Securing Multiple-Family Dwellings

Dec. 4, 2017
Wireless technology can provide automated access to authorized tenants without a traditional key

Multiple-family dwellings are not always easy to protect. First, they contain both public and private spaces. Public areas consist of hallways, common tenant gyms, foyer(s), a wall of U.S. mail boxes, laundry rooms, and storage spaces. Private areas are contained within the confines of each tenant’s unit. Secondly, the access control system that protects these multi-family dwellings is tasked with tracking the activities of authorized users as they come and go into and from these buildings. Provisions also must be made for unauthorized individuals who would like to talk with a specific tenant with the hope of entering the building.

The most common way to provide security in an apartment complex is to provide two-way audio (some with video) along with access control. In this case access is granted by the tenant and not the access control system itself. In systems where a suite intercom station is involved, access is given when the tenant presses a door release button thereon. In a telephone-based, two-way intercom system, the tenant can release the main entry door by entering a pre-programmed number on a mobile device.

For example, in "Protecting Multi-Family Apartment Buildings,” published in the March 2016 issue of Locksmith Ledger (, we covered many of the issues involved in the protection of multi-tenant properties. In that story we discussed a combination of access control and two-way intercoms. These systems allow visitors to reach out and connect with tenants who are safely locked behind a closed door. Today’s apartment intercoms also can be programmed to connect with user’s mobile devices, most commonly that of a smartphone.

In the March story we covered wireless and hardwired solutions with heavy emphasis on traditional phone-based systems. In this month’s issue we'll approach the subject using wireless technology exclusively.

Mechanical Locks to Electronic Access Control

In the past, it was common for a landlord to call their favorite locksmith to replace some or all of their aging mechanical locks. Rekeying was often necessary when tenants took the apartment keys with them. With access control, this is no longer a problem. Now instead of using mastered mechanical locks, locksmiths can substitute electronic models equipped with a network connection, in this case an all-wireless solution. Not only are these systems convenient and simple to install, but they provide the same door protection as their mechanical counterparts, only without all the hassles. Here the positive feature of any quality, multi-family access control system is the ability to provide automated access to authorized tenants without a traditional key.

All of this admittedly sounds great, but why should the client switch from a simple mechanical lock with a key to a more complex system equipped with electronics that requires programming? Knowing the answer to this question is key to selling apartment access/intercom systems and maybe a contract for remote management of the client’s access control system.

The reason for making a switch is simple. Today’s network-enabled programmable electronic locks and access control systems allow management to alter a tenant's profile without leaving their office. They can change an authorized user’s PIN (Personal Identification Number), or they can eliminate it all together and never have to set foot in the apartment complex to do it.

If you recall, older standalone electronic locks of yesterday required programming one lock at a time using a portable, hand-held programmer. Today’s network-enabled models allow those in charge to add and delete users and update user data without leaving their home or office. In fact, remote programming can be done--including real-time control—from anywhere in the world. This is a significant benefit that is hard for any owner or manager to ignore. That is why they want it, which is why you need to sell it.

Establishing a Wireless Network Connection

Remote programming is commonly accomplished using the Internet, cellular, or traditional telephone service--called Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN). Because of the popularity and demand for mobile devices and the applications (apps) that power them, it’s almost certain that cellular smartphones, tablets, laptops, and other mobile devices with an Internet connection will continue to drive the wireless market in the multi-family setting.

Without a doubt, the smartphone itself has become the preferred means of communication in society. In fact, smartphones offer a new means of controlling access and perform user and system programming, and as well as real-time door control. Most of all, today’s smartphones offer a higher level of security, safety, and convenience when compared to simple mechanical systems.

So entrenched is mobile tech in the daily lives of the general public that most households do not have a common house phone. Instead, everyone in the household has their own means of mobile communication—such as a tablet, watch, or smartphone. In addition, as mentioned earlier, the number of apps downloaded for mobile use has skyrocketed to the point where there’s an app for almost anything you can think of.

An App for Everything

The life blood of today’s smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices is the app, also called an Application. Almost every single intrusion alarm and CCTV (Closed Circuit Television) manufacturer in the U.S. has an app for nearly every kind of mobile device known to man. Manufacturers that make electronic locks also offer an app that allows mobile devices to connect directly with specific electronic locks. Apps also are available from manufacturers that also make traditional access control equipment.

