The Common Law

My tenant is two months late on rent – can I change the locks?

My tenant hasn't paid rent in over two months. She stopped returning my calls and refuses to answer the door when I come by to visit with her. Can I change the door locks on the property if the tenant has not paid rent?

Probably yes. The Texas Property Code (section 92.0081) allows a landlord to change the door locks of a tenant who is delinquent in rent, although there are very specific requirements that must be followed by a landlord when locking out a tenant.

The landlord's right to change the locks because of a tenant's failure to timely pay rent must be in the lease agreement. The landlord must provide 3-5 days' notice (5 days if the notice is mailed; 3 days if posted on the inside of the main entry door) to the tenant of the earliest date the landlord proposes to change the door locks.

The landlord must place a written notice on the tenant's door if the door locks are changed. The notice must state the amount of rent and other charges for which the tenant is delinquent. The notice must also state an on-site location where the tenant may go 24 hours a day to obtain the new key, or a telephone number that is answered 24 hours a day that the tenant may call to have a key delivered within two hours of calling the number.

That's right, landlords – even if you lock out your tenant for not paying rent, Texas law requires that you give the tenant the new key upon request. The new key must be provided without regard to whether the tenant pays the delinquent rent.

Why bother changing the locks at all, you ask? Changing the locks forces an otherwise nonresponsive tenant to communicate with the landlord before re-entering the property. Be sure to read Texas Property Code Chapter 92, particularly section 92.0081, if you are a landlord who is giving consideration to locking out a tenant.

Please submit column suggestions, questions, and comments to thecommonlaw@austinchronicle.com. Submission of potential topics does not create an attorney-client relationship, and any information submitted is subject to being included in future columns.

Johns, Marrs, Ellis. & Hodge LLP, www.jmehlaw.com.

The material in this column is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute, nor is it a substitute for, legal advice. For advice on your specific facts and circumstances, consult a licensed attorney. You may wish to contact the Lawyer Referral Service of Central Texas, a non-profit public service of the Austin Bar Association, at 512-472-8303 or www.austinlrs.com.

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