-by-step instructional guide will focus on the solution for a tenant to request rekeying from the landlord.
Requesting a Rekey
STEP 1: Know the law. The Texas Property Code section 92.156 (Rekeying or Changing of Security Devices) mandates that the landlord must rekey the unit, at the landlord’s expense, within seven days of the turnover date.
Section D of the Landlord/Tenant verbiage also states that the dwelling must be equipped with security devices such as “window latches, keyed deadbolts on exterior doors, sliding door pin locks and sliding door handle latches or sliding door security bars, and door viewers.”
STEP 2: Know the lease. The lease should be reviewed to ensure correspondence with the property entity. Use the proper name and official address of the landlord and any other pertinent information in the lease related to this request.
STEP 3: Make a list, check it twice. An inventory of security devices on all windows and doors should be taken to determine what is needed for optimal safety in a particular property and what is provided for by state law. However, interior doors and closets do not qualify for rekeying under law. Compile the lock list and take photos.
STEP 4: Get organized, be professional and put it in writing. Gather the lease document, the Landlord/Tenant Law verbiage, the photos, and the types of locks and security devices to be requested. Compose a business letter that details specific language related to the Landlord/Tenant law and a request for rekeying.
Tenant Remedies for Landlord’s Failure to Rekey
What happens if a landlord ignores or rejects the initial request after that seven-day turnaround time? Now that the first letter has been sent, a follow-up letter should include the intended action of the tenant if the landlord does not rekey the home, in addition to the legal consequences for an incompliant landlord.
Consider including the preferred remedy of tenant remedies in the body of the letter:
- Unilaterally terminate the lease without court proceedings.
- Tenants rekey the security device at their own expense and deduct reasonable costs from the next rental payment.
- File a suit against the landlord, and obtain a judgment for the following: a court order directing the landlord to comply, if the tenant is in possession of the dwelling; the tenant’s actual damages, court costs and attorney’s fees—except in suits for recovery of property damages, personal injuries or wrongful death.
- File a suit against the landlord, and obtain a judgment for the following: the tenant’s actual damages; punitive damages if the tenant suffers actual damages; a civil penalty of one month’s rent plus $500, court costs and attorney’s fees—except in suits for recovery of property damages, personal injuries or wrongful death.
While the landlord may have been attempting to avoid rekeying the home, including lawful remedies in this letter will serve as a powerful reminder of consequences that the landlord could face by remaining non-compliant. It will also serve as strong encouragement to abide by the law and rekey the home.
STEP 5: Follow the process. Now that the letter is written and delivered, it should be mailed via certified mail with a return receipt to the landlord’s designated address on the lease. In Texas, the landlord has three days after receiving the letter to act. Meanwhile, if the landlord and tenant are on good terms, a phone call or email to the landlord giving them a heads up about the formal letter may prompt action prior to receiving the formal request by mail. Handling the issue as swiftly and efficiently as possible is the goal. A professional, yet amenable approach that preserves the landlord-tenant relationship is ideal. Be sure to make copies of everything sent in the certified letter.
STEP 6: Be diligent and follow through. If the landlord does not respond to the written request to rekey the home within three days of receiving the letter, tenants should move forward with their chosen course of action, consulting or retaining an attorney as needed.
Using a simple process within the parameters of the state law can yield the desired results of the landlord rekeying the home for the tenants in a timely manner. The process used by tenants for rekeying homes can be replicated for other issues that may arise between tenants and landlords. Research the law within the state of residence, adhere to the lease agreement and use the details of these sources to effectively communicate the request to the landlord in writing.