Locks and security

Check out the video below to understand what kind of security devices the landlord is required to install for you on your doors and windows.

Under Section 92.153(a) of the Property Code, a landlord must install the following security devices:
  • a window latch on each exterior window;
  • a doorknob lock or keyed deadbolt on each exterior door;
  • a sliding door pin lock on each exterior sliding glass door,
  • a sliding door handle latch, or sliding door security bar on each exterior sliding glass door, and
  • a keyless bolting device (that only can be locked and unlocked from the inside) and a door viewer on each exterior door.

Note: keyed deadbolts or doorknob locks are not required on all exterior doors as long as one door has both keyed and keyless deadbolts and the rest of the doors have keyless deadbolts.

For French doors, one of the doors must meet the criteria above, and the other door must have bolts which insert into the doorjamb above and below the door.

Keyless deadbolts are not required in the following instances:

Situation 1Situation 2
– Dwelling is part of a multi-unit complex;
– Majority of units are leased to tenants who are over 55 years of age, or who have a physical or mental disability;
– A tenant or occupant in the apartment is over age 55 or has a physical or mental disability; AND
– The landlord is expressly required or permitted to periodically check on the well-being or health of the tenant as part of a written agreement.
– Tenant or occupant in the unit is over 55 years of age or has a physical or mental disability;
– Tenant requests that the landlord deactivate or not install the device; AND
– Tenant certifies in a written request that the tenant is over 55 years of age or has a physical or mental disability.

For some definitions of security devices, check out this page from Austin Tenants Council.

The landlord must change the locks between tenancies.

A landlord must re-key or change all the key-operated locks (or other combination locks) on the outside doors between each tenancy at the landlord’s expense. The landlord must re-key by the seventh day after you move in. You can also ask the landlord to re-key or change the locks at other times while you’re living there, but you may have to pay for it. 

Do I have to pay to fix broken locks?

A landlord may not require a tenant to pay for repair or replacement of a lock or other security device if it breaks because of normal wear and tear. A landlord may require a tenant to pay for repair or replacement of a lock that was damaged by misuse of the tenant (or the tenant’s family or guest), but only if this policy is written in the lease (check your lease). Below is a demand letter that you can complete and give to your landlord requesting that they fix or change the locks on your apartment.

Letter demanding the installation or repair of locks (form letter here)

Every renter should have working keyed locks and keyless bolting devices (that cannot be unlocked from the outside) on all exterior doors. You should also have working window latches, pin locks on sliding glass doors, and door viewers on exterior doors. You can use this form letter to demand that the landlord provide or repair these locks, pin latches and other devices required by the Texas Property Code. A landlord who refuses to provide these locks has extra legal penalties if you give them a notice like this demand letter and they still don’t fix the problem. If the locks have been provided, then a landlord should be given written notice if they are broken.

Need help filling it out? Check out this tutorial:

7 STEPS

1. Type or write the date that you are sending in this Demand for Security Devices or Locks.

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2. Here, you will write the address of the person you want the letter delivered to, the person who collects your rent. This could be the manager of the complex, the name of the complex, the owner, or the management company.  

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3. Check the box next to the method that you are using to deliver this letter. It is best to send by certified mail if you can, especially if you think you might sue your landlord later.

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4. If you decide to send the Request by Certified Mail, you can ask a post office employee for assistance.

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5. Write the Certified Mail Number on the letter, keeping a copy for yourself, as well.

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6. Check off the security device(s) or locks that you need repaired or provided.

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7. Sign your name at the bottom. Print your name. Write your address, including your apartment number. Lastly, write your phone number and/or email.

Remember to make a copy of the letter for your own records.

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Here’s an interactive tutorial

https://www.iorad.com/player/1767850/Demand-for-Security-Devices-Tutorial

Lawsuit for failure to provide or repair locks (form lawsuit petition here)

You can use this form for filing suit in justice court, also called justice of the peace or JP court. If a landlord fails to install or timely repair a required security device after written notice, you are entitled to recover actual damages, one month’s rent plus $500, attorney fees and court costs.

Punitive Damages:  In addition, if the landlord fails to install or rekey a mandatory lock after written notice, the tenant may also seek punitive damages if the tenant suffers actual damages. If the landlord fails to repair a lock after written request and the tenant suffers actual damages, the tenant may also recover punitive damages if the landlord’s failure to comply is intentional, malicious, or grossly negligent.

Justice court has a jurisdictional limit of $20,000 and is sometimes more friendly to landlords because JP courts hear evictions in their courts frequently. But, it is easier to represent yourself in justice court, cheaper to file the suit and you get to trial much quicker. See Sue your landlord to learn how to file suit and try the case in justice court.

What happens if you need your lock changed?

The landlord must install, repair, or re-key devices within a “reasonable period of time,” usually within seven days of your request. If there has been violence where you live within the last 2 months, such as a break-in or attempted break-in to your place or another unit in your complex, the landlord should act more quickly and the “reasonable period of time” is three days. You must notify the landlord of the violence, break-in, or attempted break-in for the shorter time period to apply. Give your notice and request for installation or repair in writing, and be sure to keep a copy of the notice (form letter below).

