Locks are a property’s first line of defense. Before the alarm goes off, there is a small piece of metal keeping someone from breaking in.
But for a rental property, locks are so much more. They are a landlord’s or property manager’s way of assigning and revoking access. If someone moves out, they should not be able to get back into the property.
When a new tenant arrives, they should have complete access to their new home. That requires having old keys returned, rekeying, and having new keys made — and that is if the lock does not break.
With so many things to consider, how do you go about choosing the right lock?
1. Frequency of Use
A big concern with the frequency of a lock’s use is the amount of wear that the metal gets. These devices work from metal sliding past metal. As a result, the more the lock is used, the faster it wears out and needs servicing. On a property with many renters, you may want to consider getting a commercial-grade mortise lock. These devices stand up to a higher frequency of handle and key turns, and the components are easy to replace and repair if anything in the lock brakes.
There is a need to rekey the locks with every turnover in renters. Certain locks, such as any Kwikset SmartKey cylinder, are easy to rekey. These locks are made for deadbolts, handles, and knobs. The ease of rekeying allows you to change the key that works with these locks quickly and without calling a locksmith. The problem with items such as the SmartKey or the U-Change lock is that there is often a compromise in the security of the lock.
The U-Change Lock has a bypass that allows anyone to reset the lock to any key blank they can fit in the keyway. With security products, convenience often comes at the expense of safety.
3. Key control
A big issue with renting is that key control goes out the window. When you cannot control the key, you may need a lock change instead of simply rekeying. Once you give someone a key, it is your best guess what they do with it. Even a key with an impressioned “DO NOT DUPLICATE” message does little to protect the key from being copied at the local hardware store.
Many key duplicators are self-service machines, meaning that no one will see your message. And even if they did, many service techs at big box stores don’t care.
The answer to this dilemma is a lock with a patented key. These locks cannot have a key made without the registered lock owner approaching a locksmith or another register key distributor of the company. No one will be making keys without you if you make this investment. (Though industrious criminals could buy patent breaker keys and hand file them, this is not a concern for most landlords.)
Having a lock that provides the property some security is essential. What is up to you is how much you care about said security. The base level of security is a lock on the front door. From there you add locks.
The next step is investing in locks that are harder to overwhelm. You want something with some level of anti-drill protection and with bump-key resistance. You may install an anti-drill plate to stand up to drills. They spin freely so that a drill bit cannot get a bite on the metal. They may also have a hardened steel pin that deflects a standard drill bit.
For bump-key resistance, you want security pins. Be wary of Kwikset and Schlage products that make this proclamation, as both have had products that claimed to be bump-proof, which was shown to be false.
For protection against forced entry from kicks and battering rams, focus more on the door and doorjamb than on the lock.
All of these companies have different lock models with different capabilities. Each lock is going to have different strengths and weaknesses which may not always line up with the brand’s overall track record. These are my favorite lock companies, in order:
Now that you know what to look for in a lock, all you need to decide is what matters most to you. This does not have to be anything as heartless as saying that security does not matter. All you have to do is weigh the risks.
- Is there a crime problem in your area?
- Does the crime often include burglary, property theft, breaking and entering, etc.?
There are more ways to improve your security than just your locks. When it comes from threats that a rental property faces, the best place for security to start is often with key control.