Apartment key control is a core duty of care owed by the property manager.
- The management assumes a duty of key control if the lease requires tenants to relinquish possession of backup unit keys.
- Tenants must therefore rely on a manager to exercise care in protecting their unit key from unauthorized use.
Apartment Key Control Duty of Care
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 backup key.
The mere fact of having a key to someone’s home creates a potential for risk and liability. The issue of how to set up an apartment key control system and safeguard backup keys 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 a sanctuary that will protect them and their families while they sleep.
Importance of Apartment Key Control
The multifamily housing industry has been sent a very loud and clear message over the years regarding the importance of apartment key control.
In Texas, a jury awarded Julie Blitsky $18-million after being raped and abducted by a man who gained access to her apartment unit using a backup key. The rapist broke into the management office and found the correctly numbered backup 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 while in your custody and control.
If you maintain a master key that unlocks all the units, then you must take even greater steps to control access to this key. By the way, due to the foreseeable risk of loss and liability master keys are not recommended.
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 the lease agreement, cannot add or replace the lock on their door unless management is given an extra key.
By doing this, the property assumes responsibility for apartment 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 backup and master key.
Apartment Key Control Steps
Apartment key control, by definition, involves custody, control, restriction, inventory, and documentation of tenant backup keys and unit master keys and who has used them.
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 backup 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 backup 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 apartment key control step.
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