Question: I have just bought an apartment building with four units and am a first-time landlord. The previous owner gave me a set of keys for the units. When I tried to enter one of the units recently when the tenant wasn't home, the key did not work. I suspect the tenant changed the lock without telling me or the prior owner. I was thinking about just having a locksmith come to the property and change the lock. Would I be within my rights?
Answer: A landlord has a right to access a rental unit and a right to a key to the unit to gain access. If there were an emergency such as a broken sewer or toxic leak, for example, the landlord has a duty to take immediate action and would need a key.
It is a good practice to include a provision in your rental agreement requiring a tenant to provide a workable key to the unit. However, we believe you can enforce this right even without an explicit clause in the rental agreement. If you've asked for a key without success, the proper method to enforce your right is to serve a written three-day notice to "Perform Covenant or Quit" directing the tenant to provide a workable key. If the tenant fails to comply, you may proceed with an unlawful detainer action in Superior Court to evict the tenant.