State laws govern rental properties and determine whether a landlord has the right to keep a key to his rental property. As such, the landlord's right to the rental house key varies across the country. You need to check with your local housing authority to determine the laws that apply in your area.
The Right of Landlord to Hold the Key
Whether your landlord has the right to hold the key to your rental house depends on the laws that apply in your state. For example, in New York, you have a legal obligation to give a key to your landlord so he can enter your rental house in case of emergency occur. On the other hand, New Jersey laws don't have a specific provision regarding the landlord holding the key. The landlord can hold the key, but you don't have any obligation to give him a key.
In states where the law does not address the landlord's right to hold the key, the lease may contain provisions regarding the matter. For example, the landlord may include a provision in the lease that requires you to provide the landlord with a key if you change the locks. If you refuse to provide a key, the landlord then may have the right to carry out a legal action for eviction. The judge would determine if it is reasonable for you to give your landlord a key.
Landlord's Right to Access
Regardless of whether the landlord has the right to the key to your rental house, he needs to have a reasonable reason for entering your rental house and he also has to provide sufficient notice. Generally, the landlord can only enter when you give permission, in times of emergency, when he needs to carry out repairs or improvements and when he needs to show the house to prospective tenants or buyers. Except for emergencies, the landlord must give proper notice as outlined by your state laws and enter at reasonable hours.
Tenant Changing the Lock
Depending on your state laws, you may not be able to change the locks to your rental house. If you do change the locks for safety reasons, you may have to gain the landlord's approval beforehand and give him a copy of the new key. If the landlord forces you to keep the original lock and a break-in occurs, the landlord would be liable for it.