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California: Tenant Lock Change


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#1 ThatTenant

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Posted 01 September 2009 - 08:55 AM

Been at least 2 burglaries of apartments in a large apartment building in San Francisco within the last 3 months. Both burglaries appear to have been by use of a pass-key (i.e, no visible sign of forced entry).


1.)Can the tenants have the key to their entry door locks changed without giving the new key to the landlord? (The leases typically say no unauthorized alterations.)


2.) Is changing the pin combinations in the existing lock an "alteration" given it is the same lock and the same pins, just in a different order?


3.) If they cannot change the key legally, and they are discovered to have done so illegally, can they avoid eviction?


4.) How difficult would it be to get a court to authorize the tenants to change the keys and not give the landlord the new key?



#2 Fallen

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Posted 01 September 2009 - 09:07 AM


It's unclear whether you've read up on CA landlord tenant info in general, and SFO ordinances in particular. 

As for the lease saying "no unauthorized alterations", while you don't bother to mention the context, this typically refers to improvements or alterations like painting, etc.  Does lease say anything about your not being authorized to change locks?  If not, feel free.  Let the landlord address it in landlord-tenant court if it has a problem.

"3.) If they cannot change the key legally, and they are discovered to have done so illegally, can they avoid eviction?"

There's a concept of a notice to cure a breach, and I suspsect a landlord wouldn't successfully get a court to agree eviction is warranted even if you did ignore a lawful demand to cough up a copy of a key.  The court would simply, at worst, likely order you to cough up a key.  :)  


"How difficult would it be to get a court to authorize the tenants to change the keys and not give the landlord the new key?"

Have no idea how backed up your local landlord-tenant court might be.  Meanwhile, might be a good idea for folks to install a little nanny-cam like device and send landlord a letter that no non-emergency access by maintenance is authorized when you aren't home unless and until the security issue is addressed.  It may be that maintenance wasn't safeguarding any master key properly (assuming there is such a thing) and it was copied ... or not (wouldn't have to "force" entry to burglarize an apartment without a master key -- you'd just need a basic competence picking simple locksets).


I'll echo PG's advisory "warning" with a twist: (Many) legal issues are complicated. Explanations and comments here might not fully identify or explain the ramifications of your particular problem. I do not give legal advice as such (and such is impermissible here at any rate). Comments are based on personal knowledge and experience and legal info gleaned over a quarter century, and every state has differing laws on and avenues to address most topics.  If you need legal advice, you need to consult (and pay) a professional so that you may have someone to hold accountable.  Acting on personal and informational advice from a stranger on the internet is a bad idea -- at least not without your own thorough due dilience/research and confirmation as it applies to your situation.  :)


#3 ThatTenant

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Posted 01 September 2009 - 09:39 AM

Thank you for the reply.


I am familiar with CC 1954 which defines when a landlord may enter an occupied residential rental unit: (emergency; necessary/agreed upon repair; show to lender or potential purchaser; abandonment). I am also familiar with the rent ordinance, which limits evictions to 15 just causes, the most relevant one being "...violation of a lawful obligation or covenent of tenancy...."


The leases vary. One exemplar provides: "[n]o alterations or redecorating of any kind shall be made to Premises or any part thereof without the prior written consent of Owner." It says nothing about keys or locks.


I am interested in any known precedents, not necessarily limited to California, for defending tenants changing the locks or key combinations without authorization in response to a history, even if it is a brief history, of burglary or unauthorized entry whether that be by the landlord or persons unknown.






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