Building Security, Locks, & the Law – FAQ

Last updated: November 2, 2009 – 2:27 PM

NOTE: If your landlord lives in your building, see the “Exceptions” note on the right side of this page.

lock1Is there a law requiring my landlord to change the locks before I move in? Yes. An amendment to state law 765 ILCS 705 § 15, also known as the Landlord Tenant Act, requires lessors to change or re-key locks on or before the day that a new tenant moves in.

What kinds of locks must be on the front and rear doors of my building?
The front and rear entrance doors to the building should each have a DEADLOCKING LATCH (see picture), which automatically locks when you shut the door. From the outside, it can be opened only with a key. From the inside, it can be opened merely by turning a knob or handle.

If my building has a vestibule or lobby, with an outside door and an inside door, must they both have a deadlocking latch?
No. Only one of these doors must have this latch.

locks2What kind of lock must be on the doors to my own apartment?
Both the front and rear doors to the apartment must have a DEADBOLT LOCK. This can be a “vertical drop” type lock (see picture), or a saw-resistant horizontal bolt that projects at least one inch. If you are not sure what kind of locks you have, ask a locksmith.

Must the front door of my apartment have a window or peephole?
Yes. It must have some kind of viewing device that allows you to look out the door without opening it.

locks1Should my windows have locks?
If your window is less than 20 feet from the ground (or within 10 feet of an adjacent roof, outside stairway, fire escape, ramp, or porch which can be reached from the ground), then it must have a SASH LOCK It must also have a lock which allows it to open 4 to 6 inches and then lock in that position. This is called a VENTILATION LOCK.

Who is responsible for the cost of installing these locks?
Your landlord. If you want more security than these locks provide, you must get your landlord’s permission to install them and you must give him/her a set of keys. Your landlord does not have to pay for the additional locks.

What about burglar bars?
You cannot install burglar bars without your landlord’s permission. (Make sure you get this permission in writing). Furthermore, your landlord does not have to pay for the burglar bars or their installation. Because bars become a permanent part of his/her building, they also become her property. NOTE: It is against the law to install burglar bars on the entrance or exit doors to your apartment or building. Furthermore, certain burglar bars are illegal, so contact the fire or police department to find out whether the kind you want to buy are legal.

What if my doors and windows do not have the required locks?
Send your landlord a written demand for the right locks, and keep a copy of this letter. If your landlord does not comply with your demand you can call the Department of Buildings (312/744-5000), which can sue your landlord and force him/her to install the required locks.

If my landlord refuses to install the correct locks, can I install them myself and deduct the cost of installation from my rent?
Only if your tenancy is governed by Chicago’s Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance. If you live in Chicago, the Ordinance governs your tenancy unless you reside in:

  • An owner occupied building containing less than seven apartments;
  • A hotel, motel, inn, rooming house, or boarding house (unless you have resided there for more than 31 days and pay rent on a monthly basis); or
  • A hospital, convent, monastery, school dormitory,temporary overnight or transitional shelter, cooperative, or
  • A building owned by your employer (assuming your right to live there is conditioned upon you being employed in or around the building).

How do I install the correct locks and deduct the cost of installation from my rent?
You must first give your landlord a written notice stating that, if he/she does not install the required locks in 14 days, you will install them yourself and deduct the cost of installation from your rent. Keep a copy of this notice. If your landlord does not install the locks within 14 days, you may install them yourself or pay a locksmith to install them. After providing your landlord with paid receipts confirming the cost of installation, you can deduct this cost from your rent. This procedure is called repair and deduct. Remember, you can use this procedure only if your tenancy is governed by the Ordinance.

If I use the “repair and deduct” procedure, how much can I spend?
Up to $500 or one-half your monthly rent, whichever is greater.

Can I use the “repair and deduct” procedure to install the correct locks on the entrance door to my building?
Yes, but you must first give all the other tenants in the building written notice that you are going to do this.

If I install new locks on my door, must I provide my landlord with a key?
Yes, because your landlord must be able to get into your apartment.

