My Tenant Has Changed The Door Locks, Can He Do that?

Tenant Changing Door Lock

A question that seems to continuously land on my doorstep (pun intended, sorry): can tenants legally change the door locks?

In short, it depends. So let’s take a look into the details…

There’s a lot of confusion around this issue, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t hold my hands up and admit doubt.

For a long time I was under the impression that tenants could freely change the locks without any issue, but after devouring the heated comments section in this wonderful blog post on LandlordLaw, which has notable contributions by legal minds, I’ve taken a 180 degrees turn.

Please note, everything in this blog post is just *my opinion” based on the information I have read, so is no shape or form should it be constituted as legal advice.

Page contents:

Generally speaking, can tenants change the locks?

From what I’m aware of, no. They can’t.

There is no general right to change locks and exclude the landlord from the premises without *cause* (and even the ’cause’ is up for debate on whether it’s justifiable). Changing the locks without permission could mean the tenant is:

  • Breaching the terms of the tenancy agreement
  • Committing “criminal damage” on the basis that the property is being modified without the landlords permission (even if damage isn’t caused to the property during the procedure)

Essentially, tenants generally don’t have any reason or rights to change the locks and withhold the keys from the landlord unless they have an actual reason to (which I discuss further down).

Why are changing locks not permitted?

I’m not *entirely* sure on this (I couldn’t find a definitive answer), but I suspect it’s because of the following:

  • It can make it difficult for landlords to enter the property to fulfil their duties, many of which they are legally obligated to fulfil.
  • It prevents landlords from accessing the property in cases of emergency.
  • Changing the locks could be constituted as making changes to the property, which generally speaking, tenants are not permitted to do without consent.

As a landlord, the above reasons for why tenants can’t change the locks without reason make sense to me.

So when can tenants justifiably change the locks?

There’s no clear cut answer from what I’ve read, and it’s mostly circumstantial as to whether changing of locks is justifiable:

  • If the tenant is granted explicit permission by the landlord (permission should be granted in writing)
  • If there is a clause in the tenancy agreement which permits it (there usually isn’t. On the contrary, there’s usually a clause which stipulates it’s NOT permitted)
  • If the tenant feels harassed by the landlord. For example, if the landlord frequently turns up to the property unannounced and without any real reason.
  • If the keys have been lost and consequently the tenant’s safety is compromised. In this case, the tenant should inform the landlord and resolve the problem accordingly, and the landlord should not be withheld from the new set of keys.

If the tenant does change the locks they should preserve the original fixtures and fittings. Any damages caused by the tenant during the procedure is recoverable from the security deposit, even if they have justifiable reasons for changing the locks.

I once actually had a tenant that changed the front door locks. This was the outcome of her handy D.I.Y work:

Damaged Front Door

The door was completely trashed.

I feel inclined to believe that she fitted the new locks with a mechanical sledgehammer.

To her displeasure, I ended up using her security deposit to replace the door. You can read more about that dramatic saga here: I’ve Fallen Out With My Ex-Tenant Over Her Security Deposit.

Tenant’s right to live in “quiet enjoyment”

Just as a reminder: it is the tenant’s statutory right to live in “quiet enjoyment”, which essentially means the landlord should not constantly disturb or harass the tenant while living in the property.

Landlords are not entitled to enter the tenant’s living area without written permission as they have the right to use the property as their home. However, the landlord has the right to ‘reasonable’ access to carry out repairs they are responsible for, but should always ask for the tenant’s permission first, and should give at least 24 hours’ notice.

Breaching this lawful right – especially on a frequent basis – could give tenants justifiable reasoning to change the locks.

What does the tenancy agreement say about changing locks?

Most standard tenancy agreements specifically forbid tenants from changing the locks. But it’s worth checking to see what yours says.

If there is no specific clause mentioning the locks, or specifically about changing the locks, there is usually a clause about forbidding making changes to the property – and I believe that covers locks.

