Tip #41

Remove Self-Locking Door Knobs to Prevent Lockouts

Written on April 16, 2014 by , updated on March 16, 2016

remove-self-locking-knobs2If your rental property has self-locking door knobs, your tenants WILL get locked out.

After getting locked out, the first person they call is you, the landlord.

I get it, we’ve all locked ourselves out at one time or another. Please don’t think that your tenants are going to be the stellar exception.

When they accidentally lock themselves out, they will expect you to come rushing over with a key.

What do you mean “Self-Locking”?

I mean, any door knob or latch that automatically locks behind you, causing immense frustration that ripples through the fabric of time and space.

These are also known as a “keyed privacy locks”, and they are quite common.

The intent is to allow the door to lock behind you without having to use your keys.

They are supposed to save you time. However, I think they cause more trouble than they are worth.

Best Case Scenario

  1. You are available and don’t mind the inconvenience of driving over to your rental property to unlock the door, and;
  2. They never do it again.

Worst Case Scenario

  1. Tenants hire a locksmith who damages your door hardware beyond repair, or;
  2. They break a window to get in, and;
  3. They expect you to pay for it because it was “your lock” that locked them out, and;
  4. They continue to use the self-locking mechanism and it happens again, and again, and again.

A True Story


My tenant, finding an alternate way in.

Years ago, my tenant locked himself out of their rental while I was in Phuket on my honeymoon.

He knew I wasn’t available, so he just called a locksmith. When the locksmith arrived, my tenant was told that there was no way to pick the lock, and in order to get in, they would have to bore (drill) out the core – thus essentially destroying the expensive mortis lock.

Luckily for me, my tenant decided to take a different approach. He climbed an exterior gas pipe to a second floor window (which he apparently always kept unlocked). Then, cut through the mesh screen and climbed in through the window.

I’m glad he didn’t damage my lock, but he did injure his arm and destroyed a window screen.

The moral of the story is that self-locking door knobs will only lead to bad situations for you and your tenants.

The Solution

"Lock-out" proof handleset

“Lock-out” proof handleset

Swap out all your keyed privacy door knob locks with deadbolts. Configure the door hardware so that it is impossible for the door to lock behind someone without keys.

My favorite solution is to install a entry door handleset on every exterior door. These handle and deadbolt combos require a key to be used to lock the door from the outside – making them “lock-out” proof.

You can save some money by installing a closet knob as the main handle and keeping your existing deadbolt.

If you want to go the extra-mile, invest in Kwikset’s Smartkey locks for all the exterior doors. These locks make re-keying a property quick, easy, and inexpensive. They come in handy when a tenant loses a key or you are forced to re-key a unit between tenancies (like in Texas).

Read More: Re-key the Locks Between Tenants with Kwikset SmartKey

How it Works - Kwikset SmartKey

photo credit: Armchair Caver via cc
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27 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Michelle Landry

    I couldn’t agree more! We’ve recently started converting vacant apartments to a closet knob and deadbolt combination. Lockouts will soon be a thing of the past!

  • dan

    How can you recommend Kwikset Smartkey, when it’s well known that this keyset can be opened by anyone within 10 seconds? See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sR-h64WwfW8

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Dan,

      The video you linked to can be done with any deadbolt lock with enough brute strength.

      The man in the video is using a special locksmith tool. At the end of the day, a burglar is just going to break a window or kick the door in before forcing the lock. The door jam is made of wood, so it doesn’t matter what type of deadbolt you put on it – it’s not going to stop someone who really wants to get in. This is why police kick a door in, instead of picking the lock – it’s easier.

      Further, according to a study by the California Crime Technological Research Foundation, the most common techniques used by burglars to enter single-family homes are (from most often used to least often used):

      – 32.00% Through unlocked window or door
      – 26.64% Forced entry by impacts
      – 24.02% Prying or jimmying
      – 6.79% Use of pass key or picking the lock (deadbolts – i.e. your video)
      – 5.10% Entry attempted, but failed
      – 5.45% Other or unknown

      Say what you want, these Kwikset Smartkey deadbolts have a ANSI Grade 1 classification. Plus, they make a landlord’s job of re-keying easier.

