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When Tenants Get Locked Out

Eviction & Other Landlord Issues

This article tells you when a landlord can lock out a tenant and what to do if you are locked out.

Here, learn when and how landlords can lock out tenants in Texas. A lockout happens when a landlord changes the locks on a rental unit to prevent the tenant from entering. It is not an eviction but usually a way to get the tenant to talk to the landlord about late rent or other issues. Landlords must follow strict notice requirements and give tenants a key upon request.

A lockout is not an eviction.

A lockout is not an eviction. Some think it is a way to evict a tenant, but lockouts are meant to make a tenant who is late with the rent talk to the landlord about the problems and payment. If a landlord changes the locks without first getting an eviction order from the court, they must give you a new key. 

Texas Property Code 92.0081 through 92.009 describe when a landlord may change the locks on a rental unit and the tenant’s remedies if the law is not followed.

According to the Austin Tenants’ Council, the lockout law says:

  • The lease must include written notice of the landlord’s right to exercise a lockout.
  • The tenant must be behind on rent.
  • The landlord must give advance, written notice to the tenant.
  • The tenant does not have to pay any money to regain entry into the rental unit.
  • The landlord must give the tenant a key upon request.

Can my landlord lock me out or prevent me from entering my property?

Yes, but only in three limited situations:

  1. You owe rent—if your lease allows it and your landlord follows very strict notice requirements (explained below), your landlord may be able to lock you out of your property, but your landlord must always give you a key and access to your property upon request;
  2. Your landlord needs to do repairs or construction, or there is an emergency; or
  3. You have abandoned the property.

Can my landlord lock me out for owing rent if my lease does not allow it?

No. A landlord can change locks for failure to pay rent only if the lease says they can. Also, the landlord still has to give you a key so you can get back in.

Can my landlord remove the doors or refrigerator from the property to get me to leave?

No. Unless the landlord removes the item for needed repairs or replacement, your landlord cannot remove the following:

  1. a door, window, attic hatchway cover, or a lock, latch, hinge, hinge pin, doorknob, or other mechanism attached to any of them; or
  2.  furniture, fixtures, or appliances furnished by the landlord.

If the removal is for repair or replacement, the lock, doorknob, or door should be repaired or replaced before nightfall.

Does my landlord have to give me notice before changing my locks for not paying rent?

Yes. Your landlord must mail you a notice at least five days before changing your locks. Or, your landlord must hand-deliver a notice or post a notice on the inside of your front door at least three days before changing your locks.

That notice must state:

  • In underlined or bold print, that you have the right to receive a key to the new lock at any hour, regardless of whether you pay the rent you owe.

The notice must also state:

  • The earliest date the landlord proposes to change the locks;
  • The amount of rent you must pay to stop the landlord from changing the locks; and
  • The name and street address of the individual to whom—or the location of the on-site management office where—the delinquent rent may be discussed or paid during the landlord’s normal business hours.

Does my landlord have to give me notice after the locks are changed?

Yes. If your landlord changes your locks for owing rent, your landlord must place a written notice on your front door stating:

  • An on-site location where you can go 24 hours a day to obtain the new key or a telephone number that is answered 24 hours a day that you may call to have a key delivered within two hours after calling the number;
  • The fact that the landlord must provide the new key to the tenant at any hour, regardless of whether you pay any of the delinquent rent; and
  • The amount of rent and other charges for which you are delinquent.

So, all I have to do is ask for a key and my landlord must give it to me?

Yes. If your landlord has changed your locks for owing rent, you have the right to get back into the property just by asking. The landlord must give you a key even if you have not paid the rent that you owe

Are there days when my landlord cannot legally change my locks if I owe rent?

Yes. Your landlord may not change your locks unless the landlord or landlord’s agent is available to accept your rent the day the locks are changed and the day before.

If my landlord has changed my locks, can my landlord also prevent me from entering common areas in my residential property, like the pool or community area?

No. That would be a violation of the Texas Property Code.

Can my landlord change the locks when my family or I are inside the property?

No. If a legal occupant is in the property, the landlord may not change the locks. Also, a landlord may not change the locks for owing rent more than once during a rental payment period. 

My landlord won’t give me a key or let me into my property. What can I do?

First, you must be authorized by written or oral lease to live at the property.

If your landlord refuses to allow you entry to your property, you can request an order from a Justice Court allowing you to get back into your property. That order is called a Writ of Re-Entry. The sworn request for this order is called a Request for a Writ of Re-Entry, and you must file it with the Justice Court in the precinct where your property is located. Once you file it, you will state the facts of the unlawful lockout under oath to the judge.

If the judge reasonably believes that your landlord unlawfully locked you out of your property, the judge can issue a Writ of Re-Entry, a piece of paper that orders you to get immediate access to your property. The Writ of Re-Entry is served on the landlord by a sheriff or constable, and they may use reasonable force to enforce the Writ.

The landlord can request a hearing on the lockout within eight days after you gain re-entry. The hearing will be held within a week after the landlord requests a hearing. Check your mail, email, and voicemail to find out if there is a hearing, so you don’t miss it.

What about damages for my landlord failing to follow the law with regard to lockouts?

If your landlord violates the law regarding the lockout—for example, illegally locked you out, locked you out without giving you any notices, or locked you out on the wrong day—you can sue your landlord for:

  • a civil penalty of one month’s rent plus $1,000
  • your actual damages
  • your court costs; and
  • reasonable attorneys’ fees
  • less any rent or other sums you owe.

If your landlord refuses to give you a key after locking you out, your landlord could be liable for an additional month’s rent.

Can my landlord evict me if my landlord illegally locked me out for owing rent?

Yes. While you may have claims against your landlord for damages as a result of an illegal lockout, you could still be evicted for nonpayment of rent.

Are there any forms I can use?

The Texas Justice Court Training Center has forms you can use to ask the court to let you back in your home or to let you get your belongings. All forms below are in Microsoft Word format.

Writ of Re-Entry: A Writ of Re-Entry lets you return to your home when you have been wrongfully locked out.

  • Application for Writ of Re-Entry: Form that lets you ask the court for a Writ of Re-Entry
  • Writ of Re-Entry - Writ and Return: Form that the court signs that lets you return to your home.
  • Order After Hearing: Form for the judge to sign if you go to a hearing for re-entry and you win. You can also use this form to ask for court costs if the landlord does not request a hearing within eight days of getting served with the Writ of Re-Entry.

Writ of Retrieval: A Writ of Retrieval lets you back in the home to retrieve any personal property you left behind. It does not give you the right to move back in.

More Information

For additional reading, view Texas RioGrande Legal Aid's Lockout FAQ.

You can also go to the Austin Tenants Council's website for more information on Texas lockout rules. The Austin Tenants' Council serves the Austin, Texas, area, but its website has useful information for all Texas residents.

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