Tenant broke the key and now wants me to replace the lock or key

43 Replies

Hello, so my tenant has bent the key while trying the lock . They say it is unusable at this time . Is it my responsibility as landlord to replace this key if possible ? I don’t even know if it’s possible to do so .

Also, if not possible I am sure she will ask to change the lock 

pleade advise . This is a very difficult tenant who is always unreasonable  with thier requests .

Thanks 

@Nadia Hale They only have 1 key? If the tenant broke the key, they are responsible for the cost of you providing a new one. We charge $50 for this service and we have them pick it up from our office instead of us delivering it to them. If they also broke the lock, I would let them know that you will call a locksmith but they will be responsible for the payment. This will probably come down to taking it from the deposit when they vacate. I would get a detailed written invoice from the locksmith showing the exact cause of the problem so you have proof for the deposit deduction. IF you had a reasonable tenant, you could have them take care of this themselves and provide you with a copy of the new key but since you don't, you will have to handle this directly. 

The responsibility should be in the lease.  

In general, you are responsible (would you trust this tenant?) to replace the broken items.  Since they broke them, they are usually responsible to pay.  

It's not really unreasonable to expect a working lock -- I would probably just replace the lock and not charge my tenants but I'd let them know that they would have to pay if they did it again.

By all means, replace the lock and the key, but if it was in good condition before they moved it, you bill them for the cost.

Hi Nadia,

If she bent the key trying to turn a non-turning lock (not her fault) WD-40 the lock or replace it as defective and you pay.

If she bent the key using it as a screw driver or prying tool she pays.

I have twisted off a key in a defective lock before, it's easy to do.

I like the Schlage Grade 1 deadbolts with a Hall and Closet lock set replacing the front door knob (so no lockouts).

Good Luck!

Unfortunately that’s the only key and now that’s it’s bent ( not broken), can they even make a copy ? Or does it come down to changing the locks as no one can duplicate the only bent key? 
thanks so much !! 

Don't you have a key where you can create a copy for a dollar and they can meet you at walmart or home depot to pick it up.  I didn't look much into it but last time I was making keys at Home Depot they gave me the option of saving the key in their system with a code so if I ever needed to make one I could sign into an app get the code and get a new key.  This makes me think this may be something I should look into more but I always give them 2 copies and I have 2 copies, one on my keychain and one at home.  I don't really know how you would know if this was something the tenant either caused or failed to report and most likely I would just eat the cost.  Replace the lock with a kwikset smartkey system, changing the key between tenants takes under a minute and saves money over the long term.  Also if you have been around a while and this is not your first tenant I am hoping you change the locks between tenants, if so maybe you can just use one of the old ones you have.  

Originally posted by @Nadia Hale :

Unfortunately that’s the only key and now that’s it’s bent ( not broken), can they even make a copy ? Or does it come down to changing the locks as no one can duplicate the only bent key? 
thanks so much !! 

 So my first question is "Why is that the only key?" Makes no sense from a landlord point of view. Don't you keep a master key for the locks, and if not, why not? 

Assuming they broke the key in the lock, you should replace the lock. If the lock was hard to turn it's not hard to snap one as @Scott Mac noted above. And keep extra keys. 

Sounds like a few lessons will be learned and while it is a pain it is always good to learn.  If this isn't covered in your lease it should be.  The lease is a contract that should cover all topics.  When you learn something new, put it in the lease.  We keep a spreadsheet of things to add to our leases.  Even though we have been doing this for 20 years on many hundreds of homes we are always open to learning and changing.  Create a key/lock change policy and get that in the lease. 

As to who's fault this seems to be open for debate.  Won't go into all the possibilities as others have already done that.  Don't forget this doesn't have to be 100% they pay VS you pay you can offer to split the costs too if you are fault in some capacity as well.  

The only way I see this being tenants responsibility is if they were using it in a non designated fashion. If the key broke because you bought the cheapest key you could find, its your responsibility to replace. If it broke because the knob was jammed/broken, its your responsibility to replace. Also, if you must install a new knob because that was your only key, that's your cost as well. It isn't the tenants fault you only have 1 key. In general, unless there was some abuse found, it shouldn't be the tenants cost.

@Nadia Hale any properly functioning lock should not be so hard to turn that it bends a key. Any landlord or property manager should have a spare key. That means either way, this is your responsibility. You are calling the tenant unreasonable, when the issue is you not properly maintaining and managing the property.

