Every landlord has a duty to protect their tenants’ security, and along with that the desire to protect their own property.
A crucial part of that protection is the proper handling of keys.
The use of keys plays a role in many landlord decisions, including whether to use master keys, which employees will have access to keys, and how to handle day-to-day issues like maintenance requests.
Here are some things you can incorporate into your key-handling policy:
1. Never turn over the keys to a new tenant until you have finished running the tenant background check, and the individual has signed the lease agreement. Otherwise, you may have no recourse but to file for an eviction should you discover later that the tenant is not a good fit.
2. Use the same care when screening employees. Ask for references when using outside contractors. Make sure you limit access to master and duplicate keys to only those individuals who have been trained about security. Create a check-in/check-out system for keys to track who had access.
3. The use of master keys is an extremely risky strategy. Other alternatives, like individual locks, keypad locks or pass cards may provide better security for your tenants and your property.
4. When using duplicate keys, be sure to label each using a code system that is not accessible in the case of theft. The more random the code the better. Do not use names or unit numbers on key tags.
5. Duplicate and master keys must be kept in a secure location, away from high traffic areas like the leasing office or lobby.
6. Create a list of all keys that a tenant is given, including gate keys, laundry room, garage doors and so forth. Check that list at move-out to assure the tenant has returned all keys.
7. Prohibit tenants from duplicating keys to reduce the risk. Using keys marked “Do Not Duplicate” will prevent reputable locksmiths or key makers from creating duplicates that could fall into the wrong hands.
8. Make sure tenants understand that they are responsible for their individual safety, and that leaving keys around the exterior of the property could place them at risk. Also, tenants should be instructed to avoid tagging their keys in ways that would tip off thieves to their name, address, unit number or specific door.
9. Using multiple means of entry can cut rental costs. For example, using a keypad lock allows for easy “re-keying” for new tenants, and avoids hassles when tenants misplace their keys. Also, that method allows for a temporary password entry for maintenance workers that easily can be changed to prevent security lapses. Coupled with access cards for laundry or pool areas, the theft of one tenant’s keys or a master key does not create the need to re-key every lock on the property.
10. Always change locks between tenants to reduce landlord liability in the event a former tenant, guest, or thief gains access to your new tenant’s home.
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Disclaimer: The information provided in this post in not intended to be construed as legal advice, nor should it be considered a substitute for obtaining individual legal counsel or consulting your local, state, federal or provincial tenancy laws.