Are You Falling for These Key Control Myths?

By Carl Hanly, CAS, KeyTrak

In the 2018 Property Management Reputation Report, reputation.com analyzed over 400,000 apartment reviews in the U.S. and found that safety was one of the categories that affected the overall tenant experience.

To meet tenants’ desire for security, apartment communities provide features such as strategic landscaping, good lighting, security cameras, gated entry, smart locks and more. However, there is one important security protocol that tenants typically don’t explicitly ask for and properties don’t advertise: key control.

You probably wouldn’t argue that key control is important, but you could mistakenly believe you have it covered, thanks to three pervasive myths about key security. If you’ve fallen for any of the following misconceptions, you could be putting your residents at risk.

Myth #1: We don’t have to worry about key control because we use smart locks.

It might seem like smart locks have made metal keys a thing of the past, but don’t disregard the need for key control. It’s true that electronic locks don’t requiretraditional keys, but many still offer the option to use them in case of a power failure or other situation in which the primary access method won’t work.

There might also be areas of your property that haven’t been outfitted with electronic locks (common areas, storage sheds, etc.). If your property has anytraditional keys —even if it’s a small number —you need a way to manage them.

Now, what if you’ve eliminated all metal keys from your property? You don’t need key control then, right? Not so fast. If your smart locks use physical access tokens such as fobs or cards, it’s important to treat them with the same level of security you would traditional keys. (For that reason, references to keys throughout this article will include physical access tokens.)

One security faux pas some properties make is to program master versions of tokens to save time on programming new tokens every time someone needs to access a unit, which can be a time-consuming task. To track which units were accessed, property managers refer to the electronic lock logs. The problem with this method is it doesn’t tell you whoremoved a master token and when.

Preprogramming tokens for each unit and storing them the same way you would traditional keys helps avoid the need for a master security token.

Myth #2: We have a key control policy, so our property is protected.

While your apartment community likely has a key control policy, that’s only one aspect of effective key management. In the same way you hold residents accountable for following your community’s rules and guidelines, you have to ensure your employees follow secure key management practices.

To get an idea of how effective your key control policy is, consider these questions:

  • Are employees familiar with the policy? If employees haven’t read the policy or are rusty on the details, they can’t follow it.
  • If a tenant alleges someone misused the key to their home, can you prove you took reasonable measures to control who uses which keys and how? In addition to having a key control policy, it’s important to have a verifiable log of key activity.
  • How do you know for certain who has each key, when they took it and why? When updating the key control log, protecting the data’s integrity requires implementing checks and balances.
  • How long would it take for you to realize keys hadn’t been returned? It’s imperative that you immediately identify and locate any keys that haven’t been returned on time, whether by checking the key log, doing a visual inspection of keys or receiving a text alert via an electronic key control system.

If your policy doesn’t address any of these areas or if you’re not able to enforce certain aspects of your policy, it’s time to reconsider your key management methods.

 Myth #3: Our keys are secure because we keep them on a pegboard or in a lockbox inside a locked room.

Keeping keys in a locked room is a good first step. However, while pegboards and lockboxes are common methods for storing keys, they’re not inherently secure because anyone who gains access to the area where the pegboard or lockbox is contained could easily remove keys.

In addition, using pegboards or lockboxes requires employees to remember to update a key log every time they remove or return a key, meaning the record is only as reliable as the people updating it.

Instead, consider storing keys in an electronic, tamper-proof drawer, cabinet or wall-mounted panel that automatically restricts access to authorized users and records all transaction details.Note that electronic key control systems vary in the steps required to create a record of key use. For example, some might require users to scan a barcode, while others record the details as soon as the key is removed from the system. The fewer manual steps required, the better.

Sound key control practices are a critical part of a sound apartment security strategy. Instead of putting your residents at risk, put their minds at rest.

Carl Hanly, CAS,is a regional manager with KeyTrak, Inc., which has installed more than 15,000 electronic key control systems in multifamily properties and other organizations. Carl is actively involved in the National Apartment Association’s National Suppliers Council.