Here is the best solution. Purchase a Grade 1 Kwikset Smartkey Deadbolt. The Grade 1 locks are more durable and the Smartkey locks can be rekeyed by a landlord in 5 seconds. Keep a spare key for emergencies. Next time your tenant moves out, rekey the lock and keep a spare of the new key.

definitely some learning here 

So the lock is more than 15 years old . We are out of state landlords so although I didn’t hear from her before that the lock was not working properly, the lock is old and could be jamming . 
it is our fault that we don’t have a key and there’s definitely learning there. We will include this in any lease we devise from now on on what happens if a key breaks .

Full disclosure , we are going to sell the property in 3 months as we have given tenant notice and they will vacate July end . So I guess , we should just change the locks and keep a key at this point and that way we will have a key?
mu only question is, is It reasonable to ask tenant to pay for change of lock as there was no indication of a malfunction prior to this ?
thank you all 

Originally posted by @Nadia Hale :

definitely some learning here 

So the lock is more than 15 years old . We are out of state landlords so although I didn’t hear from her before that the lock was not working properly, the lock is old and could be jamming . 
it is our fault that we don’t have a key and there’s definitely learning there. We will include this in any lease we devise from now on on what happens if a key breaks .

Full disclosure , we are going to sell the property in 3 months as we have given tenant notice and they will vacate July end . So I guess , we should just change the locks and keep a key at this point and that way we will have a key?
mu only question is, is It reasonable to ask tenant to pay for change of lock as there was no indication of a malfunction prior to this ?
thank you all 

It is unreasonable to ask the tenant to pay for the change of lock unless they tell you they bent the key trying to pry something with it. If the key bent while in the lock, the lock was either not maintained properly or malfunctioned and unless the tenant tells you they did something to the lock, it's your lock. If you had a second key, you would spend 2 bucks on a key instead of 200 on a locksmith (or whatever locksmiths cost where you are).

A lot of lessons in life are expensive. This one is relatively cheap. Keep a spare key. 

 

Originally posted by @JD Martin :
Originally posted by @Nadia Hale:

definitely some learning here 

So the lock is more than 15 years old . We are out of state landlords so although I didn’t hear from her before that the lock was not working properly, the lock is old and could be jamming . 
it is our fault that we don’t have a key and there’s definitely learning there. We will include this in any lease we devise from now on on what happens if a key breaks .

Full disclosure , we are going to sell the property in 3 months as we have given tenant notice and they will vacate July end . So I guess , we should just change the locks and keep a key at this point and that way we will have a key?
mu only question is, is It reasonable to ask tenant to pay for change of lock as there was no indication of a malfunction prior to this ?
thank you all 

It is unreasonable to ask the tenant to pay for the change of lock unless they tell you they bent the key trying to pry something with it. If the key bent while in the lock, the lock was either not maintained properly or malfunctioned and unless the tenant tells you they did something to the lock, it's your lock. If you had a second key, you would spend 2 bucks on a key instead of 200 on a locksmith (or whatever locksmiths cost where you are).

A lot of lessons in life are expensive. This one is relatively cheap. Keep a spare key. 

 

 Just to support what JD said, without proof they damaged the lock, it is your responsibility to fix it. I have fixed many broken things over the years and they don't always give some indication they are breaking. As far as putting in the lease what to do if a key breaks, the answer is the landlord fixes it. You don't even need that in the lease. If your plan is make the tenant responsible for all problems, good luck retaining good tenants. Nobody wants to deal with difficult landlords. It seems you are annoyed by tenants who report problems, so even if they did say something, would you have even done anything? The best I advice I can give is stop trying to avoid responsibility for maintaining the property. Just call a locksmith and give them your credit card. Problem solved and move on. It is a cost of doing business.

While I appreciate the advice and did have some great learning on this issue , I have managed this tenant for 11 years and it all went fine. The tenant has given me a lot of issues since we asked them to leave as we want to sell the property. They have completely damaged the garage door and stil haven’t paid me or even told me the damage happened. They bring up issues every week now and have become unreasonable to the point. 
Thank you for your Frank advice . This is why I come to the forum .


@Nadia Hale

It’s literally $30 in materials to change a knob and deadbolt. Could have been done in the time you’ve spent here with this post.

Just do it, it needs to be done regardless.

Yes am changing the lock. The tenant won’t agree to giving us one key . She says she won’t hand over the key to the agent who will mail it or us as she doesn’t feel ‘safe’ anyone else having it . Is that a reasonable request ?? 

