Tips for Safeguarding Keys in Rental Property

How landlords secure keys can have a big effect on rental property security

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The security of your rental property depends in large part on the locks on rental unit doors and the keys to those doors. Here are “key” ways to minimize security problems in rental units and premises. Contact local locksmiths and security firms, for specific advice and options on key control in rental properties. Other landlords and rental property associations may also have useful advice.

  • Keep all duplicate keys in a locked area, identified by a code that only you and your manager (if any) know. Several types of locking key drawers and sophisticated key safes are available.
  • Don’t label keys with the rental unit number or name and address of the apartment building, and advise your tenants to take the same precaution.
  • Allow only you and your manager access to master keys.
  • Keep track of all keys you give to tenants and, if necessary, to your employees. Be sure all loaned keys are returned.
  • Consider providing keys that can not be duplicated by the tenant at a local locksmith.
  • Charge tenants a reasonable charge for lost keys (unless local or state law prohibits this type of fee).
  • Require tenants to return all keys at move-out.
  • Rekey every time a new tenant moves in. This is the law in some states and cities, and a good idea in all.
  • Give careful thought to the security problem of the front door lock: If the lock opens by an easy-to-copy key, there is no way to prevent a tenant from copying the key and giving it to others or using it after he moves out. Consider using locks that have hard-to-copy keys, or (with rental houses or small properties) rekey the front door when a tenant moves. There are also easy-to-alter card systems that allow you to change front door access (and tenant door access) on a regular basis or when a tenant moves.
  • Give keys only to people you know and trust. If you have hired a contractor whom you do not know personally, open the unit for him and return to close up when he is done. Keep in mind that often even known and trusted contractors hire others you don’t know.
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