  • Dan

    I do agree with MOST of your article – especially the main point about avoiding self-locking doors. I also found the crime statistics in your reply very interesting. That said, you are recommending a particular lock-set without fully informing the reader.

    I can see how the convenient “re-key” feature of the KwikSet model could be attractive to some. However, the ease at which this particular model can be opened is shocking, and several locksmiths seem to agree. Anyone can purchase this “special” tool online. ANSI classification or not, this lock is easier to enter than average, and with social media frenzy it’s easier than ever for criminals to learn about this.

    My suggestion is that if you are going to recommend a particular brand/model for a door lock, research it a bit more and then point out the emerging consumer awareness of a product weakness. The reader can then be aware & make his/her own decision. For me personally, I imagine that my daughter is living in the property. If I am made aware of a security flaw or a product weakness, shame on me if I don’t do everything in my power to make the unit more secure.

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Dan,

      Thanks for you opinion and for your comment. You’re right, it is up to the individual landlord to make the best decision for their property. The best security system is a combination of multiple security techniques, not just relying on one lock as a single point of failure.

      I would hope that any landlord would do the full research needed before making any decision.

      On that note, I just realized that the youtube video you listed has a link to buy the locksmith tool. Is Mr. Locksmith trying to encourage break-ins at his own profit? Whoa. Did he pay you to leave these comments?

  • Dan

    LOL – no, fortunately I’m not affiliated with people who make it easy to break into homes. While I hope Kwikset will now fix their flawed product, it really is sad that a locksmith would do this for his personal gain. But this is the world we live in, and why I’m not touching this particular product for my rentals.

  • Bob

    Be glad for the renter who has locked himself out and calls you. I once had a roommate in college who locked himself out one night, drunk as a skunk, and proceeded to break the door down to get inside. Next day, he called up the landlord and reported a break in (omitting of course the part about who did the breaking). I’m sure the landlord would have rather gotten out of bed in the middle of the night and come over to let him in, rather than having to pay for the door repair.

  • No Nonsense Landlord

    That is exactly the setup I use in my own apartments. I even wrote a post about it myself a while ago.

    I use the dead bolt on the apartment door, and the handle (self locking) on the garage service door.

    Almost impossible to get locked out, unless you leave the keys in the car, or go outside with the dog and let the security door close behind you. It happens…

    • Lucas Hall

      Murphy’s law! Your setup sounds like it’s very hard to get locked out, but I’m curious… has anyone done so at that property?

      • No Nonsense Landlord

        Actually, they have… I have a security door that locks when it closes. People run outside with their dog, leave their apartment door unlocked for a few minutes, and forget their keys. The main security door closes, and they are out. Luckily anyone can buzz them in.

        A couple of times, people have forget their keys in the car inside the garage. The garage service door closes, and they are locked out.

        It’s not fool proof, but if the apartment door locked automatically, it would be 100x worse. Every laundry trip would require keys.

  • Coconut Chuck

    I had a terrible situation where a self locking door knob entry to the garage could end up locking you into the garage. I solved it by getting rid of all the Schlage locks on the house and installed Kwickset Locks. We now ONLY use Kwickset locks as our rental standard. The Quick Key is too expensive. We opted for a Kwickset Master Locksmith package (metal box with all the needed parts) for less than $100. Now we can key any house to any keys. Makes tenant move outs easy. Once you get the hang of it it only takes about 10 mins on the dining room table to change an entire house over.

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Chuck,

      That’s a great idea and definitely less expensive if you can use some of the existing locks. I just switched a whole house to Kwikset SmartKey and I dropped $300 on the task. Your way would have been cheaper, though a little more technical to reset the pins. It’s probably like riding a bike once you learn how to do it.

