Multifamily Locking Solutions: The Future Is Smart

June 2, 2020
A new breed of tech-savvy tenants demand an increase in locks that can be opened without the use of a key.

When it comes to multifamily housing, there’s no question that locksmiths will have to get even smarter about smart locking solutions.

Such solutions range from keyless smart locks on individual doors to full-on electronic access control (EAC) systems that are connected to locks on buildings, shared-access rooms (laundry, storage, fitness, etc.) and residences. Of course, EAC systems have been a staple in the commercial/retail world, and smart locks have pushed aggressively into the residential market.

The multifamily market is next. One reason is the entry of a younger generation of renters who not only are familiar with new technology but also demand it, says Garrett Lovejoy, the director of product management at August Home.

“After going to college and having either a card or their phone to unlock everything, they haven’t used a key for four years,” he says. “If they can’t unlock their apartment without using their phone, they’ll think it’s strange.”

Nick English, North American sales director for Kwikset, agrees. “Sixty to 70 percent of the multifamily projects kicking off now will have some smart functionality,” he says. “Home automation is not an option.”

A survey by Allegion U.S. bears this out. The survey released May 2020 found that only 9 percent of millennials have electronic door locks in their home but that 52 percent would prefer to access their home through alternative methods, including their smartphone.

Another reason is the increase in the short-term rental market (think: Airbnb). Although primarily a market for vacation homes and condominiums, short-term rental is expected to increase in multifamily housing units, particularly new apartment buildings where a rental company will be set up to handle all the arrangements of the short-term-rental transaction and split the revenues with the apartment’s long-term tenant.

“Flex space, the merger of short-term rental and long-term rental, is a huge discussion in multifamily,” says Nolan Mondow, CEO of RemoteLock. “Twenty percent of all multifamily units will be involved in short-term rental in the next three years.”

Naturally, locking systems that are “smart,” that can be controlled remotely and allow owners to generate credentials that can be set up, sent out and canceled quickly, are ideal for such a business model. As you might expect, these credentials increasingly are going mobile, via an app on your smartphone or tablet computer or a cloud-based system.

The good news for locksmiths is that this development provides several revenue-producing opportunities. One, of course, is through retrofitting mechanical locks, and a number of new products come with ease of installation in mind. These aren’t DIY products either but sold through typical distribution or preferred-dealer networks.

Although it wouldn’t be a consideration on newer buildings, if the smart locking solution were retrofit on a building that’s more than 70 years old, a locksmith might be required to add door-prep or even door-replacement work to their service.

Another potential revenue stream is the system itself and its potential for expandability. A landlord or rental manager looking to upgrade might want new locks not only on the residences, but eventually also on the laundry room or storage room. An EAC system might spread to elevators and pool gate locks.

Finally, there’s the ever-enticing recurring monthly revenue (RMR) possibilities. This typically comes in the form of connected systems that have recurring licenses for operation, including apps, or through credential generation.

If the thought of selling software or being forced to navigate complicated electrical wiring systems makes you blanche, you should know that today’s multifamily locking solutions don’t necessarily require either. And training is widely available. Every manufacturer that Locksmith Ledger contacted for this article says it provides some form of training for its products, and, typically, the training involves multiple levels that might include your distributor as well.

“They have to have the training,” says Thomas Bowles, the global multihousing project leader at dormakaba Americas. If a locksmith were to get a lockout call at an apartment complex that has an electronic lock and the locksmith doesn’t have adequate knowledge, “I can’t take your business.”

A roundup of some of the latest multifamily locking solutions:

dormakaba Saffire LX Series

The dormakaba Saffire LX Series of smart door locks includes cylindrical, deadbolt, mortise, latch, interconnected and panic locks. The locks incorporate radio-frequency ID (RFID) and Bluetooth low energy (BLE) connectivity and allow for multiple credentialing options, including fob, wristband, keycard and now mobile credentials, which allows different types of users to access the same system.

“It’s what we consider basic user tech,” Bowles says. “If I were to give my 84-year-old grandmother a fob, like a key, they get that, as opposed to providing her with an app, which might be a little more difficult.”

Bowles says the Saffire LX Series is conducive to retrofitting, even on older establishments, although some door modification might be necessary if the door were 3 inches thick.

Because of the variety of models, the Saffire LX Series can be used in varying locations around an apartment building or complex and allow a resident to use a single credential at all locations. The Saffire LX Series also integrates with third-party systems to provide video management, visitor management and resident communication, among other services. The locks have no-tour capability, which means that they can be updated remotely, without visiting each lock.

The locks themselves are UL fire-rated for up to 3 hours, and they all meet at least Builders Hardware Manufacturers Association (BHMA) Grade 2 certification. (The mortise and cylinder models meet Grade 1 standards.)


  • Low-battery indicator; three AA batteries last 2 years
  • Americans with Disabilities Act compliant levers and thumbturns
  • MIFARE credentialing
  • Field-reversible handing
  • Wear-resistant construction and finish
  • Multiple styles and finishes

More info:

PDQ RMC IP Door Controller

The RMC IP Door Controller is the latest addition to PDQ’s pdqSMART STS and XLS universe of cloud-hosted access control locks. The door controller includes a new reader that has BLE mobile-credential support, in addition to Mifare RFID and PIN access codes in some PDQ locks.

The RMC IP Door Controller provides a “streamlined door-control system,” says Travis Willis, chief evangelist of smart building and access solutions for PDQ. This means that in addition to its “plug-and-play” ease of installation, the device can be “pre-commissioned” in the shop through the use of QR codes and the pdqSMART app before it’s taken to the site, which can save time on the installation (and money for the customer), Willis says.

