Tenant locked out, should I charge a fee?

41 Replies

Hi everyone, around 9PM last Friday night, my tenant texts to say she locked her keys in her apartment and asked if I would stop by to let her in, this was 9PM at night but I only live 5 min from the property so I agreed. I inherited this tenant and she's been on time with rent, however, she's kind of evasive, she tried to avoid me for the first 3 weeks when I took over the building. I would say my relationship with her is good however there is a $50 lock out fee in the lease and I feel like I should charge it because I want her to know that I am holding her feet to the fire with the agreement but on the other hand, I did not mention any fee when I opened her door and don't want her attitude towards me to change over $50, what do you think?

Sounds like you don't like her much.   Maybe the first 3 weeks she was busy with life.   You're 5 minutes away and its the only issue she's had.   You should have told her to come to you to get the key since you're so close.  

I did not mean to sound like I was trying to be a hardass, I was leaning towards not charging it anyway, but wanted opinions. I am actually a really nice landlord, I was over there to unlock her door within 10 mins. 

My lease states I charge a $50 lockout fee.  I am running a business and time spent running over to an apartment is time spent away from my family or other work.  Train your tenants to be responsible by charging for their lack of planning.  I encourage them "make arrangements" for a contingency plan in the case of a lockout.  I leave it up to them to come up with their own plan, lest they come back to me and try to deflect responsibility:  "you told me to hide a key and someone found it and entered my unit and stole my TV. It's your fault - you owe me!"

Good luck!

@Samantha Klein Seems like a good way to build rapport provided you let them know this is a one-time courtesy.  Don't feel bad about being "greedy" as others have mentioned.  Your time is a finite resource and you have a written contract that essentially demonstrates that.  Do you consider your plumber greedy if he charges you for his services even though it was "just this once"?

You shouldn't have to mention it if it is in the lease she already signed; she should already be aware of it.  I would charge her.  It doesn't matter how close or far you are from this tenant; they don't necessarily know that.  You are running a business, but we do tend to be nicer and let more things slide here in the midwest. But if you feel like it wasn't that much of an inconvenience than possibly not charging her the first time but I would in the future  (if this is a newly acquired tenant for you, this could be an ongoing issue you just weren't aware of).  

This happened with one of my tenants once and I was actually on my way out of town and spent an hour getting the key and bringing it to her. I thought about telling her to get a locksmith but was pretty certain she would call them only after her or her boyfriend tried "breaking in" through one of  the doors or windows and caused damage to the property. Sometimes it's worth the time to prevent a bigger headache, but I definitely like your advice @Wesley W.

Originally posted by @Samantha Klein :

Hi everyone, ... there is a $50 lock out fee in the lease and I feel like I should charge it ... don't want her attitude towards me to change over $50, what do you think?

 Hi Samantha, I have a lockout fee (and a lost key fee) in my leases, too.  I never charge for the first call to unlock a house, but while I'm opening the door I remind the tenant of the fee and promise to charge it the next time I'm called to unlock the door.  I've never received that second call from a tenant.

I don't see the need to nickel and dime my tenants into submission.  If they're generally good tenants (which for me means pay on time and don't trash my property, that's about it) I wouldn't ever think of charging to unlock a door for good tenants the first time.  Maybe not even the second time.

I had that call . it was around 2 pm . Locked out . Well I was on a job 2 hours away and wasnt leaving till I was done . Told the tenant I will be there around 8 or 9 that night .  They were not happy about that . So I told them they can come get the key from me .  I am on the other side of Washington DC , with traffic it will take you 2 to 3 hours to get here and close to the same to get back .  So you still will be getting back in the house at 8 or 9 that night .     Or you can call a locksmith on your dime .

They waited 

I once had brand new tenants lock themselves out when they were first moving in.  It was about 8-9pm at night and they had their friends/family there helping them move all their stuff in, and someone accidentally locked the keys inside.  They called me and I went over and unlocked the door for them because I wanted to get off on the right foot.  Also, it was much easier for me to just make a quick drive over there and unlock it for them so they could continue with the move than it would have been if they would have had to call a locksmith at that time of night and wait around while all their friends/family sat idly by with all their belongings still in the moving truck out front.

I can tell you that they definitely appreciated it and I'm glad I did it.  

I also learned something from that incident that caused me to never have a lockout again. Prior to that night, I installed deadbolts and locking doorknobs on all the front doors of my rentals.  However, I realized that is the exact setup that allows lockouts to occur in the first place.  Someone will end up inadvertently locking the doorknob and closing the door before they realize the keys are still inside.  

So how did I prevent this from ever happening again?  I changed the locking doorknobs on the front door to non-locking doorknobs (called passage/hall/closet knobs).  That way, you have to have the key with you to lock the deadbolt from the outside and there is no way to lock the front door and then close it while your keys are still inside.  Problem solved.  In the years since, I have never had another tenant lockout.

I would never have them come meet me to pickup keys.  Especially at my own House.  Do most Landlords give 2 sets of keys when they get new renters?   I knew of one guy that picked up an old key making machine and would cycle all of his door locks between his 9 rentals.  This way, if a old tenant shows up with their "extra" keys, the locks have been changed and only a few minutes taken to switch out to an extra set of locks kept in his garage.   

Nowadays, I would be worried about people "bumping" the locks so I would suggest in investing in some bump proof lock sets.

I agree, one freebie, but after that stick to the amount listed on the Lease. 

I have a lockout fee in my agreement. Personally, if I lived <5min away and it wasn't too late (9pm for me is not late, but that could change for anyone) AND most importantly this was a one time thing, I don't think I would enforce it. If I had to come back within the same 6-9 months or so, then yes I would charge. If it was 2am, I would 100% charge the fee. 

To me.... 5 min away, 9pm on practically a weekend, open the door and be on your way.

This is why I intentionally don't install the turn knob or push lock style of door knob locks on any property. Not even my own residence. Dead bolt only. Keeps it a non issue. The door knob locks are useless anyway. Takes me 10 seconds to blow by these locks.

I completely agree with @Tony Gunter and @Kyle J. concerning the deadbolt only method.  I've changed all my units in MD to a deadbolt and a keyless handle to prevent accidental lockouts.  I also use a product from Kwikset called Master Control that actually has two keyways - one for the tenant and another for a master key, and it has smartkey so I can rekey any of them on the fly.  I just carry one key now for all my rentals and don't have to buy any more locks or call a locksmith.

Just make sure if you don't charge this time you tell her it is waived. Glad i could help you last week,  I want to remind you there is a $50 lockout fee in your lease. I will do a one time waiver but please be aware that future calls will incur a charge. 

The other thing I have done is have a lock box onsite but that isn't really for this situation, it is in case I have to send someone else.