  • George

    On other side, how to solve the problem with the tenant “forgetting” almost daily to lock the entrance, making all the other tenants vulnerable…

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi George,

      You’re talking about behavior change, and psychologists have been studies this topic for centuries! :)

      On one of my group houses, I printed out a little sign that said “LOCK THE DOOR” and taped it to the door just above the handle. I sealed it in clear packing tape, and it’s still looking good after 5 years. I don’t know if it helps, but it’s all I can/want to do.

      At some point the tenants need to take responsibility for their own actions. Locks are useless if they forget to use them.

  • ken dale

    Who needs keys? I changed all rentals to Schlage keypad deadbolt locks. Four number code. If code stops working (rare), master code is just a phone call away. Emergency key to use if battery goes dead ( my 9 volt battery lasted 3 years so far) . Key can be hidden by tenant. Lock is bump proof . Cost about $120. Available for sliding doors too.

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Ken

      Great tip! I haven’t installed those because I’m always worried that a tenant will give the code out to boyfriends or anyone else that they might be inclined to give a key to – simply because it’s easier. I realize you can change the code at any time, but wouldn’t you have to reject it anyway for the backup key?

      I think it makes a lot of sense for short term rentals, but I think it’s risky for long term tenants – but again, I havent tried it :)

  • JP

    We are in the middle of switching over to what ken dale is referring to. We’ve done research & are leaning towards Schlage BE469 keypad deadbolts on the exterior doors of our apts. We rent to college undergrads of a very prominent college in VA.

    We did exactly what you say in your article 10 years ago: removed all keyed knobs so they only have deadbolts. We thought they’d never get locked out… Let me tell ya, there are 3 scenarios that still linger with keys:

    1. they leave the door unlocked and keys inside, and maintenance/pest control comes by and locks the door behind themselves.

    2. they lose their keys

    3. they go to class without their key and roommate locks them out

    None of the above are our problem, but keyless is the answer

  • Kathleen M Malloy

    How about this scenario landlords: A three family with several tenants who forget to lock the front door so a woman alone in her third floor walk up hears someone coming up her stairs, opens the door to find a guy claiming he’s selling something but didn’t ring the doorbell and has no sales info. Luckily she opened the door while he was still on the stairs, not on the landing where he could have overpowered her or he didn’t kick in her door. How inconvenient do you think it is to be assaulted, robbed and/or murdered in your own home? Reality check folks safety is more important than convenience! If this is such a problem install a lock box for a spare key. As for me I’m looking for a new apartment with a landlord who cares about my safety.

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Kathleen

      You bring up a good point. Don’t get me wrong. All the doors still have deadbolts which are safer that a self-locking handle. The removal of any self-locking locks is usually at the request of the tenant anyway. But if I ever had a tenant, such as yourself, who preferred it, then we would simply install it.

      My question for you would be that if there are tenants who forget to lock the door, then who’s to say they won’t forget to close it too? If they are that lazy or forgetful, then all bets are off.

  • Esteban Montes

    I think it is a great idea in theory but I have absent minded tenants who not only leave the door unlocked on a consistent basis, but at times wide open with the keys in the door. The auto locking feature for me is a good idea for everyone’s safety. My area has been recently targeted by burglars and there has been a number of break ins. I do not want to make it any easier for them by leaving the doors unlocked.

  • Jason

    I would like to have these self-locking doors. The tenants ALWAYS leave the doors unlocked, and things have been stolen. There are 3 doors to exit, and one of them already has a keypad door lock. The other two still get left open.

    VERY frustrating.

  • Luke Yancey

    I hated the self-locking doors! Good thing I had roommates to help get me back into the apartment. I agree with your entire post– it is better to remove these types of locks to prevent your tenants from repeatedly locking themselves out.

  • rachel frampton

    I never knew that there is such thing as self-locking doorknobs, where the door automatically locks behind you without having to use a key. I personally have no idea what to do, just in case I get locked out. I’ll keep in mind to swap all my keyed privacy doors, but I’ll also look for a residential locksmith service that I can contact. https://parsonslockandkey.com/

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