This is a discussion on selecting door locks for apartment communities.   Having this conversation ten years ago our consensus was that early in the 21st century we will all have paperless offices and key-less locks.  Guess what; didn’t happen.  Is your office paperless?  Are your communities key-less?  The likelihood is low.

Electronic locks are the future.  They provide a myriad of benefits to commercial multifamily property owners.  New developments with on-site management must consider the benefits of electronic locks.  But then there is everyone else; those with assets new and old that have 100 year-old technology (older really)- the lock and key. 

Many multifamily communities fall in to one of two categories; one lock per door or two locks per door.  Surprisingly, safety is seldom the determinant.  The decision on locks-per-door was decided by the builder or architect.  The developer selected one lock as a costs conscience action.  The architect is looking at functionality and “design”.  Read anything about safety in this description? Nope.

Locks represent the ultimate  “weakest link” theory, whereas, the weakest link is always the first to break down.   As property manager, it is your job to strengthen any and all weak systems.  The beginning point for selecting locks is to perform an assessment of the in-place lock and safety systems.  Are they appropriate, are they functional considering the multifamily assets and the placement of the asset within the community?  

Are Keys Secure?

The first order of business is to know without question the where-abouts of every master key.  One lost master key can mean thousands of dollars in re-keying expenses. 

  • Is there a schedule for checking the whereabouts of master keys? 
  • Are they accounted for when there is  personnel turnover?  
  • Are master keys stamped with “do not duplicate”?
  • Are individual unit keys (extra keys and those for vacants) under lock?  

 Do they work?

Do they work?  Locks are like the heat shield system on the Space Shuttle- they either work or they don’t.  There is no second chance when put to the test.   Granted, locks  are not designed to withstand an assault on the entire entryway.  But they should function as a deterrent to easy entry by unknown parties. 

 Is their a uniform brand?

When selecting locks aim for uniformity in quality and brand.  Larger properties, or property management companies, will have equipment for re-keying  on-site or at a central maintenance facility so it just makes sense to utilize a single make and model.   This is also a step towards controlling expenses when implemented.  The initial costs will have a positive return on investment for long-term owners. 

Locks and keys is one operational area where the low cost bid could be a negative.  Consider buying a third-party opinion from a locksmith; having a locksmith perform an assessment for a flat fee.  You may be surprised at the findings.

Reprint from Multifamily Insite          by John Wilhoit Jr.