If the locks are changed without cause or permission

If the tenancy agreement specifically forbids changing the locks or making changes to the property, the landlord is entitled to change the locks back and charge the tenant for the expenses incurred during the process. The cost is typically deducted from the deposit at the end of the tenancy.

Evicting tenants that change locks

If you’re concerned that your tenant has changed the locks with the intention of refusing you reasonable access to the property to carry out essential duties, such as inspections, viewings or to attend repairs and maintenance issues, I would personally look into terminating the tenancy.

In the event that the tenant unreasonably prevents access, you can apply to the county court for an injunction.

40 Join the Conversation...

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Iain Hamilton 16th February, 2010 @ 15:47

That is rather crazy photo, ok if they want to change the locks then yeh no problem, but not getting a professional in to do it!? We've never seen anything this odd over here yet..


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Adam Hock 16th February, 2010 @ 23:45

I think, that's depending on the reason of what they do. But can be terrible thing if happen to me :D

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Jools 17th February, 2010 @ 08:15

Thing is Iain,

If they do that to a lock/door they probably do not have the intelligence to call in a professional!


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Stuart John 28th February, 2010 @ 21:33

I suite all of my door locks so I only need to carry one key. To stop the tenants changing them I round off the screw heads and I put a clause in the contract that lost keys are £50 to replace. Cheers. Stuart John.

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Jon 12th September, 2011 @ 21:55

I'm a landlord and I always encourage female tenants to get the locks changed. In one case I paid for that myself as she was really hard up. If you don't do this then she doesn't know who might have a copy of the key and she's living in fear all the time. If I was a tenant myself I would always change the locks on day one. Even for a bloke it's creepy to think that the landlord could just walk in at any time. If you have taken a sufficient deposit then just let your tenants get on with their lives.

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Glen 30th January, 2013 @ 12:27

I have no problem if the tenant wants to change the locks as long as they let me know first. I use a guy who has a great reputation locally, reasonable rates and does a great job. I send this dude round and the tenants pay (they want the change after all).

If I can change the locks when I move house then they should be able to as well.

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damian cornish 14th February, 2013 @ 10:51

can i just clarify the crazy picture" that was no lock replacements that door was kicked off its hinges, trust me i can tell, so if anything its a " crazy photo" of a S*** repair!

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Alistair 2nd November, 2014 @ 09:26

Agree (Damian) - obviously tenant lost key.. locked out.. kicked door in.. bad repair. New door from deposit.
Stuart John - i think you're misinformed; security is a primary concern for anyone in their own home.. your suited locks are convenient to you, but unless you use security keys (that only you can get cut) so that you are able to assure tenant that no other keys exist.. they deserve to have a lock change. Possibly, even to control your access. They can still get someone skilled to drill those screws, but what a lot of needless hassle?
Do replacement keys cost £50? I doubt it.

Landlord here has visited by agreement (builder quoting repairs & sale viewing) in my absence and rifled through 2 piles of my documents, removing a couple of letters (I know, because I sorted those papers & removed especially confidential items that morning - I don't trust him, huh?) Judging by the text message I missed, landlord was looking for items of his mail (still arriving here 4 years since he moved house!?! Something suspect about that? Since Court he has given updated address to his bank/mortgage(?).. but home insurance still arriving! What is he worried about I wonder.. but he left no note about taking anything. Ugly behaviour. Lock change the obvious next step.. easy: latch cylinder & euro cylinder.

Such amateur landlords, even with the best education UK can provide, are the very worst - he thinks renting out his house is *all* about him, but failed to protect deposit; had clause about no lock changes in tenancy; efficient(!) 33yr old boiler; rewireable fuseboard; duct tape to 'seal' top of electric power shower; no extractor fans; full set of dripping taps; 8yrs of ivy growth atop roofing felt extension(bedroom) roof; lack of maintenance with water penetration (some fungi grew from edge of ceiling by backdoor, and there was mould in a subfloor void.. months of inaction. It has been a joy. ;)
Court action: he refused to enter sensible negotiation prior to court date.. my legal & counter-claim fees were substantial. And he still thinks I owe him goodwill..
Kicking myself for failure to spot smell of hidden mould during viewing, regardless of landlords subsequently discovered limitations.

