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At present, approximately 35% of US residents live in rented accommodation, with the demand for apartments and multi-tenant housing options continuing to increase, especially in densely populated cities. Aside from location, space and amenities, security ranks high on tenants’ lists of requirements. But balancing convenience and safety isn’t always easy for property owners.

Modern property managers and residential building owners can choose from a wide range of access control products and solutions when designing and implementing reliable multifamily security systems. The goal is to create a safe environment for tenants with multifamily access control systems that are convenient, reliable and, most importantly, secure.

From touchless entry and remote management to visitor access and wider security integrations, this guide will assist condo, apartment complex and multi-tenant property owners in understanding how to choose appropriate and effective residential access control systems for improved convenience and security.

What is a multifamily apartment access control system? 

While many traditional apartments have mechanical locks and keys to secure them, more modern apartment and condo access control systems leverage technology to ensure the safety of residents and the property.

Apartment access control describes a system of automated devices designed to manage property access for tenants, staff and guests using a combination of software and hardware devices. Access control systems come in a variety of styles and configurations. Regardless of the technology used, the main purpose is to simplify building access and improve on-site security.

In this type of system, apartment or condo access control readers will be installed to secure all main entrances, exits and communal facilities. Some multifamily residential access control systems also extend this technology to individual residential units, requiring each tenant to have approved credentials to unlock doors across the property.

How does multifamily access control work?

Apartment complex and multifamily door entry systems will typically contain four basic components. These components are designed to allow individual residents access to communal areas, and sometimes their own units, while preventing and deterring intruders from accessing private locations. By implementing apartment access control systems, tenants can control their own access, and security staff are able to monitor the premises more easily. 

Apartment access control systems work by requiring residents to scan credentials at each door of the controlled access building. The system then authorizes the user’s information in a central database, triggering an electronic response to unlock the door if they are approved. 

The most common user credentials for an apartment building or condo access control system are: 

  • Key cards 
  • Portable fobs 
  • PINs or passcodes 
  • App-based digital keys 

There are a few different configurations for a controlled access apartment or condo complex, depending on the size of the building, number of residents and how much security is needed. Multifamily access control systems are most commonly used to limit access through the front doors of an apartment building or complex so that only residents and staff can get in. 

Many modern apartment buildings also have amenities that need to be secured, such as pools, fitness centers, conference rooms, offices and mailrooms. Installing readers at the entrances to these spaces helps ensure that only approved tenants and staff can access apartment amenities. Other areas that may need to be secured in a controlled access building include multifamily residential gate security for parking garages, elevators, server rooms and equipment areas.

The final consideration for an apartment or condo access control system is whether individual units will be part of the same configuration. Installing individual readers at each apartment door would be extremely expensive. That’s why many property owners use wireless locks for apartment access control.

Wireless locks for controlled access apartments work similarly to residential access control systems, but they don’t need to be hardwired. Instead, most wireless locks operate with battery power. The benefit of using these for multi-tenant access control systems is that these locks are more secure than traditional metal keys, and easier to provision when new tenants move in.

Types of access control systems for apartments and condo buildings

There are several distinct combinations of access control for multi-tenant residential properties. Property managers and security teams must take the time to assess the needs of their tenants, as well as the requirements of the property, before developing a truly effective apartment access control system. Popular choices for controlled access condo units, apartments and multifamily homes include: 

Cloud-based or on-premise controlled access building systems

If you choose an on-premise apartment building access control system, you’ll need the physical space to house data servers to operate the system. The benefit of an on-premise access control system for apartments is that the property staff maintain full control of the system at all times. However, it’s a smart idea to make sure these servers are secure, as they contain valuable security data and resident information that could compromise the safety of the complex in the wrong hands. 

Cloud-based access control systems for apartment and multi-tenant properties are designed to store all operational data in a virtual cloud storage system rather than a physical server located on-site. Instead, the servers are managed by the hosting company, reducing the need for in-person maintenance and IT service.

In this configuration, staff can open doors and grant access to visitors from any internet-connected device, and are able to adjust and monitor active credentials remotely by logging into a cloud-based security management portal, reducing the requirement for staff to be on-site to process and handle tenant requests.

One of the added benefits of choosing a cloud-based apartment access control system is that a range of wider IoT devices like multifamily residential security cameras and alarms can be integrated alongside the access control system to develop smart building security features informed by system-wide data collection. 

Keypad controlled access buildings

Keypad readers are among the simplest forms of multi-tenant access control and are often deployed to secure both exterior and interior doors within apartment complexes. Tenants are issued a PIN code or password to use as a credential. It’s worth noting that if you use the same PIN for all residents, monitoring access events can be difficult for security teams. 

Keypad-based apartment access control systems are typically inexpensive and easy to install. However, the likelihood of unauthorized persons guessing or stealing active PIN credentials can be quite high, so security teams often avoid choosing this type of access system to secure high-risk areas. Keypads are often the top choice for smaller condo access control systems, as issuing unique PINs for each resident is less of a hassle with fewer tenants in the building.

Proximity card multifamily access control systems 

Proximity card readers and access control systems come in a few varieties, and most devices will use either RFID or NFC technology for user credentials. Tenants will be issued personalized key cards or fobs containing unique access credentials, which when held in proximity to installed readers, can be used to grant or deny access to secured areas of the property. 

