The accidental landlord: turning amateur locksmith to calm a paranoid tenant

As yet another tenant loses their flat keys, Victoria Whitlock mugs up on DIY and changes the locks herself to save a tidy sum.
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£800 a week: Primrose Mansions, in Prince of Wales Drive, Battersea. John D Wood has a three-bedroom flat overlooking the park to rent

Four months, two weeks and four days after my newest tenant moved in, I get the inevitable phone call to say she has lost her flat keys. To be honest, I am surprised she has hung on to them for this long as most of my tenants lose their keys or lock themselves out at least once within the first few weeks.

I go to let her in with my spare keys and offer to take her to get a new set cut, but she is worried that her keys might have fallen into the wrong hands so she wants to change both the five-lever mortise lock and the night latch.

Personally I think she's paranoid as it's not likely that anyone who might have found her keys will know where she lives. When she first moved in she asked for new locks, in case previous tenants still had keys, and I managed to persuade her it wasn't necessary as the flat had been empty for months. This time she is adamant she doesn't feel safe, so I call a couple of locksmiths.

The cheapest quote I get to replace the two locks is £120 but as I'm in a good mood — let's blame it on a sudden burst of sunshine — I decide to try to change them myself to spare her the cost.

With the help of a YouTube tutorial and a screwdriver borrowed from a neighbour, I work out how to unscrew and slide the mortise lock out of the door, then I lay it on a piece of paper and draw round it and I mark the position of the keyhole. I pop the lock back in so the flat's still fairly secure and head off to my local locksmith clutching my drawing to try to find an exact match.

The replacement deadlock costs £25 and I buy a new cylinder for the night latch, which costs just five quid. Back at the flat, swapping new for old should be easy — the handy guy on YouTube makes it look simple enough — but I can't get the damn screws off the facia plate, they're jammed in, so I have to drive all the way home to get my husband's help. I'm no longer feeling generous and wish I had told the scatterbrained, careless, can't-take-care-of-herself tenant to fork out for the locksmith.

Still, when I finally get the locks in two hours later I am feeling pretty chuffed, partly because I have learned a new skill but mostly because my tenant is so grateful that I saved her £90 she treats me to an overpriced drink at the swanky new gastropub across the road.

Keeping rental property secure is increasingly difficult in London, which now has 12 of the UK's top 20 postcodes for burglaries, according to research by price comparison website And it doesn't help when tenants are so free and easy with their keys.

The Master Locksmiths Association recommends installing high-security locks which come with patented keys so that they can't be duplicated without proof of ownership, which would prevent extra keys being cut without the landlord's permission.

I can see this would eliminate the need to change locks between tenancies, but high-security locks are about five times the price of standard ones, and they might still have to be changed (expensive) or reconfigured (not easy) when tenants lose their keys. As my tenants are so careless, I think I'll stick with cheaper standard locks. Next time they lose their keys, however, it will be no problem as I know now what to do — and I've got the locksmith on speed dial.

Victoria Whitlock lets three properties in south London. To contact Victoria with your ideas and views, tweet @vicwhitlock

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