With the growing popularity of internet-connected devices, collectively called the Internet of Things (IoT), more renters are looking for homes that reflect their connected lifestyles. Over half (52 percent) of millennial multifamily residents prefer to live in apartments with electronic door locks that use an alternative to a key, such as a smartphone, pin, fingerprint, fob, or card. In fact, one study showed that 86 percent of millennials — and 65 percent of baby boomers — would pay more for an apartment with intelligent upgrades like smart locks.
With these figures in mind, you might be considering trading in your property's traditional locks for smart locks. Before implementing such a system, however, weigh the benefits against the following factors.
Keyless Entry Systems Are Easy to Hack
Like other IoT devices, smart locks can be vulnerable to hackers since manufacturers often use security protocol that's not as secure as it could be to prioritize ease of use. Security researchers have found that f Security researchers have found that flaws in the design and implementation of smart locks on the market allow hackers “to learn private information about users and gain unauthorized home access.” Some locks can even be hacked by someone with minimal tech skills.
Also consider that if a resident uses their smartphone to unlock their home, their safety could be at stake if their phone ends up in the wrong hands. Nearly 30 percent of people don't use screen locks, so a criminal could easily access personal data on the device to determine where the phone’s owner lives and then gain access to their home with the click of a button.
These vulnerabilities not only put residents at risk but increase your property’s liability. In a poll, 73 percent of security professionals said they wouldn't use smart locks to protect their own homes.
Managing the System Can Be a Full-Time Job
You Don't Eliminate the Need for Key Control
You might think implementing a keyless entry system eliminates the need for key control, but that's not necessarily the case. Here are a few reasons why:
1. Backup Keys
Although some smart locks operate without traditional keys, many still have key slots that allow you to use backup keys in case the smart lock malfunctions — and having this option is critical. Why? Some users have reported that certain models of smart locks frequently crash or show that the lock is unlocked when it's not. In addition, security professionals have warned that a cyberattack or flawed software update could knock out thousands of locks at a time.
2. Locks That Haven't Been Converted
Even after installing a smart lock system, you could still have some traditional locks on your property, such as on common area doors, patio doors, or outdoor storage closets.
3. Security Tokens
Some smart lock systems use security tokens such as cards or fobs. It’s important to treat these tokens with the same level of security as physical keys. Tracking access to tokens is critical if they’re programmed to open all units, which is in effect like using master keys.
Unless your property is truly 100 percent digital, you’ll still need a key control policy to manage traditional keys or security tokens.
As CNET says, “A smart lock doesn’t necessarily equal a safer lock.” Residents might be willing to pay more for keyless entry, but before deciding if smart locks are right for you, weigh the benefits against the added administrative load, security risks, and liability.
However, regardless of whether or not your system requires a backup key, you will still need a way to secure and track preprogrammed cards or fobs for every unit to grant contractors access to specific apartments. While some properties will program a card or key fob as needed for all the units a contractor needs to access to complete a particular work order, this method requires multiple staff members to have programming privileges. The result is a system with little access restriction, which is in effect like giving these employees master keys.
As CNET says, “A smart lock doesn’t necessarily equal a safer lock.” Renters might be willing to pay more for keyless entry, but is it worth the added administrative burden, security risks and increased liability? To help you decide, download our whitepaper "Are Smart Locks a Smart Move for Your Multifamily Property?"
Originally published August 2017 and updated December 2020.