When must I let my landlord into my apartment?
You must let your landlord enter your apartment to:

  • Make necessary repairs;
  • Supply necessary services;
  • Show the apartment to prospective purchasers, workmen, etc.;
  • Show the apartment to prospective renters within 60 days of the date on which your lease expires; or
  • Determine whether you are complying with the terms of your lease agreement.

Your landlord must provide you with at least two days notice, and he/she can only enter your unit at a reasonable time. Entry between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. is presumed to be reasonable.

Does my landlord ever have the right to enter my apartment without giving me advance notice?
Yes, but only when:

  • There is a problem in the common area of the building or in another apartment, and he/she needs to enter your unit to unit to fix this problem; or
  • There is an emergency.

In either case, your landlord must let you know that he/she entered your apartment within two days after the entry.

What if my landlord keeps coming into my apartment to harass me?
You can call the police. If your landlord does not have a right to be in your apartment, the police should force him/her to leave. You can also:

  • File a lawsuit and ask the court to order your landlord to stop entering your apartment more often than necessary; or
  • Give your landlord written notice that you will terminate your lease agreement unless he/she stops harassing you within the next 14 days. If he/she does not stop, you can terminate the lease. If you terminate the lease, however, you must move within the next 30 days. Otherwise, the lease will remain in effect. You should consult with an attorney before pursuing either of these two options.

Can I refuse to let my landlord into my apartment?
Only if you have a good reason. For instance, you can refuse to let your landlord in if he/she has not provided you with the required advance notice, or if he/she is trying to enter your apartment between 8:00 p.m. and 8:00 a.m. (Remember, however, you cannot refuse to let your landlord in when there is an emergency). If you are not sure whether you have a good reason to deny your landlord access to your apartment, call an attorney or the Metropolitan Tenants Organization (773/292-4988).

What if, without good reason, I refuse to let my landlord into my apartment?
Your landlord can:

  • File a lawsuit and ask the court to order you to let him/her into the apartment; or
  • Terminate your lease agreement and have you evicted. (See the pamphlet entitled Evictions for more information).

Please Note:This pamphlet, published by the Legal Assistance Foundation of Chicago and the Metropolitan Tenants Organization as a public service, gives you only a general idea of your rights and responsibilities under the Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance and other relevant chapters of Chicagoís Municipal Code. It is meant to inform, but not to advise. Before enforcing your rights, you may want to seek the advice of an attorney who can analyze the facts of your case and apply the law to these facts.

Still can’t find the answer? Send us your questions. Please allow several days for a response.

All 134 Comments

    1. Is this the lock to your unit or to the outside of the apartment. If it is to your unit then you can write the landlord a 24 hour notice to get it repaired and if it is not you can hire a locksmith. If it is to the outside of the apartment you may have to provide the landlord with a 14 day notice to fix it.

    1. I am not clear what is happening. Has she locked you out of using the bathroom. If so that would be illegal. If she has made it so that you cannot enter the bathroom when she is in it then then could be okay. She cannot make it so that if the door would get locked from the other side that you would not be able to get out.

  1. My landlord changed my mailbox key without permission. Therefore stopping me from receiving my mail. Has not provided me with a key. I called and texted and no reply. Also a improper eviction was filed against me. So I received the paperwork yesterday stating I go to court Monday. However I believe the landlord was trying to make me not receive the paperwork for court so I can miss court. Therefore he came out and changed my mailbox key without cause. Is this illegal? I am in chicago Illinois

    1. Certainly it is illegal for the landlord to do this. I would call the police and say that this is a lockout.

      Here is what what the Chicago ordinance defines as a lockout It is unlawful for any landlord or any person acting at his direction knowingly to oust or dispossess or threaten or attempt to oust or dispossess any tenant from a dwelling unit without authority of law, by plugging, changing, adding or removing any lock or latching device; or by blocking any entrance into said unit; or by removing any door or window from said unit; or by interfering with the services to said unit. I think the mail could be considered a service. I am not sure what you want to do but the law would also allow you to hire a locksmith and change the lock and bill it to the landlord.


