Can my landlord change my locks and keep my Personal Property
Written by B. Clark, Esq.
Thursday, 16 December 2010 16:38
As an attorney I can not count the number of times I have been asked this question. Can my landlord change my locks and keep my personal property? Actually, this question raises two similar but different legal issues. First, can my landlord change the locks or lock me out of a house I am renting or leasing? Secondly, can my landlord keep my personal property?
Usually theses issues arise in situations where the tenant is not current in rental payments or some other circumstances where there is a conflict between the landlord and the tenant. To better understand this I will give you a quick lesson in real estate law. When a rental or lease agreement is enter into the tenant acquire some rights or interest in the property she is renting. No, the tenant does not acquire ownership rights but she does acquire rights to possession and use of the property. As a general rule once theses rights are obtained there is only two ways they can be taken away. The tenant can voluntarily relinquish possession and control of the property. This is usually done by the tenant moving out of the property. If the tenant refuses to relinquish possession, the only other way is by a court order a.k.a. an eviction.
Therefore, your landlord can not lock you out of the property unless it is court ordered by a judge that you have been evicted, by which point you have a certain amount of time to be out. The amount time you have to vacate the property vary from state to state and even from judge to judge. Some judges will give you anywhere from a 24-72 hours to be out while other may give 2 weeks or even more. If the tenant is not out by then, the landlord does have the right to lock you out of the house, and have law enforcement to remove you from the property.
What ever is left in the house by that point becomes the sole property of the property owner. In other words what ever property is left in the house then becomes the property of the Landlord. Which they may do how they wish with your things. They can throw it away or sell it to get some value for any debt that may be owed by you.
KEY POINT: They must take you to court first and have a court order to evict you before any of this can happen! If there is no eviction order from the judge or you are moved out before the court order runs out, the Land Lord can not lock you out of the property, and can not touch your belongings. But if you are there past the court ordered eviction time period, then that’s another story.