We all have tenants we like more than other tenants for what ever reason.  However, this is a case where the quality of the tenant does not factor into my advice.

It is hard to tell if the key being bent is normal wear and tear, but virtually impossible to prove it was caused by the tenant.  This is what I would do:

  • I would have my maintenance staff lube the lock (with lube designed for locks) and make sure the lock is functioning correctly.  The tenant is not responsible for the lock getting stiff.
  • I would use my key to make the tenant a couple of new keys (more than likely I would use my maintenance staff to go have the key made).  I have keys for all units (7 sets that get rotated), but if the only key is the bent one, I would carefully straighten the bent key and make new keys for the tenant and make sure I had a key (make at least a key for yourself).

This is no big deal.  It is easy to fix and impossible to prove the tenant did anything wrong bending the key.  I do not see trying to charge the tenant for either the key or the cost/effort of lubing the lock mechanism.

Good luck

1. Go to hardware store and buy the cylinder that is the center of the dead bolt pick same existing color. Save receipt.

2. Have hardware store make extra keys that you keep

3. watch a youtube video on how to pull out old center and replace

4. Go to property with phillips head screwdriver that fits the screws and a chisel or knife for prying if necessary, go with every possible part and some WD-40 or graphite. Maybe you can pull out the key with plyers?

5. you are only replacing the center NOT the strike - save that for another repair

amend your lease to state if they break another key the cost is $60 

Actual parts cost $11-20 

Give them one key. If they want another right then ask for $20 cash.

Originally posted by @Dan Heuschele :

We all have tenants we like more than other tenants for what ever reason.  However, this is a case where the quality of the tenant does not factor into my advice.

It is hard to tell if the key being bent is normal wear and tear, but virtually impossible to prove it was caused by the tenant.  This is what I would do:

  • I would have my maintenance staff lube the lock (with lube designed for locks) and make sure the lock is functioning correctly.  The tenant is not responsible for the lock getting stiff.
  • I would use my key to make the tenant a couple of new keys (more than likely I would use my maintenance staff to go have the key made).  I have keys for all units (7 sets that get rotated), but if the only key is the bent one, I would carefully straighten the bent key and make new keys for the tenant and make sure I had a key (make at least a key for yourself).

This is no big deal.  It is easy to fix and impossible to prove the tenant did anything wrong bending the key.  I do not see trying to charge the tenant for either the key or the cost/effort of lubing the lock mechanism.

Good luck

Dan, just out of curiosity, really, what lubricant specially designed for locks should I be lubing my locks with?

 

Pay for a new lock and don't haggle for a few dollars and don't waste time arguing about why the lock is broke.

One reason tenants rent is because they don't want to own properties and they don't want to have to worry about repairs. Landlords want just the opposite. The landlords want to rent properties with worn out locks, drain pipes that are 99% clogged before tenants move in and then want to blame the tenant for everything that breaks.

Make your tenant a happy camper. Unless the tenant is a gorilla, the lock probably was defective and the key bent. An entire lock set at Home Depot costs about $18 and you can probably get your tenant, neighbor, or friend to install the lock for free, or maybe $20 and you have a happy tenant. 

Personally, I would hate to lose one minute of my time arguing about who broke a lock. It is your lock, not the tenant's and the tenant expects that the key will not break or bend by normal use.

Just a few weeks ago, one of my tenants complained that the key in her lock was too hard to turn. I didn't go to her unit to repair the lock. I purchased a new lock at Home Depot and went their to replace the lock because I want be absolutely positive that the problem is resolved in one trip and I don't want the tenant to have to call me a 2nd time. I could have oiled the lock with graphite, but why take the chance and try to save a few dollars when our time and providing customer service is so valuable. 

Locks have a short life expectancy. They get corroded from the weather and keys wear out the tumblers causing keys to bend and break.

You say this is a 'difficult tenant huh?

Every little thing is a problem?

I'd replace the lock and key with a new one and make sure he gets the wrong key. Once he discovers he is locked out you apologize profusely and say how sorry you are that some 'mistake' must've happened - then drag your feet, don't answer calls, say you're coming by right away to deliver the 'correct' key but 'forget' it and have to come back tomorrow.

I would just put in a new lock and call it a day. It's like 13.00 from Walmart and will take all of about 15 minutes. 

landlord or not, just be a stand up guy. Use the opportunity to try and build a better relationship. 

its costs about 12 to rekey a lock. its about 2 for a key.  be a good landlord and rekey the lock and get your tenants multiple copies and keep one for yourself too.