EPMEPM: Best Practice & Legislation

Keep your keys safe!

Lock-outs or break-ins: Debbie Palmer, Managing Director of PPM Group, has some useful suggestions for safeguarding and managing a large number of property keys.

The management of keys is often the last on the list when it comes to overhauling or auditing the property management department. Take a moment now to have a quick look at your key board. Can you see lots of hooks with missing keys, sets of keys that are literally the size of a banana bunch (as they have accumulated over the years with lock changes, but your office set has never been updated), rusted keys or hooks with just one key?

Don’t feel bad, as I’m sure you are not alone – just make a note now as you are reading this article to get organised!

Poor key management can be extremely frustrating if it means you cannot access a property. I’m sure that we’ve all experienced turning up to a property with a prospective tenant to find that the keys don’t work – I know I have! Not only is it unprofessional, but it affects your daily time management routine.

Following in point form are some simple key management tips to help you take control.

Avoid handing out keys
There’s not much you can do if the Principal wishes you to continue this practice. But beware – it’s fraught with danger. Property theft can occur, tenant injury at the property can take place or keys can be duplicated, lost or stolen. Will the $20 to $50 key deposit really cover you in the event that locks have to be changed?

If you do hand out keys, make sure that you take a copy of the person’s photo ID and get their local and mobile contact numbers. If the photo ID (i.e. Driver’s Licence) has an interstate address on it, ask for their local address. Stipulate to the prospective tenant the time the keys must be returned. Take a photocopy of the keys handed to the tenant and ask them to sign and date the document.

Photocopying keys
You not only need to photocopy any keys handed to prospective tenants, but also those issued when the tenants move into the property. This is a fairly standard practice in the industry and 95 per cent of agents are probably adhering to it at the moment. However, if your photocopier happens to be down at the time of the sign-up, simply trace the outline of the keys onto a piece of paper.

If you fail to have a photocopy on file of the keys issued to the tenant, you have no way of enforcing that all keys are returned at the end of the tenancy. You also need to copy or highlight any remotes that have been issued to the tenant.

You should adopt the practice of always photocopying keys any time they go in or out of the office. This includes when the owner takes possession of the property or if an outside agent borrows keys.

If you have taken the time to photocopy the keys, make sure the person collecting them writes their name, signs, and dates the photocopy and inserts the property address.

Don’t forget to photocopy the tenant’s set of keys when they return them at the end of the tenancy. Request that the tenant signs and dates the photocopy and place it in the tenant file. This gives you a documented record that the keys were actually returned, and on what date.

Tagging Keys
If you are not on top of your key management, it can sometimes be hard to determine which keys are the current set (especially when a tenant vacates and hands you back their keys). You can often have three or four sets of keys hanging on the key board at any given tenancy changeover.

A good practice to adopt is to colour-code your key tags – for example, all tenant keys could be on blue tags and all office sets on red tags. This is a double check that when the new tenants move into the property they are getting the current keys (from the previous tenants), not the office set that may be out of date.

If you have the time, it may also be helpful to label each of the keys with a black marker pen, or place a small sticker note on each key to represent which lock the key is for. For example: F/D – front door, F/SD – front screen door, G/D – garage door, L/B – letter box, and so on. This makes it easier to manage your office set of keys if one lock has been changed during the tenancy. Never throw out keys from your office set during a tenancy if they have been replaced and updated. Place the old keys in an envelope in the lessors file, just in case you have made a mistake with which keys have actually been replaced.

I mentioned earlier in this article that it can be extremely frustrating turning up to a property with a prospective tenant to find that the keys don’t work. To help overcome this problem, take the time to code the key tags. Write on the bottom corner of the key tag a code name for the property. For example: 1/16J = 1/16 Jack Street or 4B = 4 Blue Street and so on. If you are rushing out of the office to a prospective tenant appointment to 1/16 Jack Street and you notice that the code at the bottom says 4B, you are instantly alerted to the fact that you have the wrong keys.

Addresses on Key Tags
Never, never, never write the full address of the property on the key tag! In the event that your office was broken into, the thieves would have direct access to the rental properties. Imagine the nightmare that would create!

Key Register
Most agents understand that it is bad practice to write the property address on the key tag, but take a moment to see where your key register book is sitting. Ooops! – It wouldn’t be next to your key board, would it? Keeping your key register next to your key board is the same as writing the property address on the key tag. Once again, if a thief was to break into your office, they could simply take the key register book and key board. Make it a daily practice at the end of the day to place the key register book in your safe, or hidden in a filing cabinet that is key locked.

Key In and Out Register
Most agents have at their front reception a key in and out register. However, I have heard many stories where staff have been too busy to sign the keys in and out – and it is ‘Murphy’s Law’ that on these occasions the keys go missing, causing major frustrations not only for you but often for tenants who are wanting to move into the property. Always sign keys in and out when taken by tradespeople or third parties such as outside sales agents.

Sales people
Educate your salespeople that they cannot just help themselves from your key board. That way you will be better equipped to know if there are tenants in the property or not and whether they have given permission for keys to be taken. If a salesperson does need your rental keys, make sure they place their business card on the key tag to highlight that they have the keys.

Tenants Lock-Out
It often happens that a tenant locks themselves out and then contacts your office to request your keys to access the property. Always ask for photo ID in this situation and ensure that the person collecting the keys is an approved tenant. Never give out keys if the person is not listed on the tenancy agreement. If you are ever unsure, always telephone the tenant that you are familiar with to get their consent. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

Owner to Retain a Set of Keys
Recommend to the owner that they retain a complete set of keys in the event that keys are lost. Adopting this practice can minimise the cost of an unnecessary locksmith bill.

Liked Keys
You may wish to consider recommending to the owner to have all of the property locks keyed alike. This way you only have one key to manage. The downside to this, however, is that if locks have to be replaced you will need to replace all of them, not just one.

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Debbie Palmer

Debbie Palmer is the Managing Director of the PPM Group (a national company specialising in property management workflow systems, training and coaching). Debbie is a multi-award winner for property management excellence and is well respected for facilitating in the process of creating high performing, productive and profitable teams. For more information visit ppmgroup.com.au.