It started with a complaint from an exasperated reader who declared himself sick of all the negative Airbnb and holiday letting stories we run on Flat Chat.
But it’s not that this reader was in favour of unfettered holiday lets, far from it, but that people like us were faffing around, banging on about legislation and by-laws when he felt there were much more effective ways of stopping the problem, and doing so at the front door, literally.
From our email exchanges, it emerged that there’s an ingenious means of preventing anyone you don’t want in your building from getting access.
The problem with the electronic key fobs that most of us use these days is that they are too easy to clone. Not only that, the companies that copy them do so perfectly legally. Few people know this and, more importantly, nobody in authority cares.
So while you are tearing your hair out about overcrowded apartments and disruptive holiday letting guests, the landlords (more often head tenants who are sub-letting) are trotting down to their computer shops or key cutters to get another batch of key fobs created to be left in “key safes” to allow unfettered access to your lifts, lobbies, gym, pool and parking
“Most owners believe they can’t do anything if holiday lets are legal but they all forget about a simple thing.” writes our reader. “We are entitled to know who is living in the building at any time, and we have security software organised by our building manager.”
But when the key fobs are borrowed by holiday let guests or illegal additional tenants living in overcrowded units, it becomes impossible to know who is really using them.
The answer, our reader says, is to include a biometric element like fingerprints in the key fob.
Now, in the past that has led to complaints about privacy, specifically fingerprints stored on a central computer somewhere in the building or off-site in a security company’s offices, with no control over what happens to them.
Computer says ‘no’
But what if the fingerprint pattern is stored INSIDE the key fob? There is no central registry, therefore no broader privacy issue.
And if the person using the key fob doesn’t have the same fingerprint as the one stored electronically in it, the computer says “no”.
‘Here’s what we did in our building,” says our Flatchatter. “First we realised that, while there is a regulation saying that we must provide 24/7 access to the premises to all the residents, there is no law that says we have to give a key fob to everyone.”
“And to put an end to unwanted holiday let guests, some overcrowded units and two illegal brothels, we installed a biometric system with key fobs that have residents fingerprints encrypted into them.
“That way we avoided legal action from residents saying it was an invasion of their privacy, claiming we had their fingerprints saved somewhere in the building computer or the security company have them and someone might do something bad with it.
“But since the fingerprints are in the key fob itself and the key fob can only be used by the key holder, there are no issues with that.
“We also made sure that the owner-occupiers of the building can choose to use the fingerprint or not. I use it because I don’t want anyone to access the building if I lose my key fob somewhere. But some recognised owners don’t want to use it, in which case the building manager simply deactivates it from their key fobs.”
OK, but what happens if someone forgets their key fob or?
“Since we have a 24-hour security desk, due to previous difficulties with some disruptive tenants, they can swipe genuine residents up when they need access, but only after they have checked their ID.”
Of course, the organisers of overcrowded apartments and other illegal lets aren’t going to take that lying down and some even arrange for the registered resident’s fingerprint to be copied, on to plastic, for instance, to fool the reader. But the best fingerprint readers can detect veins or a pulse, so the finger must be real and a fake one doesn’t work.
“Before we had people sharing key fobs but they can’t anymore. There is no more Airbnb in the building. If someone insists that they are allowed to run short-term lets, they must show up to the building manager with their tenancy agreement and the building manager pre-sets the key fob to be automatically deactivated on a specific date.
“All tenants of the building must use the fingerprint method for automatic access – they have no choice. If they don’t want them, we don’t give them a key fob and the security receptionist has to swipe them upstairs.
“Trust me, within few days they give up because reception isn’t always available exactly when they need them. It works and we don’t even need to do anymore key audits because we already know that the key fob can be used only by the registered key holder.
“Next year we might upgrade some of our reader to facial recognition but we are waiting the manufacturer to release the face recognition through key fob so residents faces are encrypted and saved inside the key fob, not inside the reader.”
Anyone who uses their fingerprint or facial recognition to unlock their smartphone will recognise just how feasible all this is. You don’t even need a by-law blocking short-term lets or overcrowded flats – your access control will soon drive unwanted elements out of your building.
But this must be horrendously expensive, right? Not so, says our Flatchatter.
“It cost us less than $40K and we have over 1300 fobs and over 10 readers in the building,” he says. “We even have the key encoder so we make keys ourselves and we don’t need to order from the security installer anymore.”
To save you doing the maths yourself, the overall cost was just over $30 per key fob – a small price to pay for security, safety, a sense of community and peace of mind.