Owner Liability and Door Locks with Your Rental Property


When you own or manage a rental property, you sit on a scale that is delicately balanced as to liability toward a tenant and their rights. If your tenant is paying their rent on time, keeping that scale balanced is crucial. Strangely, even if the tenant is not paying their rent on time, there are still obligations that must be considered up until the day of eviction.

An Example – Door Locks on Your Rental

A tenant submits a work order requesting a repair be made to the rear kitchen access door. According to the work order the door will not secure. After investigating, damage is found to the lock set. The tenant claims that this damage is vandalism that occurred when somebody tried to gain access with the door locked. The tenant heard noise and scared off the possible intruder. Nobody noticed the damage in the latch until a couple of days later as this door is not used routinely.

Could this broken lock set be the tenant’s responsibility?

This tenant has been a part of several different questionable requests, and they are behind on their rent. You might feel the repair should be an expense of the tenant. There are several reasons why this approach might be wrong. There is also potential liability faced if the owner refuses to make the repair, and tenant does not either.

Landlord’s obligations to safety

In most states the landlord has an obligation to the tenant to provide safe, clean and habitable conditions of the property. If the tenant contacts the landlord and provides notice that they are not in compliance with these obligations, the tenant may take the landlord to court. If the landlord still refuses to make the requested correction, the tenant may be eligible to receive

  1. actual damages and consequential damages,
  2. Injunctive relief,
  3. any other remedy appropriate under the circumstances.

Your attorney would need to explain how each of these affect you but leave it to me to put this in layman terms, you are going to end up owing money to a tenant. That decision might sting even more if the tenant is delinquent in their rent.

What do the courts look at to determine liability with a door lock?

The following are actual factors a jury was given to consider if a landlord was careful enough.

  1. The location of the property – where is it? Is having a working lock on the door important?
  2. How likely is it that the tenant might be harmed in these circumstances?
  3. Whether the landlord should have known about the aspect of the property that caused the harm. Did the tenant tell the landlord that the lock was broken? How long did it take for the tenant to inform the landlord?
  4. How difficult it would have been for the defendant to protect against the risk of that harm? Would it have been easy to replace the lock?
  5. The extent of the defendant’s control over the condition that caused the harm. Was there enough time for the landlord to fix the lock?

As a property manager we provide common sense answers to landlord and tenant issues. When needed, we share the law from a layman perspective. Avoiding the attorneys should be all of our objectives.

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