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Question DetailsAsked on 5/12/2018

Can a contractor change my locks without permission?

I have a contractor who has been working on my house for only one month. He texted me today and told me he's going to put a lien on my house and that he has changed the locks due to non-payment. I have paid everything in our contract and have proof through my bank. I am out of town and don't know what to do

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Voted Best Answer

I am going to assume this is your house and he is doing remodeling or such - NOT a situation with a new build which he actually owns (as developer) and has not yet been turned over to you - i.e. pre-closing. Though normally you would not have the keys pre-closing anyway in that case. So, everything following presumning it is your house.

Absolutely can not change the locks - though sometimes a GC will change one lock (like back door) and give subs that key, replacing the original lock when job is done - that way they can get in when needed without giving them your permanent keys. Anyway, not that case here - even if he has filed a lien he cannot lock you out. That would be legal only if he had "perfected the lien" in court AND obtained a court judgement as a result of a lawsuit or lien AND got a court foreclosure order awarding him the house in settlement of that judgement - a VERY rare thing and one that takes probably not less than 3-6 months and most likely 6-12 months, with lots of legal paperwork and notices to you and such. Basically same process as a bank foreclosing but even rarer for it to happen.

What he did was a form of trespass because even though he evidently had right of access to the property to do the work he does not have the right to lock you out of it, and probably a form of unlawful detainer (locking you out of your own house) - and possibly even grand theft because he took possession of your property without the right to do so. Quite possibly a form of fraud also, or at least civil breach of contract.

Talk to your attorney about those - or if not immediately in contact with an attorney (which I recommend), call your local police and ask that they do at least a though-the-window look-through welfare check on the house to be sure the furnishings and such have not been removed and that he has not rented/leased it out to someone else.

I certainly would have a very close check kept on it while you are away (assuming tht is going to be just a day or two) - and personally I would have the locks immediately changed to new ones (or rekeyed) - but you may need police cooperation on that to get it done while you are not there, and because you cannot provide keys for the locksmith to get in.

Because he did this even though you are paid up, and did it while you were away (assuming he knew you were going to be away) I would suspect he might be attempting to unlawfully take possession of the house and might be moving out and selling your possessions, so I would get an attorney or close friend or such to keep a close eye on the house till you get back.

Sounds like you are going to need an attorney experienced in real estate and homeowner construction contact law - and I would be getting him filing an immediate notice to the contractor that he is barred from the property and work is suspended because of his illegal actions, filing criminal charges against the contractor, as well as a formal complaint against him with the state contractor licensing board. I would also be filing a claim with his bonding company and/or insurance company to cover all your costs of undoing any damage he has done and getting locks changed again, and costs involved in cancelling the contract with him for fraud - because I certainly would not keep a contractor on board who did this to me.

Attorney should also contact any suppliers and subs - could well be that is this guy is running a scam, they havenot been paid and would be filing liens also - which would be another matter for the bonding company (he is Bonded and insured, right ?) to take care of.

Answered 2 years ago by LCD

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