Can I change the locks if a tenant moved out but still pays rent?

2 Replies

I am a property manager in Pittsburgh, PA and I have a tenant who vacated an apartment in December but didn't tell me they moved until February (our lease states that the only way they can break a lease is if they find a tenant to replace them and pay a $350 lease break fee). They never gave me a forwarding address or anything but they still pay rent every month. My maintenance guy knew the apartment was empty and went ahead and changed the locks to get the new key on the master system but left the door unlocked incase anyone came back. The tenant came by yesterday to show the apartment to prospect tenants and found that her key doesn't work and was irate when she called the emergency line to get in, the maintenance tech told her to turn the handle and that is is unlocked, and now she is also angy that her door isn't locked. She said the prospect tenant is now wary of taking over the lease because of the current tenant having the locks changed without being notified and she wants to be compensated. I don't think this is considered abandonment because she is still paying rent and utilities, but I had no forwarding address or anything. What can I do?  She wants to be able to get out of the lease because she said us changing the locks on her cost the prospect not to sign and is going to cost her a few more months of rent. Side note, in this area we only do leases in the summer time for start and end dates because it is VERY hard to find tenants outside of June-August. 

This is not "abandonment" and your Tenant is legally in possession with the right of quiet enjoyment. That means you shouldn't be changing locks, cleaning, painting, or doing anything with the unit. If you want to go in and inspect or just make sure the heat is on, you should notify the Tenant according to your lease and state law. As long as they are paying rent, do everything as if they still occupy the rental. The only way you should deviate from that is if you have an agreement in writing, signed by all parties.

Question: why would you bother changing locks and then leave the door unlocked?

Question: are you advertising the unit yourself? In most states, the Landlord has a responsibility to make a "good faith effort" to rent the unit so the old Tenant can be released. I know some markets are slow but it seems you would have found someone in four months. I'm curious if you are helping the tenant or making her do it alone?

@Nathan G.  

My maintance tech changed the locks (we had 2 vacant apartments next door to each other and the apt next door moved out of state and turned in their keys and he got the units confused and changed the wrong locks; I just found out)

Also, yes we advertise ourselves also and have a lot of trouble finding tenants during the winter. We are in an area of town with a few universities and most of our tenants are grad students or young professionals who always move in/out during summer. This is why our leases are structured during the summer months. If we were 15 minutes away in another part of town this wouldn't be in issue. 

We have 3 empty apartments in this building and she is the first one on the list for us to fill if we get an interested prospect. The problem is that all of our prospects are looking for summer move in dates-- this helps us fill our 2018-2019 leases but doesn't help fill her apartment for right now. 

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