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renee 18th November, 2014 @ 21:41

does anyone out there know- can a person who lives with someone change the locks while the other person is at work because they're splitting the sheets. I didn't think you could legally do that because its his home as well. Any comments or suggestions please thank you

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Nick 28th January, 2016 @ 11:22

1. Tenants have a legal right to secure the property in any legal way (alarm systems, lock change, etc). A lock change is not considered a renovation so no need to notify landlord. Reinforcing a door with may be considered renovation, however may be reasonable, necessary and recommended in areas where the local crime is significant.

2. As a landlord, and son of parents who have been landlords for 15 years, I don't recommend challenging a tenant on this matter. Legally they have an upper-hand as a judge will agree with their right to safety over your narrow rights to maintain a property you lease.

3. Someone asked: Can a tenant change a lock on another tenant? No this is illegal, and the courts can punish the person that changed the lock to keep someone who resides there out. Also a landlord must never change the lock on a tenant until they have possession of the property by court documents OR if the tenant has abandoned the property for certain amount of time or moves out (each state is a bit different on this though, so be sure to learn your local laws).

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priorygirl 2nd February, 2017 @ 19:57

My tenant has changed the COMPLETE FRONT DOOR and lock - from a victorian wooden door with locks, bolts, chains to a plastic door. They didn't like the draft from the wooden door. ripped out the wooden frame too. All is dumped in the back garden . What can I do?

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bob 12th May, 2017 @ 19:17

be thankful for the free upgrade

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John 1st September, 2017 @ 20:13

In my Assured Shorthold agreement it states I cannot change the locks,

However because of my bad past experience with landlords I have changed them.

Can my Landlord come with lock smiths and change the locks and in the processes enter my property?

I have paid all my rent on time for 7 months in a row.

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John 1st September, 2017 @ 20:13

Also forgot to mention, I am living in a flat.

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Bob 23rd January, 2018 @ 12:18

Not really, John. It may happen, but you then take them to court. There's precedent for that, the tenant won.
Of course, you may not have told them what you've done, in which case you should keep quiet. Then, the only way the landlord could know is if they attempt entry, which is unlawful.

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Alexandru 30th June, 2018 @ 08:29

I am a tenant and i wake up with the agency guy in the flat... he didn't ask my permission to come in and he didn'send me letter message or phone up ,my question is can i change my door lock

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Bob 30th June, 2018 @ 09:03

Alexandru Go ahead. Changing the locks is a hotly debated topic, but they may never find out, unless they attempt trespass again. It may technically put you in breach of contract, but they have broken the law, and your security is important, and your right of entry pretty much exclusive and absolute. If it were me, I may also be making noises about making a complaint to the police on account of the trespass.

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Alexandru 30th June, 2018 @ 09:44

I have call emergency and they said ...because it is a civil dipute they cannot asist me i have change the door lock 5 minutes ago ...i mention that they Agency" cut the wires from the heathing and try to release the gas pipe i sware i'm not inventing nothing keep in your mind that i have a baby 1 month old....

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Paul M 20th September, 2018 @ 16:49

What I would want as a tenant to do is this...

Fit a second lock, which only I have the key to.
On inspection day, I would leave that lock unlocked, thus allowing the landlord or agent access.

I would also be happy to put the key in escrow, so that the landlord could get the key to the second lock in appropriate circumstances.


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Paul M 20th September, 2018 @ 16:55

actually, what you need is THREE locks!!

the key to the first is shared between landlord and tenant, and left unlocked most of the time except on inspection days.

the key to the second is not shared, only owned by tenant, and left locked most of the time, but left unlocked on inspection days.

the key to the third is not shared, only owned by the landlord, left unlocked most of the time. If the landlord evicts the tenant, legally, he/she can immediately lock the door and exclude the tenant!

