Securing The Property

The StoryA friend of mine recently told me that shortly after renting her apartment she found evidence that someone else often entered while she was at work. Scarier, she realized that an intruder also entered at night while she was sleeping. The unknown individual would sometimes cook a meal for him/herself, but then leave the dirty dishes in the sink for her to wash. At other times this unidentified person used her shower, yet brazenly left the damp bath towel on the floor. There was also evidence that this man or woman would enter at night, turn on a lamp, then sit and read a book! Was her apartment haunted? Did she have a creepy landlord? She hadn't given copies of her house keys to anyone, so how could this be happening? After a careful investigation the culprit actually turned out to be a former tenant. The landlord had not re-keyed the locks after his previous tenant was evicted. My friend was not aware of that fact. Once she learned the facts, she got permission to change all the locks.

Was her landlord liable? Not necessarily.

Property Codes Though is may seem sensible that all state Property Codes would have made it mandatory for landlords to re-key locks after a tenant leaves the property, it is, unfortunately,  not the case. Landlords, where the Property Code does make this specification, be sure to know exactly what the law says and/or doesn't say. For instance, the Texas Property Code Sub Chapter D, beginning with Section 92.151 through Section 92-.170 regarding 'security devices', is 13 pages long and is quite precise. If you are a new to property management in the state of Texas, don't assume 'common sense' is all that is required. Know the law.

Tenants, has a useful summary of Landlord requirements regarding locks and security. Be sure to check it out.

If you are unfamiliar with Landlord/Tenant laws regarding 'security devices', here are a few items from the Texas Property Code to introduce you to the topic. Obviously what is printed below is not meant to be exhaustive. The intention here is simply to underscore the need to be aware of and to read the whole Code very carefully.

  • (92.151) two pages dedicated just to definitions for such words as 'door knob lock', 'French doors', 'key-less bolting device', 're-keying', and 'sliding door security bar'.
  • (92.152) specifies that sub chapter D does not apply to all housing, such as to a room in a hotel or a room at a college.
  • (92.153) lists the requirements for each relevant dwelling. Note, for example, that a key-less bolting device is not required to be installed at the landlord's expense on an exterior door if the occupant is over 55 years of age or had a physical or mental disability.
  • (92.154) how detailed does the code get? Well, for instance, a deadbolt can't be installed any lower than 36 inches from the floor and no higher than 48 inches from the floor - if installed on or after September 1, 1993. Similarly,
  • (92.155) regarding sliding door security devices, a sliding door pin lock must be installed at a height not higher than 48 inches from the floor, if installed on or after September 1, 1993.
  • (92.156) It is the Landlord's responsibility to re-key the exterior doors no later than the 7th day after each tenant turnover date. A tenant may then request re-keying an unlimited number of times, but at their own expense.
  • (92.157) There are various security device installations that a tenant may request, yet at their own expense rather than the landlords.
  • (92.158) It is the Landlord's responsibility to repair or replace security devices that are inoperable due to normal wear and tear.
  • (92.159) A tenant's request to have a security device replaced or repaired may be given orally - unless the lease agreement specifies, in boldfaced print or underlined, that it must be made in writing.
  • (92.160) The Code permits the Landlord to choose the type, brand, and manner of installation of security devices - unless... (see section 92.164).
  • (92.161) The landlord must comply with the tenant request within a reasonable period of time - which is designated as no later than 7 days after the request is received by the landlord, unless...there has been a break in or some other criminal activity on the property. In that case the landlord must comply within 72 hours.
  • (92.162) Who pays for repairs or replacement of security devices? It depends on whether the tenant can prove that the damage was from normal wear and tear, and whether or not the tenant is delinquent in other fees. (see details)
  • (92.163) A tenant cannot install, remove, replace, alter, or re-key security devices without the landlord's permission unless...
  • (92.164) If the landlord fails to comply (with 92.156) the tenant may make the necessary changes and deduct the cost of material, labor, taxes, etc from their next rent payment. This section also deals with legal expenses if the tenant decides to take the landlord to court.
  • (92.165) This section spells out tenant remedies for 'other' landlord violations. For example, a tenant may - under certain specific situations - unilaterally terminate the lease without court proceedings.
  • (92.166) If and when a tenant deducts the repair costs from their rent payment, they must notify the landlord at the time the rent is due. The landlord should also be given a duplicate copy of the new key(s) or access card.
  • (92.167) What defense does the landlord have regarding tenant requests? There are some.
  • (92.168) If a property management company informs the tenant that the landlord will not comply with their request, the tenant has a right to unilaterally terminate the lease or exercise other remedies as noted previously.
  • (92.169) Specifies who the 'agent for delivery of notice' is.
  • (92,170) Speaks to the 'effect on other landlord duties and tenant remedies'.

There are, of course, other options that may enhance your security. It is usually better to be 'safe, than sorry' - whatever may or may not be written in the law.

  • Install a security camera(s) that will record all that is happening in and around any potential access to your home. Depending on the type of installation required you may need landlord approval first.
  • Make sure all doors and windows (especially on the ground floor) are fully locked whenever you leave your home and/or before going to bed.
  • Install better lighting around your home. Again, this may require landlord approval.
  • Walk around your home at night and note what may be seen from the outside. Do the blinds and/or curtains provide sufficient privacy from various angles?
  • Check to make sure that your doors latch appropriately. Changes in the weather may shift the doors so that even when locked they are not latched.
  • Don't leave a key under the door mat or in any other obvious location where a thief with any intelligence could easily find it.
  • Leave your garage doors closed and your downstairs windows locked when you leave the house.

Be safe.