As all user credentials are created and stored in a site-specific digital management system, staff can issue, adjust and revoke permissions with ease. Another benefit of this popular form of apartment building access control is that it’s easy to monitor unique access events associated with specific users to help improve incident response times and prevent unauthorized intrusions. 

One downside of RFID access control systems for apartments is that key cards and fobs are easy to lose or give to non-residents so they can have access. Without cameras to visually verify each resident, security teams won’t know if the person using the credential is actually who they say they are. 

Mobile controlled access apartment systems

Mobile access systems provide several convenience and security benefits not matched by other multifamily access control solutions. Unique mobile credentials are sent directly to tenants’ smartphones and stored in a dedicated access control app. From here, residents can gain property access in a few different ways: by holding their device in proximity to installed readers, through motion detection such as waving a hand by the reader or by interacting with the mobile app on their phone or smart device. 

One benefit of using smartphones for controlled access apartments is that security staff can avoid the expense of replacing lost key cards and key fobs as physical credentials are no longer needed. Most mobile-based apartment access control systems run on cloud-connected software, so permissions can be adjusted remotely and doors can be opened remotely by staff or approved residents, such as for visitors or maintenance teams. 

Additional benefits to the use of smartphone apartment building access control systems include: 

  • Multi-factor authentication. Extra layers of authentication can be added to credentials using the built-in biometric protections already present in smartphones, like fingerprint and facial recognition scans, to further prevent user credentials from being stolen or misused 
  • In-app integrations. Amenity booking services and visitor management systems can be integrated with the access control app, allowing residents to book on-site facilities and create guest passes all within the same convenient app
  • One credential for the whole property. If the controlled access apartments have supported smart locks for unit doors, residents will be able to use the same app to access the front door, amenities and their own units

Multifamily access control intercoms 

While traditional intercoms only provided a way to communicate with visitors, new technology now offers combined intercom and access control systems for apartments and condos. These specialized systems can be used to control entry to multitenant properties and apartment complexes by opening a line of communication between staff, residents and visitors, with built-in reader functionality for approved resident and staff access. Mobile-enabled apartment building intercoms are very popular for residential access control systems, as they allow tenants to easily communicate and unlock the door for visitors, deliveries, maintenance and property staff from their smartphones.

The benefits of residential apartment access control systems 

Reduce crime 

Installing apartment and condo access control systems is a smart way to deter potential intruders. Modern residential access control systems with encrypted credentials are harder to breach than traditional mechanical locks. In fact, just the presence of multifamily access control system readers and electronic locks can help deter crime at residential properties.

To get the most of this benefit, make sure the multifamily door entry systems you choose offer alerts for things like doors forced open and tampering with the hardware, as well as the ability to connect with physical intrusion detection systems and property alarms to ensure no incidents go unnoticed.

Convenient resident access 

Apartment building access control systems provide residents with more control over property access. Choosing to operate a touchless system like mobile or proximity card access allows tenants to move throughout the property freely and quickly, with these systems also removing the need for users to carry multiple physical keys that can be easily lost, stolen or copied. 

Cloud-based systems can also be used to manage amenity booking systems, parking facilities and private storage spaces, allowing tenants to upgrade their credentials remotely at any time without the need for on-site staff to manually process these requests and keep track of physical credentials. 

Improved visitor management 

By installing and operating a managed multitenant access control system with mobile and remote capabilities, residents are able to issue temporary credentials to guests, as well as grant access to delivery drivers and couriers. This ensures that only verified persons will be permitted to enter the premises without requiring on-site security guards to personally assess every visitor. 

Credential monitoring and access logs 

With access readers installed in every door of the property, security staff can keep time- and date-stamped logs of every access event, meaning if an incident of theft or potential intrusion occurs, staff can quickly review this data to better understand the issue and improve incident response times. 

Access readers can also be integrated alongside video security cameras, allowing teams to locate relevant footage of suspected incidents by cross-referencing access logs with surveillance data. If a cloud-based system is installed, this can also be performed remotely to provide 24/7 security support. 

Wider security integrations 

In addition to video network integrations, apartment, residential and condo access control systems can be connected to wider security devices to further improve building security. Motion sensors and alarms can be integrated alongside individual readers and programmed to alert staff remotely via real-time notifications, with automated lockdowns configured to secure all doors during emergencies. 

Other possible integrations include multifamily residential gate security entry management, whereby exterior access gates are also equipped with cameras and access readers to monitor suspicious vehicles and grant entry to tenants’ cars, as well as issue alerts for situations like tampering, tailgating or a jammed gate.

Why invest in smart access control systems for multifamily residential apartments and condo buildings?

Choosing to implement residential access control systems in apartment, condo and other multi-tenant properties can provide tenants with a more convenient and secure method of controlling building access and protecting their homes, ultimately leading to a more desirable rental property. 

When deciding which style of access control security system will be most appropriate, property owners and security teams must take the time to consider the needs and requirements of residents. Modern cloud-based systems will allow for remote access features and wider security integrations, although it may be wise to build a hybrid system in locations with existing apartment access control infrastructure to better suit restricted budgets. 

Provided that security risks are properly assessed, future expansions are taken into account. When systems are designed with existing security hardware in mind, an effective condo or apartment access control system can be developed to create a safer and more intuitive environment for residents to call home.

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