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Paul M 20th September, 2018 @ 17:09

p.s. copies of the tenant-only and landlord-only keys should be held in escrow to allow each party to unlock the other's lock, for emergencies or to prevent abusive situations etc.

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Mike 28th January, 2019 @ 23:46

The page you refer to on Landlord Law described the trouble that the Police can get into which has been huge on a few high profile cases.

The idea that it is criminal damage is nonsense, nothing has been damaged, just changed and capable of being restored. The property is subject to a tenancy, if at the end of such a tenancy there was damages they would be a civil matter according to the terms of the tenancy.

Basic Tenant law going back well over a hundred years talks about what makes a tenancy and it mostly comes down to the Tenant having right to defend exclusive access to the property. The Landlord forgoes their own rights for the duration of the tenancy.

When a Landlord rents a property with exclusive possession he transfers such rights, other rights are also conferred by Acts. More recently in last 60 years we have the right to quiet enjoyment and the Protection from Harassment Act & Protection from Eviction Act. These confer further rights.

Even if a tenancy agreement explicitly says the tenant is not allowed to change the locks, it can't override common law, from case law to Acts.

They might not like it but where a landlord creates a tenancy and reserves the right to go into the property with or without notice that reservation would be inconsistent with rights conferred by Acts unless it was a licence, e.g. if they were a lodger.

The tenant should return the lock to status when they leave, they should either put original lock back or give new keys to landlord, but a long as they are a tenant they are entitled to defend their tenancy.

The Landlord Avatar
The Landlord 30th January, 2019 @ 14:08

Hi @Mike,

Thanks for your feedback/thoughts.

The original blog post by Tessa started off discussing an incident with the police, but the comments section (particular the contributions by Francis Davey, a barrister) was more about changing locks in general. Did you read through them?

Francis also addresses the "quiet enjoyment" caveat.

Obviously I'm not legally qualified, so I went by his qualified words.

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Bob 30th January, 2019 @ 16:40

As people have said on the aforementioned forum, it would be difficult for a landlord to know whether the lock has been changed without them being even naughtier than a tenant breaching a contract.
Hey, I'm a tenant.

The Landlord Avatar
The Landlord 31st January, 2019 @ 10:45

As they say, ignorance is bliss :)

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Mike 1st February, 2019 @ 10:16


Yes I read all the comments, I think the comments of one Barister do not make the law, he has opinions but so do others.

I think the web page below is more accurate and what you might want to refer to in your article

"Generally when someone signs a tenancy agreement they will then ‘own’ the property for a slice of time. A tenancy is an ‘estate in land’ and different legally from, say, a lodger situation where the lodger just has the right to use the room.

So if the tenant owns the land (or flat or whatever it is) he also has the right to change the locks if he wants. So far as I am aware, under the common law there is nothing to stop a tenant doing this, and he is under no (legal) obligation to give a set of the new keys to the landlord."

All I can do is refer you to my previous post and warn Landlords about the risk.

Think about it, if you got the locks set back and entered the property in anything but emergency you would be breaching law if you entered without authority.

At least with regard to the Police there is guidance to remember these are civil matters except where Landlords breach Protection from Eviction or Harassment acts which are criminal offences.

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Bob 1st February, 2019 @ 11:09

I'm with Mike.
Incidentally, the lawyer in question eventually conceded, didn't they?*

*Could be wrong. When I Googled it a couple of times aeons ago, I found one thread which had a link to a massive thread.

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Melissa Stevenson 4th September, 2019 @ 04:09

Today I had a housing inspection. After it was over I texted my landlord and told him everything was good. He then leaves me a voicemail saying he was outside my door and was just going to let himself in to make sure everything was ok. Can he do that

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Bob 4th September, 2019 @ 10:38

No, Melissa, he can't. That's trespass if he doesn't have your permission.