  2. The Fab lock system on our building is broken. There is no way for tenants who only have fabs to enter.
    The super texted us that our management is out until next Tuesday and it’s Friday and is not responding to my question about how we are supposed to get in and out. This can’t be legal please help we have a dog and we work weird hours, how are we supposed to get back in?!

    1. Sorry for the delay in getting back to you. I would call this an emergency if you cannot get into your apartment. Is there another way to get into the the apartments such as a key. If so I would demand a key and I would get other tenants together who are in your same situation and write a collective letter demanding immediate action. Tuesday is too long. You might want to call the press.

  3. The main entrance door to my building anyone can get in by just pulling the door. We do not have a doorman. I live in a 6 story Bldg with 20 apts on each floor. We have tried to get management to give us a doorman but they said no that it is not in the budget. We have had packages stolen, children in and out smoking in the laundry room, and stairways. Can management be held accountable? As far as a doorman can we make management give us one for added security??? I live in Brooklyn, Ny!

  4. I live in assistant living in California and I was told that I’m a shut my apartment door at all times because if there is a fire
    Door that I get of is hard to open
    apartment shit on me very hard

    1. The laws vary from state to state. It is difficult for me to answer your question. There are several tenant groups in California who could be more helpful. Have you put anything in writing to the owners of the property?

  5. My landlord keeps entering my apartment without notice, both when we are there and when we are gone. This last time he walked right into my daughter’s bedroom.
    Can we install a deadbolt on the front door that only unlocks from the inside? Michigan.

    1. I am not sure I understand the question. First all doors leading to the outside should have a deadbolt or a deadlatch on them. Have you written anything to the landlord stating that under Chicago law, landlords are required to give 2 days not to enter except in the case of an emergency. Have you detailed all the times the landlords has entered without permission. In the letter you could threaten to add another lock to the door if this behavior persists. The law also allows tenants to sue the landlord for one-month rent for each violation if the landlord does not stop. The law does not allow tenants to make permanent changes to the unit without permission.

      1. I believe that Suzanne is referring to a keyless deadbolt/single-sided deadbolt. The inside looks just like a regular single-cylinder deadbolt but there is no keyhole on the outside so it cannot be locked or unlocked from the outside. It’s actually one of the security devices required on every exterior door of every rental dwelling in the state of Texas according to the statute in the Texas Property Code titled Security Devices Required Without Necessity of Tenant Request.

    1. In general, landlords have to provide notice or any change like this. For an month to month agreement at least 30 days would be required. I am not sure why the landlord is doing this. Could there be some discrimination or harassment happening?

  6. Someone vandalizing my apartment,tearing things up and has a key.I believe it is the maintenance man,because I caught him with his hands on my safe while he came to fix something that wasn’t broken.Now I can’t get him to fix things that are broken which present safety issues like loose torn up screen and loose door knobs.Landlord won’t allow me to have a keyless deadbolt,and windows do not have ventilation lock.

    1. Have you contacted the landlord? Have you made a police report. Maybe you could start with demanding the key to your unit is changed that way if someone continues to vandalize your apartment you can say definitively that the maintenance person is the only one with a key. As for the torn screen and loose door, the landlord and tenant laws states that you can write the landlord a letter stating that if these items are not fixed within 14 days, you will hire someone to make the repairs and deduct the cost from the rent.

  7. I live in Colorado there have been homeless people sleeping in our hallways I’ve been emailing the rental agency about replacing the locks on the doors it’s been 7 months and still nothing. What can I do?

    1. I am not familiar with Colorado rental laws. One strategy that often works is to organize the other tenants in the building. Maybe you could start with a petition demanding that the landlord replace the locks or demand a meeting with the management or owner to discuss the problems in the buildings. You could also try to call the local building department and request an inspection.

    1. It depends on what is behind the door. Tenants need to have access to fuse boxes but the landlord does not need to give tenants access to the basement. For instance the landlord can have a shop in the basement and tenants have no rights to access the shop or the landlord’s storage area.

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