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I am renting a room in the house of an old lady. She told me that, if I am to leave more than seven days from the place where I live, then I must hand her down the keys. Is this legal?

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  • Does she have the master key so that she can enter in case of emergency? Commented Feb 6 at 16:48
  • To the house, yeah, but not sure if she has to the room
    – Babu
    Commented Feb 6 at 17:09
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    @gnasher729 - Sure. But generally landlords have the right to enter the room/ apartment they are letting in the case of something like a plumbing leak without needing to call in a locksmith. Of course, she shouldn't be using the spare key to enter without justification. Every landlord I've ever had was able to enter my apartment in an emergency though, of course, they did not. If that's the intent here, I'd suggest the practical approach is to let the landlady duplicate the key so both parties have one. Commented Feb 6 at 18:15
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    It hard to imagine why she would need to get into a room within 7 days but could wait 6. It is usually immediate access is required or it can wait until the tenant is back.
    – User65535
    Commented Feb 6 at 18:56
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    But the landlady didn’t say “if you stay away for seven days or more, you need to tell me, so I know you haven’t just left for good without paying rent, and you are not in your room in a lake of blood”. That would be quite reasonable. She said “you have to give me your room key, so I can get in and nose around if I feel bored”.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Feb 7 at 10:43

4 Answers 4

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In case of emergencies, your landlord can open for emergency services, but quite frankly, emergency services will open that door if they need to, key or no key. And they won't ask where you are or when you'll be back. Emergencies are not the issue.

Your landlord is allowed to enter your room or appartment when there is a "konkreter und sachlicher Grund". A "concrete and objective reason". That might be repairs, handyman having to take measurements, other interested parties if you move out, potential buyers of the house, they can even come to check and make sure you don't do things not allowed in your rental agreement if there is a reasonable suspicion.

But the landlord has to announce their visit at least 24h before, cannot do this on a weekend and cannot disturb you more than neccessary. So they cannot decide that 3am sunday night would an opportune moment for them, if it isn't for you.

Asking for their key back probably means they don't have their own spare key. Asking you to give the key back (so grant them access) if it is absolutely sure you cannot possibly be there in the 24h warning period they have seems quite fair.

To summarize: is it legal to have to hand your key back? I don't know. But it would be legal for them to enter you appartment if they have a good reason and you don't react to their announcement. And if you are away, there is no way you could possibly react anyway.

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  • "other landlords keep spare keys" - are you sure? Commented Feb 6 at 22:02
  • mit Abschluss des Mietvertrags ist der Vermieter nicht erlaubt, einfach Schlüssel zu der vermieteten Wohnung zu behalten mietrecht.org/mietvertrag/vermieter-behaelt-schluessel Commented Feb 6 at 22:04
  • @BernhardDöbler that concerns full rentals, not subletting/Untervermietung.
    – Trish
    Commented Feb 7 at 0:43
  • @BernhardDöbler You are right my answer is very generic and I didn't make it clear that it is a specific situation. I removed the part about the spare keys, so the answer remains generic.
    – nvoigt
    Commented Feb 7 at 6:09
  • It would be if in the rental contract this has been stated to cover cases of emergencies. Commented Feb 7 at 9:01
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It was stated in a comment: Legally, no. (Reference)

However, it is rather common that somebody else has a key to the apartment, be it the landlord or some neighbor. This can be for emergencies or for cases where you've locked yourself out. We keep the keys for our neighbor's houses in sealed envelopes, so that everybody can see that they're untouched. If the neighbor needs them because they've locked themselves out, we hand them the sealed envelope and they return it with a new, sealed envelope.

As stated above, emergency services are legally allowed to open any door if they suspect a danger behind it (e.g. smoke emerges from the flat, or they hear someone yelling). But even for them it's easier and faster if they have a key, which can save lives. And you don't have to buy a new door afterwards.

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    There are also plenty of non-emergency things that need access. For example there is a announcement on my kitchen table right now, that next week the government mandated gas line inspection will be on Thursday, when all tennant's appartments must be accessible on the same day to the inspectors. I doubt the government mandate read "inspections are mandatory, unless one of your tennants is abroad studying for a while, then I guess it's not that important and we can just waive it".
    – nvoigt
    Commented Feb 7 at 14:06
  • @nvoigt True, But that doesn't require that the landlord has the key, and definitely not all the time. You could just now be handing over the key to your neighbor, or you could stay home on that day.
    – PMF
    Commented Feb 7 at 14:14
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This would probably constitute a breach of contract. In every tenancy agreement there is a long-standing common law implied clause which gives the tenant the right to "quiet enjoyment". This means, among other things, that you have the right to possession of the property without unreasonable interruption.

See for example Kenny v Preen [1963] 1 Q.B. 499, 511:

The basis of [the implied covenant for quiet enjoyment] is that the landlord, by letting the premises, confers on the tenant the right of possession during the term and impliedly promises not to interfere with the tenant's exercise and use of the right of possession during the term. I think the word "enjoy" used in this connection is a translation of the Latin word "fruor" and refers to the exercise and use of the right and having the full benefit of it, rather than to deriving pleasure from it.

The nature of the implied covenant was explained in Budd-Scott v. Daniell, 19 in judgments of a Divisional Court. Lord Alverstone C.J. said: "Apart from authority it would certainly seem, on principle and in common sense, that when one person agrees to give possession of his house for a time to another, that ought to carry with it an agreement that he, the landlord, and those claiming through him, will not dispossess the tenant during that time.

See also McCall v Abelesz [1976] Q.B. 585, 594 (paywalled):

This covenant is not confined to direct physical interference by the landlord. It extends to any conduct of the landlord or his agents which interferes with the tenant's freedom of action in exercising his rights as tenant.

Given that the landlord can easily arrange to have a spare copy of the key so that they are free to enter in an emergency (and indeed, this is by far the common practice), it would seem to me that requiring a tenant to give up their keys for some extended period of time, in the absence of any ongoing emergency, is an unreasonable interruption to the right to possession and therefore a breach of their right to quiet enjoyment.

In addition to breach of contract, depending on the circumstances it could also amount to harassment under Section 1(1) of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. This is both a crime and a statutory civil tort under the Act. See also Section 7 for further relevant interpretation of harassment and related terms in the legislation.

A simple isolated request for the keys wouldn't constitute harassment; an ongoing campaign to obtain the keys from you against your wishes could.

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Again, the primary source is the contract. By default, as it has been mentioned before, a rental agreement of any kind grants the renter a right for sole possession for the entire renting period, § 535 Ⅰ 2 | 1 BGB.

This is the rule for any contract that can be characterized as a rental agreement, but you may deviate from it (ius dispositivum). Certain deviations are forbidden though (ius cogens) but then it explicitly says so (typical wording in the law: Eine zum Nachteil des Mieters abweichende Vereinbarung ist unwirksam.).

In this case it is not forbidden to agree on some kind of “partial possession” e. g. implemented by temporarily returning the keys during prolonged absence. It is not mandatory to conclude contracts exactly as described in the law, except in the domain of property law (Typenzwang des Sachenrechts).

So if you have signed such a contract, you must (or should) stick to its provisions. (Breach of contract itself is not illegal in Germany.) Read contracts and assess legality before signing them. Signing an illegal contract (e. g. contract killer) can cause you further headaches.

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