Digital Locks on Long Term Rentals

12 Replies

Has anyone ever used digital locks for long term rentals? Any learnings from that? Was it worth it or were there more troubles than expected? Any brands you recommend?

I'm looking to replace the locks in our new units with digital locks. It will help substantially with allowing locked-out tenants and contractors into the unit. We are managing the units ourselves so we're thinking optimizations like this will simplify the process and create a better experience for the end tenants?

I'm sure it could work.

I've never had too much trouble with residents losing their keys, and you can charge for having to come down to get them.

For contractors, why don't you like the simple lock boxes?   They are super cheap and easy to manage.

I currently have electronic locks on a SFR. I prefer the Schlage Camelot style because it doesn't use a motor to perform the locking function. The battery & motor simply engage the knob for the user to manually open or close the lock. This makes it more robust to doors that stick or need a bit more push to get the bolt to close.

One thing to note is that the master code is stored inside the battery compartment as well as the user manual that comes with the lock. So, you need to remove this label to prevent the tenant from getting access to the "master key" with which they could use after move out, remove the landlord access code, etc. With these locks, you have to change the 9v battery maybe once a year. 

When I close on my multifamily soon, I will be switching all my locks to Landlord Locks. Search for them on the forum. They're highly recommended and we'll regarded here. 

Finally, no matter the solution, I recommend using only a passage (non locking) knob and a locking deadbolt. This prevents the tenant from ever locking themselves out as they must be outside the home to actually lock it. 

Electronic locks can simplify things...or make them more complicated. How easy is it to change the code when a tenant moves out? How easy is it for the tenant to lock you out and prevent you from gaining access? What happens if the battery dies or the system malfunctions?

I personally refuse to integrate new technology because it adds a layer of complication that many renters may not be comfortable using.

I haven’t since they are expensive and just one more thing to break.  I really like Kwikset smart key locks they are cheap and reliable and changing keys takes less than a minute.  I have thought about smartlocks to allow showing or contractors in with me not there as I expand and just replacing it for move in but that is the extent I think I would use them.  

I use the Schlage FBE365 on all of my rentals, even have it on my personal home. It uses a simple 4 digit code and tenants love the idea of not having to use keys. The 9v battery lasts between 3-5 years. It costs $125 and you can get them at any Home Depot or Lowes.

Awesome thanks so much for the help on this topic. I agree this approach has some risks, so we'll need to evaluate before going all in on it. But it could be really convenient, so we'll experiment with one unit!

@Mark Grozen-Smith

I’ve been using Schlage be365 exclusively for over a decade. The quality of the unit has dropped drastically. But they’re still the best bang for the buck. I’ve got 13 year old units that work fine on battery number 3 but the new ones last 24 months before they need fixing. It’s an easy fix, but it’s a pain in my rear still.

Wrt tenant locking you out and master codes etc, you always want to engineer out the pain in your rear if possible. In this case, you’re going to change the programming code to one you choose, all the same, on all your deadbolts. You’ll set a contractor code all the same on each. And you’ll set a personal code for you the same on all. The only thing that changes is tenant codes generally. I do rotate the contractor code every couple years. Less than 60s to changes codes.

Always always always keep a physical key in a lockbox on site.

There are a couple good YouTube vids on how to fix these when they just “click and spin” without the motor fully engaging the pin. Or, as a friend of mine does, buy a new one, return the old one in the box as it is likely only 18 months old and still looks new. ... I carry 3 spares in my truck at all times and just swap them then fix on my own time.

Oh, one other aspect that I like about the physical keys....with electronic codes, you have no control over who has access to property or how many people have access to property. A tenant can give the common area codes or their unit code to anyone and everyone to come and go as they please. Really easy for the significant other to move in without your knowledge. 

The Landlord Locks keys or other similar locksets are near impossible to get duplicated (typical hardware store can't/won't duplicate) so if they need more keys, they have to come to you. At which point you can force a new person to be added to the lease, etc. Any system can be worked around, just feel like this gives me more control. 

@Mark Grozen-Smith   There are a couple of types of keypad/digital  locks. You can use the ones connected to the internet, or z=wave technology or local units.  Most of what is mentioned above seems to be non internet locks and are not remote accessible. 

I have used  a couple non-remote accessible keypad locks on my personal residence but have not added them to tenanted properties. The Schlage Camelot uses a battery a year, has a backup key, and has never given us a problem on multiple units.  You could put a keybox onsite too, in case the battery dies.  I don't want to change over long term tenants to new technology.  It is easier not to have a key but it also is costly to change.