If you are responsible for paying the landlord for the installation, repair or modification of the locks, the landlord may not require that you pay for these in advance, unless (1) you are more than 30 days delinquent in reimbursing the landlord for a prior charge of repair or replacement of a lock to which the landlord is entitled or (2) you requested that the landlord repair, install, change or rekey the same security device during the last 30 days.

If the landlord doesn’t make the fix you asked for within seven days of the compliance notice (or three days if there is an extra risk, like a recent break-in or attempted break-in, or if the lease doesn’t list tenant rights concerning security devices that are described in this section), the tenant can legally do any one of the following: 

  1. End the lease. 
  2. Install or repair the security device and deduct subtract the cost from the rent.
  3. If the claim is for the landlord’s failure to install or rekey locks as required under sections 92.153 or 92.156(a) of the Property Code or the claim is for the landlord’s failure to install, rekey, change, add, repair, or replace a security device under section 92.156(b), 92.157, or 92. 158 of the property code, the tenant may file suit for a court order requiring the landlord to bring all of their dwellings into compliance, and for actual damages, punitive damages, civil penalty of $500 and one month’s rent, court costs, and attorney’s fees.

BE AWARE: the landlord will probably not let you out of your lease or return your deposit without a fight. In fact, the landlord might put something on your credit report unless you sue and win. So, suing is often a better solution than trying to terminate your lease.

Letter demanding locks and other devices be re-keyed (form letter here)

You are entitled to have the locks rekeyed at the landlord’s expense within seven days after the change in tenants. This includes any key or security code that could be used to enter your home. The change must be performed within 7 days of moving in. A notice or letter are not required; however, if you think the landlord has not changed the locks or entry codes, it is best to remind the landlord of their duty. You are also entitled to have the locks and other devices rekeyed at your expense at any other time upon written request.

Lawsuit for failing to re-key the locks (form lawsuit petition here)

You can use this form for filing suit in justice court, also called justice of the peace or JP court. If a landlord doesn’t rekey a security device after you have given the landlord written notice (either between tenancies or later at your expense), you are entitled to recover actual damages, punitive damages, one month’s rent plus $500, attorney fees and court costs. Justice court has a jurisdictional limit of $20,000 and is sometimes more friendly to landlords because JP courts hear evictions in their courts frequently. But, it is easier to represent yourself in justice court, cheaper to file the suit and you get to trial much quicker. See Sue your landlord to learn how to file suit and try the case in justice court.

Can I repair or re-key a lock if the landlord doesn’t do it?

If you’ve given the landlord notice and asked for them to repair or re-key a lock, and they haven’t done it in a timely manner, you can repair or re-key a lock without the landlord’s permission, and deduct the cost from your next rent payment.

Security guards and other kinds of security

There is nothing in the law that requires landlords to hire security guards, or as some call them “courtesy patrol officers.” Landlords say these services are very expensive so they usually do not provide them. If your complex does have security guards and they are not patrolling when they should be, notify the landlord.

Wrought iron fence with brick pillars in between segments, cars driving on a road, bare trees, and a bright blue sky in the background.

There are other ways to reduce crime in your complex:

  • Better brighter lighting;
  • Fencing around the perimeter (example: wrought iron);
  • Controlled access to the complex (for example, by gate);
  • Curfew on children under 18;
  • Security cameras with video taping.

If an apartment complex has serious problems with crime you should tell the landlord in writing. You should also tell your city councilperson.  You can ask the City Council to have the City Attorney file a nuisance suit against the landlord. This could also be a good time to form a tenant association so that you can address the problems as a group. See the tenant organizing page.

If you can’t find a solution to the problem, you can ask the city to have the City Attorney sue your landlord because of the crime. If a judge finds that the crime is so bad that the complex is a nuisance, the judge may order the landlord to install lighting, fencing and other devices to address the crime.

Getting out of the lease because a crime happened where you live

If a crime occurs at a property, it’s unfortunate for all concerned: the victim, the other residents at the property and the owner. But most owners don’t make any promises about the security of the property. You can talk with the owner or management to see if they are willing to end the lease or increase the security. If the landlord will not let you out of your lease early, you will probably have to pay any penalties or fees outlined in your lease for moving out early (check your lease!). See Moving Out.

A landlord may be responsible for personal injuries or death resulting from serious criminal acts if the landlord knew or should have known that a crime was likely to occur and there was something they could have done to stop or deter it. You should talk to an attorney if you think this is the case.

Who pays for losses if something happens to my stuff, such as my vehicle, as a result of criminal activity?

If you have renter’s insurance, your insurance should pay for your losses, minus any deductible. If the damage is to your automobile from vandalism  and you have comprehensive insurance, your insurance carrier may pay. If you have any doubt about coverage, check with your insurance agent. 

If you don’t have insurance, you’ll be responsible for replacing or repairing broken or lost things. The property owner’s insurance does not cover property belonging to residents; it only covers the property owner’s property.