"There are over 1 million apps on iTunes and Google Play. However, the majority of the apps are for the consumer (Klais, 2013). What about the enterprise? By 2018, 70 percent of mobile professionals will conduct their daily work on personal devices. This is called bring your own device (BYOD). This disruptive phenomenon is causing information technology (IT) department’s challenges in terms of accountability, management, and oversight (Gartner, 2013). This in turn is causing them to scramble to find solutions by investigating mobile device management systems like MobileIron, AirWatch, and NotifyMDM (Hess, 2012) (Source: Mobile Computing: Kaplan University Follows Industry Trends, authored by Stephen Beyer, PhD; Susan Ferebee, PhD; Rhonda Chicone, PhD; and Professor Andrew). Even laptops made today often exhibit ‘mobile’ apps and the like, addable at any time along the way” (

Who is better to handle the job of installing new wireless access control systems that makes use of electronic locks than a locksmith? In many cases an electronic lock installed years ago can actually be converted to work on a wireless network right along with newer models. One example is the Trilogy, manufactured by Napco/Alarm Lock.

By adding a small wireless module to the door lock, your client can control the lock in a variety of ways. And where it involves fire code, tenants can easily and quickly egress their apartment suite as well as the main entrance with a single, instinctive movement of the lock. Thus, there’s no need for elaborate, expensive, code-driven electronic access accessories, such as egress motion detectors, electromagnetic locks, REX (Request to Exit) buttons, or egress emergency touch bars that fit across the door.

Putting it All Together

Many trusted lock manufacturers now have wireless access control. This includes the usual wireless hardware, such as a wireless access point, which is the interface that wirelessly links all the locks in a complex with a control system that ultimately communicates with a computer either on or off site.

Because of the Internet, these locks can even talk with a host located in another town, state, or another country. Many of these systems are likewise equipped to work with traditional access control that uses RFI (Radio Frequency Identification) credentials as well as key-fobs, in addition to common keypads and proximity cards. These systems also can be programmed to unlock and lock doors by a time/date schedule if/when required.

It might be wise for the locksmith who has never worked with electronic systems to use the network version of their favorite electronic lock, working your way toward more complicated electronic systems later. Also, be sure to take the advice of professionals that install electronic intrusion systems by offering Internet, cloud-based services, such as SaaS (Software as a Service) and PaaS (Platform as a Service), as well as a combination of both, not to mention these services entails a monthly fee as we shall see.

Augment Your Income With the Cloud

Cloud-based offerings can assist your commercial landlord clients in a variety of ways. First of all, SaaS and PaaS entails a monthly monetary expenditure on your part. As a professional locksmith, you will pay the cloud-based computer processing, data storage firm a monthly fee and your clients will pay a higher monthly fee to you. To determine what the market will bear, call alarm firms in your area, also inquire about their remote management fees.

DORMA, for example, offers a service through locksmiths that make use of cloud-based data processing and storage. Called LEGIC Connect, setup, operation, and maintenance are all handled by software in the cloud. The service is used to securely issue and update the digital credentials contained in a client’s mobile smartphone, tablet, smartwatch, etc. Installation in this case requires the use of a bridging interface that connects each component in the system to the cloud-based processing center. Security of the data is assured through the use of a modem equipped with a VPN (Virtual Private Network) component or some other arrangement.

In this particular system, the wireless connection between each mobile device and an electronic lock, for example, is supported by the use of Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). Other similar systems make use of RFID, ZigBee, ZWave, and other wireless technologies. Z-Wave and ZigBee are common mesh technologies that often link access control devices, such as electronic locks, to a security system. WiFi, also known as 802.11, also is used to link electronic locks, card readers, and other access devices to an access head-end whether the hosting computer or bridge interface resides on or off site.

If you’ve never installed wireless electronic locks, access controllers, and other wireless network devices, all of this may seem awfully complicated, and at this point you may be right, but almost every access control equipment manufacturer based in the US will gladly provide you with all the support and education you can handle. From online marketing and technical courses to in-house factory schools, you will be soon be installing these systems. If you’re having trouble getting up to speed on any of this, partner up with a local security company and learn the ins and outs with your hands on the equipment.

If you’re in need of additional information on recurring monthly revenue (RMR), in the July 2017 issue of Locksmith Ledger, we cover this subject in an article called “Unlock the Value of Predictive Recurring Revenue” ( If you need help with how you can implement network technology, will allow anyone in your organization to take an online course without paying for it. Certificates are available for a fee once a course has been completed.

What to Buy

There are too many wireless access systems on the market to cover the nuts and bolts of all of them. Instead, the following list with links can be used for general research. Also contact your local locksmith distributor to see which products they carry and support. In my next access control story we’ll get into the installation issues.

  1. Yale Accentra:
  2. AiPhone, TL-2000:
  3. DoorKing, 1810 Access Plus:
  4. Transmitter Solutions, iCE-ENTRY-100:
  5. Viking, AES-2000:
  6. Kantech, KTES Telephone Entry:
  7. Schlage Control™ Smart Lock, Schlage:
  8. Alarm Lock, Trilogy Networx™ Locks:
  9. Kaba, LEGIC Connect:
  10. Stanley Access Control Solutions:
  11. Connected Technologies, ScanPass: