Changing locks in rental properties...what do you need to know?

Nearly everyone knows the feeling of being given a set of keys to a property. It’s a great feeling – one of security and comfort.

But that feeling of security might be a bit of an illusion. Right now, landlords aren’t required to change locks between tenants. That means there could easily be copies of keys floating around, giving people easy, unauthorised access to your property. Without a trace.

There isn’t a law that requires locks to be changed. But should there be?

I’ll tell you what I think needs to happen a little further down - but for now, it’s good to know what a landlord’s (and tenant’s) responsibilities are today.

This topic can be confusing, and it differs from state-to-state, so we’ve pulled together all the different rules regarding locks and keys.

Use the links to scroll down to your state.

Victoria
New South Wales
ACT
Queensland
Northern Territory
Western Australia
South Australia
Tasmania

Victoria

According to Consumer Affairs, Victorian landlords need to provide locks to secure every external door and window of a rented property.

A landlord can keep copies of every key, but the tenants should confirm the landlord has a spare set when the lease is being signed.

As for changing locks, any time locks are changed a new key must given to the other party as soon as possible.

Tenants are allowed to change locks, but they need to get the landlord’s consent. Landlords can’t unreasonably withhold that consent, either, and if a tenant believes that is the case they can take the landlord to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) for a ruling.

Landlords should know that in a family violence situation, tenants are allowed to change the locks – but tenants need to pay for it and give a key for any new lock to the landlord or agent, and they must provide a safety notice or intervention order.

Read more at Consumer Affairs Victoria.

New South Wales

Landlords in New South Wales should be careful about making sure their premises are secure – if a robbery occurs and the property is deemed as not being “reasonably secure”, tenants can apply for compensation for the stolen property from the landlord.

Unfortunately, the law doesn’t state what “reasonable” security means, and the Tribunal decides on a case-by-case basis.

Fair Trading NSW recommends speaking with an insurance company to determine what would make the property secure.

You’ll find this is actually quite common in states where there aren’t specific requirements for locks on doors. It’s not foolproof, though - and Fair Trading NSW says an insurance company’s opinion is only one piece of advice you should consider. All the more reason why there should be consistent laws across the country regarding locks!

Landlords need to provide each tenant a copy of the key to open any lock or security device, and they cannot charge for copies of extra keys except to cover the cost of replacement.

Additionally, locks cannot be altered, removed or added without good reason, or unless a tenant agrees. If a lock is changed, keys need to be provided to the tenants within seven days.

A reasonable excuse for changing locks could include emergencies, complying with a tribunal order, a terminated tenancy or if someone was evicted from the property. However, it’s an offence for the landlord or agent to alter, remove or add a lock without agreement or without an excuse.

ACT

According to the ACT Residential Tenancies Act of 1997, landlords must ensure that the premises are “reasonably secure”.

It also breaks this down by saying landlords must provide locks to secure all external doors and windows of the rented premises, and that any party that changes a lock must give a key to the lock to the other party.

However, tenants who want to change locks must be given consent first, and the landlord “must not unreasonably withhold consent”.

Locks can be changed by the tenant in the case of an emergency, though a key must be given to the landlord or agent “as soon as possible”.

Queensland

Queensland law mandates that property managers and owners need to supply and maintain every lock, and ensure that the premises are “reasonably secure”. Like in New South Wales, this definition may differ according to each property and landlords should contact insurance companies to determine what would make up a “reasonably secure” property.

'Reasonably secure' may relate to:The risk to a tenant's personal safety

  • The ability of a tenant to obtain home contents insurance
  • The likelihood of break-ins
  • Local community standards about adequate security for properties
  • The physical characteristics of the property and adjoining areas

Either the landlord or tenant can change locks during the tenancy, but both parties need to agree and neither can unreasonably withhold consent. Each party needs to provide new keys as well.

Both tenants and landlords can change locks in an emergency or following an order from the Tribunal.

Read more about locks in Queensland at the Residential Tenancies Authority: fact sheet and web page.

Northern Territory

Landlords are required to make sure properties have “sufficient locks or security devices”, and take reasonable steps to provide and maintain locks to ensure the premises is “reasonably secure”.

The landlord can’t without a reasonable excuse, alter, remove or add a lock or security device without the consent of the tenant. If a landlord changes a lock, a key must be given to the tenant “immediately”, according to the Residential Tenancies Act.

The tenant can’t, without a reasonable excuse, alter, remove or add a lock or security device without the consent of the landlord. If the tenant does change a lock, the tenant must provide keys to the landlord within two business days.

Western Australia

Landlords and property managers in Western Australia have strict conditions as to what locks they can use to secure properties.

Landlords are responsible for ensuring a “minimum level of security”, and this applies to door locks, window locks and exterior lights. If tenants want extra security, they need to get permission before doing so – and neither party can change locks without the consent of the other.

According to the Residential Tenancies Act, landlords can be fined if they alter, remove, or add any locks without permission or a court order.

Minimum security includes:

  • A deadlock or an AS 5039-2008 compliant key lockable security screen door.
  • The main entry must have a key lockable door.
  • All other external doors must have either a deadlock, a patio bolt lock (if a deadlock cannot be installed) or an AS 5039-2008 compliant key lockable security screen door.  
  • Windows must be fitted with a lock which prevents the window from being opened from outside the premises.

More details about minimum security standards can be found at the Department of Commerce website.

South Australia

Landlords must make sure that properties are “secure” and are in charge of providing and maintaining locks, and both tenants and landlords need to agree if locks are changed or removed. Neither party can unreasonably withhold consent.

Additionally, tenants can collect spare keys but must pay for the replacement cost.

More information is available at the SA government website (click on ‘Locks and Keys’), and the Legal Services Commission of South Australia.

Tasmania

Tasmanian law requires that landlords provide locks to keep the premises “secure”, and that these are maintained during the tenancy. Tenants need to be given a minimum of one set of keys for all locks, including the windows.

If landlords want to change locks, they need to get the consent of the tenants before doing so – and vice versa. However, if there is a Family Violent Order in place then tenants can change locks for the purposes of protection, and new keys need to be given to landlords immediately.

Read more about locks at the Tenants’ Union of Tasmania.

Where to from here?

As you can see, right now landlords aren’t required to change locks between tenants. So apart from WA being a little more specific about the types of locks, common sense should prevail as far as making the property reasonably secure.

This can be a complex part of property, but don’t worry - here at Cubbi we know what’s going on. We keep up with best practices and guide the whole process so that you don’t need to think twice about it!

And just one more thing…

Don’t you think we could simplify all of this? I reckon the Government should provide a rebate for landlords (or tenants) replacing locks on a rental property with a smart lock, where the code or key can be easily changed at the end of the tenancy.