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Apartment Building Security

Keys to the Castle

One of the many responsibilities of apartment managers is being the “keeper of the keys to the castle,” so to speak. The multifamily housing industry is set up to follow the “innkeeper model” where the apartment resident is temporarily issued a unit key and management keeps the back-up key. The mere fact of having a key to someone’s home creates a potential for risk and liability. The issue of how to safeguard the back-up key is worth reviewing.

The expression your home is your castle applies to apartment residents. The apartment unit is their home and a resident has the right to feel reasonably safe once behind the locked door. Most people consider their apartment as their sanctuary that will protect them and their families while they sleep.

Importance of Key Control

The multifamily housing industry has been sent a very loud and clear message over the years regarding the importance of key control.

In Texas, a jury awarded a woman $18-million after being raped and abducted by a man who gained access to her apartment unit using a back-up key. The rapist broke into the management office and found the correctly numbered back-up keys hanging unsecured on a hook.

Many other very large jury awards have been made to victims because of negligent control and use of the master key. The negligence issue is always the same. If you require a resident to supply an extra key to their apartment unit, then you must take reasonable steps to safeguard that key. If you maintain a master key that unlocks all the units, then you must take even greater steps to control access to this key.

The legal theories are simple. A resident gives up some rights when they move onto a multifamily rental property. On most properties, the resident, per lease agreement, cannot add or replace the lock on their door unless management is given an extra key. By doing this, the property assumes the responsibility of key control. The other legal theory is one of reliance. The landlord supplies the locks and keys and therefore, a resident must rely on management to have re-keyed the door lock and to have secured the back-up and master key.

Key Control Steps

Key control, by definition, requires restriction and documentation of those who use the back-up keys and master keys. Here are 10 proven steps to follow for better key control and resident security:

  • Always re-key or replace the unit door locks at turnover
  • Always eliminate or limit the use of the master key
  • Always keep the back-up keys in a locked key box
  • Always code the keys not to reflect the unit number
  • Always secure the code sheet and key box key separately
  • Always keep a log of who checks out a back-up key
  • Always keep two keys on a hook for quick daily visual inventory
  • Always keep the key-cutting machine and key blanks secure
  • Always lock the room or closet that houses the key box
  • Always set the office burglar alarm after-hours

    Finally, document, document, and document each step

by Chris E McGoey, CPP, CSP, CAM

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