Multifamily Key Control: The Way You Collect Data Is Key

Key control is important for all businesses — especially those in the multifamily industry.

The threat of an employee stealing and using tenant keys to commit burglary is real. An apartment complex in Boston realized this when it experienced a series of burglaries where there was no sign of forced entry, indicating someone had used keys to access the units. It's essential for you, as a property management professional, to tightly secure keys and hold staff accountable by recording key transactions.

The first decision you have to make is to decide if you'll use a key control method that collects data manually or one that captures data automatically.


What's the Difference?

Manual Data Collection

Manual data collection relies on users to record information such as key tag numbers, dates, times, and reasons for checking out keys or to swipe a key tag through a reader after removing it from a lockbox.

This method of data collection is most often used with key control methods such as pegboards or with electronic key boxes that don't automatically record user transactions when the key is removed or returned.

Automatic Data Collection

Automatic data collection doesn't require users to remember to manually enter any transaction details. Instead, information is collected automatically the instant a key is removed from the key control system so users don't have to manually write it down, enter it into a spreadsheet, or scan a key tag.

Automated key control systems record user information, date, time, and reasons for checking out a key (e.g., during an apartment showing or maintenance call). Another perk of this type of data collection is that it provides a 100 percent verifiable audit trail of the information, so it enforces employee accountability.


Which Method is More Secure?

Recording key control data accurately is crucial for protecting yourself from liability. So will a manual or automatic data capture method do a better job of reducing your risk?

Manual Data Collection

In a perfect world, your staff would always take the time to accurately record when they check out or return keys. Unfortunately, human error is inevitable (even well-meaning, trustworthy employees make mistakes). In the event that one of your employees decides to use a key for a prohibited activity, manual data collection leaves your key control log vulnerable to manipulation.

A key can be taken from a lockbox or pegboard, duplicated and returned within a matter of minutes. If a person removes a key without signing it out and subsequently returns it before anyone notices it's missing, the key security for the unit to which the key belongs has been compromised. Even if you use computerized lockboxes that require users to enter a PIN or swipe a card, keep in mind that transaction details won't be recorded unless the user scans the key tag or enters the key tag number into the system.

Without any recorded key transaction details, the security breach will likely go unreported until a resident or their property is harmed. Because property management is responsible for following key control best practices to protect residents, manual data collection can create liability risks for the property.

Automatic Data Collection

Automatic data collection reduces the risk of inaccurate records because users aren't required to manually input information or scan a key tag. By relying on automatic data collection, you'll be able to easily keep a real-time verifiable audit trail of which users checked out or returned keys along with the date, time, and reason they did so. Data can't be forged or altered by users, so you'll automatically have tighter and more accurate key security than if you were using a manual process.

In addition, electronic key control systems that rely on automatic data collection authenticates users by having them scan a fingerprint, enter a unique password, scan a key card, or a combination of these methods. Some systems also allow you to create access levels for authorized users. In the event that a user attempts to remove a key they're not authorized to use, the system can instantly notify you by text or email.

We think the choice is pretty clear for property management professionals: Automatic data collection methods are more secure. For more tips on how to protect your property, check out our whitepaper "Six Common Key Control Mistakes Property Owners Make."