Access Control in Multi-Family Housing

by | Jun 9, 2023

Access Control in Multi-Family Housing

A building–any building–is only as secure as its entry points. When that building is a single-family home, you have a great deal of control. But a multi-family residential building is a different game with different rules. That’s why access control is such an important aspect of securing an apartment or condominium building.

Tenants may not know everyone who lives in the building, let alone visitors. One person may be cautious, responsible, and diligent about security, but if a neighbor doesn’t show the same level of care, that puts everyone at risk. Sure, tenants can increase the security of their individual units. But multi-family residential security is ultimately the responsibility of the property manager or landlord.

And that includes everything from fire safety to package theft, squatting to vandalism, air quality to bike theft, and of course, burglaries. In fact, renters are twice as likely to be the victim of burglary as homeowners are.

Property managers and landlords: it’s up to you to mitigate that risk as much as possible. Tenants expect a certain level of security. Failure to provide it results in unhappy residents, frequent turnover, unflattering reviews, and ruined reputations. The duty of reasonable care standard means you also have a weighty legal responsibility. And all of that affects your bottom line.

So, it’s time to put multi-family access control at the forefront of your security plan.

Access Control: The First Line of Defense

Strong access control is the foundation of good security.

Multi-family residential buildings see a lot of foot traffic. Residents, friends, visitors, deliveries, employees, contractors, and more are frequently coming and going. Depending on the size of the property, it might be impossible to know and track them all. Your best bet is to control who gains access in the first place.

Robust access control means that you can trust someone in the building has a valid reason to be there. The last thing you want is an open front door that allows anyone to wander in from the street.

Access control is literally your first line of defense. Make it count.

Shut the Door

Let’s just state the obvious: exterior doors in a multi-family building should be closed and locked at all times.

But tenants and staff need a way to come and go freely. The simplest solution? Issue a physical key to everyone with a legitimate reason to have one. Keys are easy to use and can be cut at most hardware stores.

That said, just because it’s simple doesn’t mean it’s the best option. Yes, a locked door is better than an open one. And yes, keys open locked doors. But they’re also notoriously easy to steal, copy, or lose.

In this day and age, there are better solutions.

Go Contactless

Physical keys are simple and cheap. But in addition to their security faults, they can be cumbersome. Ever try to unlock a door with an armful of groceries?

A contactless key, on the other hand, just needs to be held near the receiver pad. It uses near-field communication (NFC) to send a wireless message from the key or tag to the receiver, provided they’re a few inches apart. The message, in this case, is to unlock the door.

Give one to each tenant and employee, and they have a convenient way into the building. And unlike traditional keys, contactless keys are not easy to copy.

But they’re not without their shortcomings. NFC keys cost more than traditional ones. And they can still be lost or stolen.

Ditch the Keys

Metals keys and NFC keys are simple and effective. But any time you have to give a physical item to someone to open a locked door, it creates a security liability. It’s too easy for something to happen to the device. Lost, stolen, broken, misplaced.

Are you going to change the locks on the main entrance every time a tenant moves out or can’t find their key? Probably not. In addition to being impractical, there’s the cost and waste that comes from having to replace everyone’s keys or fobs and dispose of the old ones.

Instead, consider a keyless approach.

A basic keypad is one option. As the property manager, you create a passcode–typically 4-6 digits–and provide it to everyone living or working in the building. They use it to unlock the door. Passcodes are a popular choice because they’re affordable, simple to use, and easy to share or change. That’s also why it’s a good security practice to change the code on a regular basis–this reduces the risk of the right code falling into the wrong hands.

Another keyless approach is biometrics. Just like unlocking your smartphone with a face or fingerprint scan, biometrics systems use a unique feature on each person’s body to confirm their identity and grant access. Other biometrics include palm prints, retina scans, voice recognition, and more. This setup requires each tenant and employee to upload their credentials to the system.

This is obviously a more advanced system that requires (expensive) hardware and comes with a learning curve for property managers, landlords, tenants, and employees. But that added cost and effort do provide better security. Biometrics are difficult to fake, and you can quickly remove individuals from the system.

Get Smart

Technically another keyless option, smart locks are increasingly popular amongst property owners. At their most basic, smart locks connect to Wi-Fi and allow users to lock and unlock them remotely via a mobile app.

Premium versions may also include a keypad, fingerprint reader, camera, 2-way audio, voice recognition, third-party integration (e.g. Alexa or the Google Assistant), or other features. You can quickly add or remove approved users. Some models also allow you to assign temporary access privileges to friends, family, delivery services, or contractors.

And because there is no keyhole, smart locks can’t be picked.

What’s the Frequency?

So far, we’ve looked at both low-tech and high-tech ways for your tenants and staff to get in through a locked door. But what if you need a way to monitor the movement of people and things?

Biometric scanners and smart locks may keep a log of who entered, and when. But it’s certainly not a given.

One solution is using radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags and sensors. You’ve probably seen them in retail stores as a way to combat shoplifting and employee theft. RFID can identify and track using electromagnetic fields. The system includes a transponder, transmitter, and radio receiver. You can use it to track and monitor inventory, people, pets, vehicles, tools, livestock, and so on.

Similar to a contactless key but with a much better range than NFC, RFID sensors send a wireless digital data pack–usually an identification number or label–to the RFID reader when triggered by close proximity. The reader will then respond by logging the information with a timestamp, triggering an alarm, unlocking a door, opening a garage, or whatever else it was programmed to do.

As a property manager, you can use RFID sensors to monitor your staff, track valuable items, or even provide a hands-free entry method for your tenants at both the building door via ID badges and keycards and the parking garage door via tags mounted on authorized vehicles.

Buzz Buzz

Sometimes, the old ways are still the best ways.

An affordable, reliable, and effective method to allow authorized individuals entry is via a door buzzer or intercom. Visitors dial the code for whomever they want to see, and the individual answers and buzzes them in. Combine that audio system with a security camera that allows residents to hear and see who’s there, and the safety factor goes up a notch.

Simple, but it works.

How Can I Help You?

If the building layout and budget allow for it, consider hiring a doorperson or receptionist. In addition to keeping an eye on things, they can receive packages, log in visitors, help tenants with groceries, and more. Plus, they can add a feeling of respectability or even luxury living.

This solution is effective, but it’s also costly. A cheaper option is a virtual concierge such as 1Valet, which can deal with tenants, staff, deliveries, and others in need of temporary access at all hours of the day. But you’ll lose that human touch.

Partner with Deep Sentinel for Smarter Access Control

Ironclad access control is important, but it’s not the be-all-end-all for protecting your apartment or condo building.

Take your security to the next level with Deep Sentinel’s multi-family residential security solutions. The AI-powered cameras and live video surveillance guards monitor your perimeter, doors, and common areas. Proactively.

Zero false alarms. Verified crime-in-progress calls to authorities. Real-time engagement. And crime prevention before it happens. All with the human touch of real professional guards.

You make sure the doors are secure. Deep Sentinel will cover the rest.

Need a Solution that Prevents Crime?
Deep Sentinel is the only security technology that delivers the experience of a personal guard on every customer’s home and business. Visit or call 833-983-6006

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