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David 4th September, 2019 @ 17:37

@Melissa Stevenson

You are entitled to quiet enjoyment of the property, the tenancy agreement will likely say that they can come in with 24 hours notice or in less time in case of emergency.

However, the 24 hours notice is not enforceable, whilst for a genuine emergency you can insist you only allow a certified engineer (e.g. Gas Safety) to enter the property and that they not be accompanied by the Landlord.

I am not suggesting that you create a problem with your Landlord but they seem to have boundary issues.

My advice to you is to change the cylinder of the lock, they cost £3 on eBay and as long as you do not damage the lock and restore the original when you leave, then there is no legal issue.

You could then write him a firm letter telling him you have been forced to change the lock because he does not seem to understand your legal rights of quiet enjoyment of the property and he was in breach of his own tenancy agreement. Then say that if there is any further harassment you will be reporting the matter to the Police and reserve your right to take legal action against him under the Protection from Harassment Act (1997), it is important you do not fight with him or that may affect your position.

It is slightly different for lodgers but if you ever feel unsafe let him know and let the local authority or Police know.

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Karl 8th October, 2019 @ 10:17

I live in the second apartment and there 3 the tenant in no 1 has changed the entrance lock should he provide the new keys

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Brenda Nisbett 4th June, 2020 @ 00:35

My tenant has changed the locks and refused to give me keys, what can I do? She told me that CAB told her that she can take a rent holiday and she has not paid any rent for 3 months. She has threatened me, that if I go near my house she will call the police. Do I go for a possession order or go for a section 21 notice. I have never experienced anyone like her before and it’s affecting my mental health. She has two dogs in the property, breaching the contract. There is no grass left in my garden due to the dogs. Can anyone give me some advice please?

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David 4th June, 2020 @ 01:47

@Brenda Nisbett

A tenant like this is going to be difficult to shift, just accept that it is going to take time and she is going to make things as difficult as possible. You will be able to hold her responsible for damages by dogs.

The first thing you do is turn off the tap, that means you contact the Council and put in a claim for rent to be paid direct to you as arrears are greater than six weeks.

This will be at the level of LHA for your area which has been increased lately and for the number of bedrooms she needs which may be less than she has.

You will need to enclose a copy of AST and maybe Land Registry doc to show you are the Landlord.

If they say she is not on housing benefit then you try same thing with Job Centre Plus (who process HB when element of Universal Credit).

Right now she is using her housing benefit to live on, when the money is cut she will likely look for another place.

Meanwhile you need to issue a Section 21 and a Section 8 notice, you need the Coronavirus versions which require 3 months notice, this doc explains all

At the moment all eviction proceedings are stalled so there will be a backlog but you might as well get the ball rolling to mitigate your loss.

Next you need to get somethings in writing, if you contact me via the forum I can write you a letter that will put a few things on record for the eventual Court date and may bring her out of her shell.

She is not entitled to a Payment Holiday, she is encouraged to negotiate a deferring of rent according to her circumstances.

So a tenant on furlough at 80% may ask for a 20% deferring of rent, but the rent remains owing. It is still up to you to agree any deferring of rent.

YOU are entitled to ask your lender for a payment holiday which defers your payment of mortgage by adding 3 months to mortgage and Government has just asked banks to give another 3 months. That does not mean you have to mirror that, your arrangement should be based on her circumstances, I will be able to help you get those.

As you have a live case I suggest you contact me via the forum using the link below

Join the forum, confirm the email (don't use hotmail) and then follow the link below which has an option to send me a private message.

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Jack 2nd October, 2020 @ 17:08

I am a tenant for the first time in 35 years and experiencing the horrors of poor management by a dreadful London estate agent. It's fun reading the other side of the story. Interesting choice of icon for tenant, looks angry, probably with good reason. I own a house and a property I holiday rent out. I can't believe how greedy my landlord is. Doesn't want to spend a penny on anything. So much turned out to be broken and they simply don't fix it.
I'm looking forward to giving my notice.

