KODO, Los Angeles, Calif.
Courtesy of CGI Strategies KODO, Los Angeles, Calif.

In today’s apartment amenities arms race, providing a base package of smart home technology is quickly becoming a requirement for entry to the market. But the starting point for many operators is entry to their buildings—with smart locks.

“Smart locks are really important right now,” says Marcie Williams, president of Charlotte, N.C.-based RKW Residential, a third-party manager of more than 18,000 units. “Especially in Class A properties, if all you have is a keyed lock, you’re already behind the times. It’s a differentiator that’s convenient for residents and convenient for us. If there’s ever an issue or change, we can take care of it remotely and quickly to keep residents happy.”

Indeed, according to a recent survey conducted by Lehi, Utah-based multifamily software provider Entrata, 57% of residents said they would pay up to $20 more rent per month to have smart home technology in their apartments, with security cameras, keyless entry, and smart thermostats ranking as top amenities. In fact, residents rank smart home technology as more important than pools or covered parking.

Multiple Advantages Beyond Access Control

Beyond that differentiation and convenience, however, smart locks, combined with on-site video monitoring, not only help improve security at a property, they give operators insight into amenity use, provide access logs in case incidents do occur, help prevent unsanctioned sublets, and even earn discounts on insurance to save on operating costs.

Take Los Angeles-based investment and development firm CGI Strategies, whose apartment portfolio includes 2,000 units. The firm recently opened KODO, a 60-unit, furnished, “toothbrush-ready” building in L.A.’s Koreatown that’s outfitted with smart locks at all access points, including the units, as well as 35 cameras to keep a record of the goings-on at the property. Outfitting the property with smart locks and cameras helped CGI qualify for a discount with its insurance carrier.

“Our insurance company has a checklist that includes all the different programs you have in your building,” says Zion Perets, CGI’s vice president of development. “One of them is cameras. Another is access control. We received points for each of the systems we have in place, which helped determine the discount.”

Beyond those insurance savings, Perets says the combination of smart locks and video monitoring gives him insight into amenity use at his properties as well as opportunities for how to better serve residents, since the smart locks provide access logs of movement within his buildings.

“You can monitor the traffic within the building in certain areas,” Perets says. “So, if you want to have a concierge desk in your building and you’re trying to figure out which hours in the day you’ll need it, you can look at your foot traffic to determine if it’s justified.”

CGI’s access logs, combined with video records, can also be accessed in case of any damage to amenities within the building or should a crime or break-in ever occur at its properties.

KODO, Los Angeles, Calif.
Courtesy of CGI Strategies KODO, Los Angeles, Calif.

Stopping Unsanctioned Sublets at Your Property

In Jacksonville, Fla., Holly McQueen was able to use the combination of logs and her video-enabled access control system to root out unsanctioned subleasing at her properties. As vice president and regional property manager for Newtown Square, Pa.-based GMH Capital Partners, which operates 6,000 student and conventional units, it’s her job to ensure residents don’t rent out their units through websites such as Airbnb, which isn’t allowed under the terms of GMH’s leases.

If she suspects that’s happening, she uses a smart video access system to check and see if the person who’s renting the apartment is the one coming and going from the building’s main entrance under that apartment’s access code.

“We only go back and look at the key logs if there’s a problem,” McQueen says. “The first time it happens, we’ll give them a warning and ask them not to do it again. We let them know that if they do we will start the eviction process.”

Beyond that type of monitoring, however, smart locks, access logs, and cameras can also help when there’s a dispute between residents and staff at a property. “If there’s a disagreement, you have the ability to quickly determine what actually happened in a scenario,” says Michael Phillips, CFO at Charlotte, N.C.-based student housing operator Phillips Enterprises, which has owned and managed more than 10,000 beds at 28 properties over the past 25 years. “You don’t have a ‘he said, she said’ type situation anymore.”

KODO, Los Angeles, Calif.
Courtesy of CGI Strategies KODO, Los Angeles, Calif.

In a similar regard, Phillips says using logs and video monitoring helps elevate staff performance, too. “It just promotes a much more professional work environment when people are aware this technology is in place,” Phillips says. “It’s like at a bank. The tellers know they have cameras behind them. It creates accountability.”

Smart locks and video access systems have also been popular in the apartment industry to allow residents to grant access to their apartments for service providers, such as dog walkers, cleaners, and nannies, while enabling on-site staff to enter apartments for maintenance and work orders. But being able to turn off access permissions is sometimes just as important as enabling them.

Mark Zikra, vice president of technology for Chicago-based developer and management firm CA Ventures, which operates 25,000 units, says his company limits the ability to grant remote access at its student properties since residents who live together may not know one another.

“We put restrictions on our access control devices that prevent the sharing of credentials,” Zikra says. “We don’t allow mobile keys or one-time use activations to be shared with others who are not on the lease. Residents have to be home to let someone into their unit.”

That kind of on-off flexibility paired with marketing, operational, and security benefits are why more and more operators are turning to smart locks and video monitoring as a winning combination.