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Lock box access to buyers…a BIG NO-NO!

real estate lock box

By Peg Ritenour, Ohio REALTORS Vice President of Legal Services/Administration

So you’re running late to a showing appointment and the buyer arrives before you. Or you have a listing that is vacant, in contract and the buyer just wants to enter the property with their contractor two days before closing to do some quick measurements. Is it OK in either of these instances to give the buyer the lock box code to enter the house without you? The answer is NO!

While this may seem obvious, unfortunately the Ohio Division of Real Estate and Professional Licensing is seeing an increased number of complaints where real estate licensees are giving buyers lock box codes or keys to enter a listed property on their own. There have also been instances where buyers who are in contract to purchase a home have been given unauthorized access to enter the property prior to closing without the permission of the seller or listing agent. Such conduct has been found by the Ohio Real Estate Commission to be a violation of the license law and has resulted in disciplinary action against the licensee who gave such access without the seller or listing agent’s consent.

In addition to the license law, such conduct is also a violation of the MLS lock box rules. While your local MLS may have rules allowing the MLS to enter into key agreements with appraisers and affiliate members such as inspectors, keys and lock box codes cannot be used by anyone other than the key holder and that certainly includes buyers. Doing so can result in sanctions that could include a fine of up to $15,000 or termination of MLS and/or lockbox privileges.

The Code of Ethics of the National Association of REALTORS also addresses such conduct. Both Standard of Practice 1-16 and 3-9 of the NAR Code of Ethics provides that REALTORS shall not grant access to listed property on terms other than those established by the seller or listing agent. Therefore, while a seller may authorize a lock box be placed on the property and that other REALTORS and other key holders be granted access to the property, this does not allow a buyer to enter a property without an agent. Instead this can only be done if authorization is obtained from the listing agent or seller. If such permission is granted, this should be documented in your records for your protection. But as stated above, even with such permission, under the MLS rules access to the property cannot be given to a buyer by providing lock box combinations or keys.

The bottom line is that sellers have the right to know who is in their property and to control the circumstances under which persons are given access. It doesn’t matter if the property is vacant or going to close in two days. The buyer should  never be permitted to enter the premises without a licensed agent unless the owner or listing agent has consented to this. And lock box access can never be given to unauthorized persons. Doing so is a sure way to potentially lose not only your MLS privileges, but also your license.


Legal articles provided in the OAR Daily Buzz are intended to provide broad, general information about the law and is not intended to be legal advice. Before applying this information to a specific legal problem, readers are urged to seek advice from an attorney.

Tags: legal