Although dedicated readers are required, the door controllers can use so-called legacy wiring and even hardware from other manufacturers. So, locksmiths can blend wired and wireless products “without having to be an IT expert or tech genius,” Willis says.

The RMC IP Door Controller meets the UL294 standard for safe exit, which more states are adding as a requirement. The door controller handles two-and four-door applications and has integrated power for door locks.


  • Request-to-exit and door-position capability
  • Auxiliary inputs and outputs to control elevators

More info:

Yale nexTouch Keypad Exit Trim

Not all multifamily locking solutions require a person to reach for their cellphone to unlock a door. The nexTouch Keypad Exit Trim supports cards and fobs, as well as keypad-code access via a capacitive touchscreen, like that of a smartphone, or an optional push-button keypad.

The Keypad Exit Trim, for exterior doors and stairwells, is the latest product in Yale’s nexTouch suite of connected locks and can be battery-powered or wired (9VDC). It accepts conventional, interchangeable-core and high-security cylinders, including those from manufacturers besides Yale parent ASSA ABLOY. It’s compatible with exit devices from Corbin Russwin, Dorma, SARGENT and Von Duprin, among others, which is useful when retrofitting.

Ease of installation is one benefit for the locksmith, says Bryan Lieberman, director of business development for multifamily solutions at ASSA ABLOY. A larger one is the connected nature of the nexTouch system.

“There’s nothing out of the ordinary someone would need to do to install one of these products,” Lieberman says. But the locks “include recurring revenue opportunities for the locksmith that they might not be aware of or are taking advantage of.”

Those come through system expansion and nexTouch’s Accentra cloud-based management system, which allows for remote lock management as well as the creation of one-time PINs for delivery or in case of a lockout.

And if a customer wanted cellphone access? As with other nexTouch locks, the lock’s data-on-card module can be swapped out with one that uses Z-Wave wireless technology, and the lock then can communicate with third-party controllers and apps.


  • BHMA Grade 1 certified
  • 9V battery power backup
  • UL fire-rated for 3 hours
  • Field-reversible handing
  • Four finishes, three lever styles

More info:

Aiphone IXG Series

Not all multifamily locking solutions are locks, of course. In the case of the Aiphone IXG Series, it’s an IP video intercom system.

The IXG Series consists of four products: an entrance station, a tenant station, a lift control adapter (for elevators) and a mobile app gateway. (A fifth product, which creates a physical guard station, is expected to be rolled out in fall 2020.)

Expandability is one notable facet of the IXG Series. It can connect with up to 9,999 stations as well as Aiphone’s IX Series 2 intercom products, which would allow the system to add access to commercial units and outside areas, such as a parking lot.

Another is the system’s ease of installation. All stations include Power over Ethernet connectivity, thus requiring only standard CAT-5e/6 cabling, says Paul Hefty, technical sales and support engineer II at Aiphone.

“The system can be programmed at the shop,” he says. “Doing this ensures that the equipment works before you get out to the job.”

The IXG Series includes a new Aiphone app that allows for remote screening without the necessity of an inside tenant or a guard station, as well as video recording. It also allows for remote unlocking of any door that has an electric strike, maglock or request-to-exit access input. Hefty says the system works with “anyone’s” hardware.

Features (Entrance Station):

  • 7-inch touchscreen interface
  • Onboard recording, with micro SD storage
  • HID reader connects to third-party access-control system
  • 720p video camera
  • Hands-free audio communication

(Tenant station)

  • 7-inch touchscreen
  • On-board recording, with micro SD storage
  • Hands-free audio communication
  • Up to eight stations within an apartment

(Mobile app gateway)

  • Up to eight apps per tenant station

(Lift control adapter)

  • Allows for elevator to be called to specific floor based on tenant’s departure

More info:

Schlage Mobile Access

Schlage Mobile Access isn’t a product per se; it’s a new way to unlock doors wirelessly by using a cellphone, even where wireless connectivity is spotty. It’s a mobile credential that’s received through an app that unlocks BLE-enabled smart locks.

Schlage Mobile Access uses parent company Allegion’s ENGAGE platform and is tied to several Schlage products, including the longstanding NDE cylinder and LE mortise locks, as well as newer Control deadbolt and interconnected locks. (NDE and LE locks have been upgraded to include BLE, as has the MT card reader, now known as the MTB.)

What makes the mobile credential stand out is its capability to work “in the dark,” Allegion says. That means that it will unlock a door even where there’s no Wi-Fi access or where cellular reception is spotty, such as in a rental high-rise’s underground parking garage, because the credential is in the app, rather than in the cloud. A resident can hold a phone up to the lock, press the unlock button on the app and unlock the door almost instantly.

That makes Schlage Mobile Access highly secure as well as easy to use, says Robert Gaulden, the director of multifamily channel strategy at Allegion.

“If you’re dependent on using the phone and the cloud, you might not have the ability to be identified as the person who can access that lock” if you don’t have access to the cloud, as in a parking garage, Gaulden says. “We didn’t want that to be the case.”


  • Works with wireless Schlage locks, so no wiring necessary
  • Other compatible products: Schlage CTE door controller and MTB card reader
  • Locks require standard door prep with minimal modifications

More info:

About the Author

Will Christensen | Senior Editor

Will Christensen is senior editor at Locksmith Ledger International. He has been an editor and reporter at magazines and newspapers for more than 30 years.