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A Key Issue

It was a key issue, in both senses of the phrase: a crucial case about keys and who cares for them. The concern was safety. A shareholder in a 37-unit Manhattan co-op, fearing for her security, refused to let the co-op board have duplicates of her keys. The board, concerned about access to the tenant’s apartment during emergencies, insisted on having a set. The stalemate was broken when the board attempted to evict the tenant for breach of her lease.

Eviction? Over who’s got the keys?

It’s not silly. “In many cases, it is an issue because many shareholders are concerned that their keys could be given away accidentally by the doorman, or that someone can be tricked into giving away a key to an apartment,” says Daniel Wollman, chief operating officer of Gumley-Haft, a managing agent. “It’s important that the board has copies of the keys, however, in case there’s an emergency in the building. Say, a riser breaks and you have to get into an apartment. There are systems failures that mean the board has to have the keys for the safety and well-being of the building.”

Nonetheless, tenants are afraid that staff members will be careless with their keys. In fact, there have been numerous lawsuits throughout the country in which landlords have lost millions of dollars because they had been lax with security. Boards should be concerned.

“This is a troublesome matter,” observes attorney Richard Siegler, a partner with Stroock Stroock & Lavan. “Most boards are reluctant to insist upon enforcing a duplicate key provision not only because of invasion of privacy questions, but also because of concerns about liability to the unit-owner for any breach of security. To allay the concerns of both unit-owners and boards, there must be a security system which insures that access to keys will be limited to approved personnel and not made available to potential burglars and intruders.”

Experts say such systems exist. Among them:

KeyWatcher. Traditional key lock boxes are armored key cabinets that have substantial shortcomings on several levels, say some experts. They lack security. Once an individual has penetrated a traditional key box or cabinet, they have essentially picked all the locks.

Morse Watchman’s microprocessor-based KeyWatcher system attempts to address that concern. Users are assigned individual PIN numbers that are entered on the “smart box” keypads. Once the door opens, the users only have access to the keys they need to complete their specific task. The released keys can be grouped by function, locations, or placed on individual rings. All other keys remain locked in place.

Key release can also be set by time and day of week as a means of linking key access to a specific function or operation. Since the pin codes are programmed, they can be edited at a moment’s notice without concern for re-keying the box. Up to 750 pin codes can be assigned and activated.

Key-Trak. Key-Trak’s components include a computer connected to a locked electronic drawer. Each drawer contains 240 key slots. An attached magnetic card reader and/or password system determines who gains access. The keys are physically attached to bar-coded plastic tags, with optical scanners located beneath each drawer. When the drawer is opened, the system records what keys were removed and replaced. If an unauthorized person tries to take a key, an alarm sounds.

The system works simply with a computerized chip on a fob. A user touches that fob to the front of the key drawer and the drawer recognizes the individual who wants the key. Then he puts in his pin code, the drawer “asks” why he is taking the key, and releases the key.

Key Sure. Dubbed a “new concept for key security” by its inventor Len Sideri, Key Sure is a plastic box, roughly 3 by 5 inches, that holds individual keys. A tenant signs his or her name on both inside halves of the container. The key, tagged with a code number, is then placed inside. Once there, it cannot be removed unless the container is broken. The code number and the tenant’s mother’s maiden name are written on both outside panels. The containers are filed in 110-unit capacity storage cabinets in numerical order. A code list allows quick identification of each container.

“Key Sure is a stand-alone system that encapsulates individual keys,” notes Sideri, who says that his invention is less expensive and more effective than others out there. “In the electronic systems, the keys still hang inside a cabinet, and are vulnerable to impressioning or by reading the bitting of the key. Since these cabinets are accessed by individual pin numbers, false accusations can still occur. Key Sure, however, is entirely physical. If the container is intact, that means the keys have not been used.”

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