A lockout is when a landlord literally changes the locks on a unit because a tenant has not been paying rent. However, a lockout is not the same as an eviction and there are a lot of rules governing how a landlord can initiate and carry out one. The Austin Tenant’s Council helps you understand those rules.
A landlord can only change the locks for non-payment of rent if stated specifically in the lease agreement. The law is designed to make a tenant connect with the landlord so they can discuss non-payment of rent, but a landlord has to give a new key to the tenant regardless of whether they pay any rent at all. The landlord has to give notice of a lockout at least five calendar days before changing the locks by mailing a written notice, hand-delivering it, or posting it on the inside of the apartment door at least three days before the locks are changed. This notice must include the earliest date for changing the locks, what rent the tenant has to pay to avoid being locked out, the name and address of who the rent needs to be delivered to or discussed with, and underlined in bold print the tenant’s right to get a key to the new lock at any hour, whether rent is paid or not.
Once the locks have been changed, a note must be put on the outside of the tenant’s front door with the on-site location where the tenant can go 24 hours a day to get the new key, or a telephone number that is answered around the clock that the tenant can call to have a key delivered within two hours. It also must state that the landlord will give the tenant a key regardless of the hour or if any rent is paid and the total of rent and other charges that are owed to the landlord.
The landlord cannot change the locks on either the day or the previous day to a day that the landlord will not be available or the management office won’t be open so that the tenant could pay any owed money. In other words, you have to have the chance to pay the rent before the lockout occurs. Locks cannot be changed when any tenants are in the apartment, more than once during a rental payment period, or to keep the tenant from going into a common area of the property.
If you are locked out, you need to request a new key and the landlord is required by law to give it to you within two hours of your request. You must stay at the apartment for at least two hours, otherwise if the landlord shows up, they just have to leave a note with the address of where you can obtain a key during normal business hours.
The landlord cannot keep you from living in the unit without a court ordered eviction. If the landlord refuses to give a key, the tenant can request a writ of reentry from the justice of the peace. You will be required to pay a small amount for this, but can request a pauper’s affidavit if you cannot afford the sum.