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Michael James 8th October, 2020 @ 04:04

Having read the above experiences of both landlords and tenants, I feel more assured with my desire for both security and privacy at my abode.
I am a (UK based) Tennant, living in my current room for just about 4 years, this is in a shared house with strange strangers. A past Tennant put a lock on his door,(due to other tenants entering rooms in his absence) the door lock, (which was installed by his brother, without the knowledge of the Landlord) is still in place, the landlord is unclear on why others can't fix locks to their room doors.
Being a night shift worker, I go to bed around 8am, a tenant (who works sometimes during the day, entered my room unbidden startling me from my sleep, on the pretext that window, outside of my room was open causing his room to get a draft, this incident has made my decision for me, I have ordered a HENYIN Wave Lever Keyed Entry Door Lock/Door Knob Hardware Wave Handle and Closet Lockset(805SN-L), this will be used when I am not expecting an inspection and removed when or if one is scheduled. Upon my exit at end of my tenancy, I will happily return door to the original condition.

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Jolang 27th February, 2021 @ 11:14

I need some help and advice.

I have a guy that creeps me out living across the hall from me. I'm in a flat, several times I've come home to find my door open and slightly ajar. It's happened at night too, I've woken and found the do it always ajar the same amount. Sometimes I've come home and felt like someone has been in my flat and strange things get dismantled, like my air purifier, plug, cafetiere.

I feel so unsafe, there is only a nkghtkatch on the door and it's not out in very well. It took 5 secs for a locksmith to come out and open it with a piece of plastic.

I'm worried my neighbour is doing the same. But the agency and landlord won't let me change the locks.

I'm feeling so anxious about this.

If I change the locks via my own accord I'm worried they might terminate my tenancy. And I don't really have enough money to find somewhere else

Shall I inform the police?

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Bob 27th February, 2021 @ 12:27

Jolang, others will advise better than me but, IMO, you need to change the locks and report it to the police (and agency and landlord) and, I'm afraid, be prepared to move, no matter how difficult that might be.

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David 27th February, 2021 @ 18:34


That does sound creepy, the neighbour may have a key from previous tenant or landlord.

I would carefully swap the cylinder and put it back at the end of the tenancy.

Also the door/latch may be poorly fitted, personally I would put a second lock on, for the Landlord you are just increasing the security and can leave it when you go. If they query it you can explain the the Police do not recommend relying on just a nightlatch.

You can but cylinders on ebay but also a better nightlatch lock that has anti theft, can't be drilled and has thing to block credit cards being used to open lock. Also on ebay

I would also get a video doorbell, it will video any movement and save it to the Cloud, sending an Alert to your phone (check specs).

Also get a CCTV camera for inside your property, look on YouTube for reviews.

You definitely want to make a report to the Police and ask them if the person opposite you is known to them, some will tell you, some not. A client of mine was told that flat above them was a crime hub as they had so many reports of drug dealing, theft, violence, criminal damage and intimidation. All it means is they respond a bit faster if they get a report.

You get the Land Registry report online for £3, it will tell you name of owner of the property, you may find that they have a Landlord who may be aware of issues.

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Jasmine 11th April, 2021 @ 23:19

I have changed my locks with permission of the estate agent but it's a professional job as my friend is a locksmith I think especially as a single female you should have a right to change the locks per house as you have no idea who could have a copy of a key to your home and your house insurance isn't going to cover you if someone has had a key it's also a massive saftey issue if someone wanted to stalk and kill a female who now lives where they did if they have a key easy not even that there are stories where the estate agents that have the keys and people who work for them have gone into homes and assulted females so my View is change the locks pay for a proper job give the keys back end of tenacy I don't see a problem the handy men are always round so know the flat is well looked after

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Jasmine 11th April, 2021 @ 23:32

Jolang if you can't change the locks use rape alarm the sqaure ones on Amazon tape one side behind your door at night then the cord to the wall so if the door gets opened it will trigger an alarm you can also get wooden door stops can use on front door if it allows you but definitely in your bedroom at night hope this helps

















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