There are many challenges you have to deal with as a landlord, and having tenants lock themselves out of their units is just one on a very long list of issues. There are a variety of ways you can handle this type of situation, and the best way depends on your particular circumstances. Here are three different ideas for how to prevent or resolve tenant lockouts.
Only Install Locking Deadbolts
One way to keep tenants from locking themselves out of their rental units is to only stall locking deadbolts. While these locks can be secured from the inside by just turning a knob, the tenant must use the key to lock it from the outside. This forces the tenant to ensure he or she has the key to the unit in his or her possession when the individual leaves the home.
For this to work, however, you must install non-locking doorknobs. This may not always be feasible, though, because the residents may be uncomfortable living in a unit with a door that's secured by only one lock. This is particularly true if the rental is located in a high-crime area. You could compensate for this by installing two deadbolts, but be aware that's double the keys you'll likely have to keep track of.
Install Permanent Lockboxes with Spare Key
Another way you can help tenants when they get locked out of their rentals is to install a permanent lockbox on the property with a spare key inside. This way, if the tenant calls for help with getting into the unit, you can direct them to onsite lockbox and provide them with the code to get the spare key. You can then get the key back when you have a chance, return it to the lockbox, and reset the code on the box.
This solution probably works best with single-family homes because it may be easier to find places on the property that are secure and easily accessible. For instance, you could put the lockbox in an unlocked shed that people unfamiliar with the property may not think to look. It may also be easier to move the lockbox to different locations on the property between tenants.
To keep tenants from abusing this option, you could charge for the service. Just be sure to indicate in the rental agreement that there is a lockout fee and when the tenant is required to pay it (e.g. with next month's rent). People tend to be more careful about keeping track of their keys if they know they will have to pay someone to help them when they are locked out.
Install Smart Locks
A third option is to install electronic locks that can be connected to a home automation system that allows people to control certain aspects of the home using a smartphone app or through a secured website on the Internet. In this scenario, if the tenant calls you about being locked out, you could open the door for them via your phone or computer. Alternatively, you could give the tenants access to the system so they can let themselves in without having to bother you.
There are systems available for both single-family and multi-family residences. However, you'll want to consult with an attorney to ensure your rental agreement covers all possible legal issues associated with this type of setup. For instance, if someone hacks your phone or computer, you could be held liable if the hacker uses the app to break into the tenant's home. Additionally, if you provide the tenant with access to the system, you'll need a way to reset the access codes between renters.
For more ideas on preventing and handling tenant lockouts, contact a commercial locksmith like those at Suburban Lock.