Renter Resources  

What to do if you’re the Victim of an Illegal Lockout


If you have a landlord who has changed the locks without proper notice, this may be considered an illegal lockout. There are laws in place to protect tenants and there are rules and protocols that landlords must follow to protect tenant rights. 

Know the Law

Here’s what you need to know. In some cases, landlords can change the locks:

  1. If you haven’t paid rent or have abandoned the apartment, and have been given notice by the landlord that you have been evicted, they are allowed to change the locks.
  2. If the landlord needs to make emergency repairs or government sanctioned repairs, you will need to vacate.

The Law is on Your side

A lockout is generally illegal if a landlord does change the locks for issues other than unpaid rent or abandonment. This is important to know because you can’t be locked out of your apartment because they don’t like where you park your car or if you have ill-behaving friends over or even if your dog barks loud. Also, late fees can‘t be the basis for a lockout either. Be aware that emergency repairs, construction that affects the integrity of the property, or other legitimate emergencies may warrant a lockout.  

Notice is Required

Your landlord must give you adequate notice that they will be changing locks. This will give you time to make arrangements to vacate the apartment. You will need to remove your belongings including furniture, kitchen contents and your clothing. 

You should understand that an illegal lockout occurs when your landlord doesn’t give you adequate notice to vacate. A lockout is generally illegal if it's done without adequate notice. Local governments take this type of issue very seriously. Landlords can’t just lock people out without notice. 

What Happens if you are Illegally Locked Out?

The first thing you should do is to calmly try and reach the landlord. Explain that you weren’t given appropriate notice and you want a key to the door immediately. If this is not received well, call the police. They will send a police escort so you can go into the apartment with the landlord or a designee of the landlord present to get personal items. You may even be able to move your belongings out.

Contact an Attorney

As a tenant, you have rights. It’s important to realize that if you didn’t pay your rent or if you abandoned your property, your landlord has a legal right to lock you out.  If you are not behind in your rent, and if you believe your lockout is unlawful, an attorney can explain your legal options. You could be awarded damages associated with this unlawful lockout which may include property loss, displacement costs, storage fees and moving expenses. You also can possibly recover damages for mental anguish and expenses due to loss of work. 

lImplications of the COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has been financially hard on most people. There are protections for tenants during the pandemic. A temporary halt on residential evictions was ordered earlier this year. Based on the guidelines issued by the CDC, a landlord, owner of a residential property, or other person with a legal right to pursue eviction or possessory action, shall not evict any covered person from any residential property in any jurisdiction during the time of this order which is extended to December 31, 2020.

You are Protected from Illegal Lockouts

In addition to the temporary halt on evictions because of the COVID-19 pandemic, your rights are protected as a tenant. You must be given adequate notice of an eviction and only be evicted for legal reasons which include not paying rent, abandonment or an emergency situation like repairs or construction. If you find you are the victim of an illegal lockout, call the police. They will help you gain access to the property. It’s also a good idea to speak to a lawyer about your rights. You are protected and can recover damages from the landlord.