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A Guide to Changing Tenant Locks in Chicago

A Guide to Changing Tenant Locks in Chicago

As a general rule, you should change the locks on your rental unit each time a tenant vacates your property. Since there are many reasons a tenant might vacate, you must understand what to do in each situation. These practices will protect your property and help you avoid litigation. 

Scenario 1: The Tenant Moves Out at the End of Their Lease

45 to 60 days before your tenant’s lease expires, you should discuss their plans with them. They may decide to remain in the rental unit and if that is the case, you’ll most likely want them to sign a new lease. However, they might decide to move out. If that’s the option they choose, you should schedule a time to meet with them upon vacating to walk the unit and collect the keys.

Even though your tenant returned the keys, you can’t know for sure that extra copies weren’t made. That’s why you should always change the locks between tenants.

Illinois laws require the landlord or property owner to change the locks after a tenant has vacated their unit. Failing to do so can leave you liable if the new tenant’s belongings get stolen from the apartment. However, this stipulation does not apply to shared housing in which the tenant rents a bedroom or a multifamily unit in which the landlord occupies one of the units.

Another stipulation is that the requirement for changing the locks only applies to counties in Illinois with populations over three million. This means that the law applies to Cook County but not to the surrounding counties.

Scenario 2: The Tenant Abandons the Property Prematurely

A tenant might abandon the rental property without notifying you. Be cautious in this situation because the unit may only seem abandoned. The tenant may intend to return even if they have not taken their belongings with them. As long as the lease hasn’t expired, the tenant is well within their right to return.

Illinois law specifies certain conditions in which you can reasonably assume the tenant has abandoned the rental. You can legally treat the unit as abandoned if all permitted occupants of the unit have been gone for more than 32 days. They must also have failed to pay the rent in this case.

Another situation in which you can assume the tenant has abandoned the unit is if they have moved most of their belongings out. In this case, they only need to have vacated the unit for 21 days while failing to pay rent.

However, if the tenant’s rent payments are up-to-date, you must assume they will return. You can only change the locks when the legal conditions for abandonment have been met.

Scenario 3: The Tenant Has Changed the Locks

Your lease agreement should specify whether you allow your tenants to change the locks on their rental units. Illinois law requires you to install a deadbolt lock on the door to each entry point of the rental unit. If the tenant wants to add additional locks, they must notify you in advance.

It’s important to make sure the tenant gives you a copy of the keys for the new locks. You may need to enter the apartment in an emergency, or the tenant may abandon the property. Your tenants should be aware that you can break the lock or call a locksmith in an emergency unless you have keys for the new locks.

If you find that the tenant has changed the locks without your knowledge, contact them immediately. Make sure they supply you with keys for the new locks and remind them that they can’t change the locks without your knowledge. Ask them to notify you in advance if they plan to change the locks again.

Scenario 4: Evicting a Tenant

There are times when it will be necessary to evict a tenant. The most common reasons are nonpayment of the rent or serious damage to the property. In these situations, you must follow a complex legal process before changing the locks.

This process starts with serving an applicable notice and then filing that notice in your local court system. Once the court has processed the eviction, your tenant will have a specified number of days to vacate the property. They also have the right to appeal the eviction, which could delay the process further.

You cannot change the locks until this process is complete. Even if the specified time period has lapsed, you need to wait for the sheriff to come and carry out the physical eviction. There may be other legal stipulations you will have to follow before taking action to change the locks so it is always best to consult your attorney beforehand.

Professional Property Management Will Improve Your Landlord/Tenant Relations

The Residential Landlord Tenant Ordinance (RLTO) in Chicago can be complex and cumbersome so it’s okay if you feel uncertain about the right steps to take when changing locks - that’s why we are here to help!

Named one of the Best Property Management Companies in Chicago, Landmark Property Management is a full-service brokerage with a reputation for going the extra mile for our clients. If you need help, have any questions, or are interested in learning from the best property management company in Chicago, don’t hesitate to reach out! You can contact us at Landmark Property Management via phone at 312-313-8553 or send us an email at

*Disclaimer: None of the information above should be construed as legal advice. Please consult with an attorney prior to changing the locks on any rental property.