Can a Landlord Lock You Out of a Commercial Lease?

Business owners who lease office building space typically sign a contract through a commercial property manager or landlord who handles all affairs of leasing, including rent payments and property maintenance. Commercial tenants can fall behind on rent or otherwise breach the lease agreement just as a residential tenant can, but commercial tenants are treated very differently. When a commercial tenant breaks a lease the landlord may have self-help options to terminate the lease or lock out the tenant, depending on the lease and the state in which the two parties have signed.


Commercial Vs. Residential Tenant

A commercial tenant does not enjoy the same protection rights afforded to residential tenants. When a landlord tries to lock out a residential renter, it's illegal in most states, and the landlord is often considered to be taking advantage of the tenant, who may not know his rights. But when it comes to commercial property, the law presumes a business owner is savvy enough to know his rights and the provisions of his lease. In many states, there are no real statutes to protect commercial tenants, so a landlord may generally lock out his tenant if there is lease provision that outlines this remedy for non-payment of rent or other breach of contract. In most states, the lease, not the law, governs what actions the landlord can take against the tenant.


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Self-Help Eviction

The process of getting back possession of leased property is known as a self-help eviction. The commercial landlord may evict the tenant for failing to pay rent, if he is unsatisfied with the use of the property or if the tenant breaks a clause in the lease. In states such as California, Arizona, New Jersey and Ohio, the landlord may change the locks, turn off supplied utilities and remove the tenant's property unless it is specifically written in the lease that this remedy is not available. Before you employ the self-help eviction tactic, check the laws in your state.



If the landlord wants to evict the commercial tenant for non-payment of rent, he must generally serve the tenant with a three-day notice. The notice must spell out the total amount in arrears and give the tenant time to pay the full amount due or be subject to eviction. The procedure for a commercial eviction is more streamlined, yet in many states, a judge must find for the landlord before an eviction takes place.



In New York and Connecticut, it is not legal to lock out a commercial tenant without notice or court order to lock out the tenant for breach of contract. The tenant may file a cause of action against the landlord. In Texas, the commercial tenant may re-enter the premises to recover his property after he has been locked out.