Accidentally locking yourself out of your apartment is bad enough, but if your landlord locks you out, you are facing an entirely different set of problems. Is your landlord harassing you? Are you in a dispute with your landlord? They are not allowed to change your locks without giving you a new key unless they have a warrant of eviction.
If you come home and find that your key no longer works, you need to take action right away. Your first stop should be a police station in your neighborhood. You can view this list of locations to find out where to go. Let the police know that your landlord illegally locked you out of the apartment.
In addition, you can start an illegal lockout case by going to housing court as soon as possible. You can go directly to the housing court clerk yourself to discuss starting the case. However, you may want to work with a lawyer if you are able. Do you qualify for free legal counsel? The Right to Counsel (RTC) law has made it easier for some people to obtain free representation in housing court when facing eviction. You can learn more about the RTC here.
Documents you will need in this situation
It is usually best to work with an attorney in these matters, but in any case, you will need certain documents to prove that you are the lawful tenant, subtenant, someone with or without a lease who has lawfully lived in the unit for over 30 days or a rent-stabilized hotel room resident who has asked for a lease. The papers you will need include:
- The lease and any rent receipts
- Mail and utility bills in your name
- Documents such as a driver’s license or voter registration card
While you may have your license and mail available to you immediately, it’s unlikely that you have been walking around with the lease. The NYC Housing Preservation & Development department recommends that if you suspect your landlord is going to lock you out, you should keep copies of these documents with someone who does not live with you. Alternatively, but not ideally, you can take these documents with you every time you leave the apartment.
Whether you go to housing court yourself or with a lawyer, it is critical that you start fighting the eviction immediately so you can get your apartment and your life back.