Biometrics, formerly available only in spy movies, has moved into multifamily housing. Residents of one Archstone-Smith property in New York must have their palm print accepted by an electronic reader to get into the fitness center. But that's unusual for the Englewood, Colo.-based company—and most other apartment firms. Residents typically use a key fob—a magnetic strip attached to a key chain—and access cards, says Heather Campbell, vice president, corporate communications.
Security is a big issue for the multifamily industry, which sees more security-related lawsuits than any other industry in the country, according to a recent study by Liability Consultants in Sudbury, Mass. “Most attacks happen within a given unit,” says Liability's Norman Bates, who noted that the crimes include rape and murder and often are the result of break-ins made easier by faulty or poorly installed locks.
BOLTED IN: The E-Bolt Key Management System software encodes programmable keys, permitting centralized control from a computer of each key's access. The keys can't be duplicated, and there are no pins in the electronic deadbolts, so they can't be picked and don't need to be rekeyed or replaced. The system includes an audit trail feature that tracks which keys were used and exactly when.Schlage Lock Archstone's palm reader is just one example of the latest options available to multifamily firms interested in investing in high-tech security. Other sophisticated security technology these days includes software that centralizes control of a security system, keys with embedded computer chips that permit setting different levels of access to a property, and digital video recorders that can replace VCRs in monitoring systems.
Electronic keys provide the ability to control access in a way that the traditional key can't. For example, a key could be created to let an exterminator into 10 apartments but no other units. Children's keys could give them access to their unit but not to the pool. Software can integrate key management with alarm monitoring and elevator controls. And rekeying is simpler, done with a few keystrokes at the computer in a property manager's office.
As sleek as such options sound, they are generally more expensive—electronic keys alone can cost $35 apiece—which is why card readers for access to common areas is about as high-tech as many apartment properties go. Walton Construction Services, a Marietta, Ga., firm that specializes in affordable family-oriented apartments, uses card readers for entry gates, fitness centers, and laundry rooms. “If someone loses a card, you can easily change the code through the computer,” says company president Mark Stovall.
Sterling American Property in New York uses key fobs for common areas and traditional keys for individual units. Managers rekey cylinders after residents move out. “Changing cylinders is cost-effective and practical and, most important, produces the [results] we require,” says Thomas Dolan, vice president of asset management.
Whether your approach is high-tech or low, acknowledging a need for security and having a plan is paramount.