Key Management & Key Deposits

January 10th, 2017 · 1 Comment · Property Management, Rental Property

fob-jpgI have at one time in career been given a 5 gallon pail filled to 3/4 with keys. Furthermore they were using the key tags with string and the strings had become completely mixed up.

For my management properties I use these small and cheap plastic key tags to put on every key that crosses my desk.

As we get more and more properties we make use of different types of lockboxes more and more. Specifically I’m concerned I may have the key but be across town and not be able to provide timely access in case of emergency.  Also meeting contractors can be very difficult, so having a lock box on site is a good way to deal with access issues. I like these kinds of key safes because they can hold more keys.


We also use the wall mounted type of lockbox to provide access, it really depends on how many keys the property has.


Also invaluable is the use of master keys for all your properties, we don’t use this system because many of the properties we manage are condos, and initial costs for set up are pretty high for changing the locks or rekeying them to a master. However, I have definitely used this system before. With new technology, you can also put in keyless locks but this tends to be pricey.

Key Deposits (Bribe) vs  Key Deposit (Replacement Cost)

So for a long time “key deposits” were illegal and they still are. “Key Deposits” were the practice of paying the building superintendent/rental staff for access to rental apartments.  This was in addition to your first & last month’s rent and the tenant never saw that money again. It was not refundable. It was in effect a bribe. Anyone doubting that our vacancy rates are nowhere as low as when I first came to Toronto, just has to remember the Key Deposit Bribes were a thing and a law had to be made about it. I have not heard of a Key Deposit Bribe being paid in at least 15 years.

We do have another kind of Key Deposit being charged that is perfectly legal. Regular keys for a house cost a couple bucks and are readily copied at the local hardware store. No big deal. If the tenant left with the key, you could have the lock rekeyed if you brought it to the locksmith or even changed the lock for about $30 or more if you had a particularly lovely lock set.

Condos changed everything. For security reasons and to prevent unauthorized copying keys that could not be copied at the local hardware store became the new normal. Landlords went from keys that cost $2-3 each to keys that cost $50 to $150 per key plus the FOB (Electronic Dingus that lets you in the door, on the elevator and in the gym). The FOB can cost another from a low of $50 to a high of $250 for those garage door opener FOB’s. Obviously that’s the cost per set.

Next thing you know the landlord is shelling out $300 to $400 per set of keys and you usually need one set per bedroom. Now if it were just an upfront one time cost, it’s not so bad, but…why should your tenant give you your expensive keys back if they don’t feel like it. There is no benefit to them to return those keys to you. If their place isn’t immaculate they may not want to meet you and turn over the keys. So the keys ended up disappearing and the landlord had to pay to replace them. That got old for landlords very quickly.

We are currently allowed to charge the replacement cost for those keys as a deposit. This way if the keys get lost, or stolen, or tenants can’t be bothered to give them back it’s no big deal because you have the deposit to replace the keys. The deposit must be refundable. I can tell you from personal experience that getting a new set of keys made up is not easy. Many places you need to make an appointment with building management during the day, sign some forms, sometimes meet up with a locksmith and endure general annoyance factor level 5.

However, there are some places that like to limit occupancy of units. For instance a 3 bedroom unit could legitimately house 3 couples that would need 6 sets of keys. Well in many condos, they allow 2 FOB’s and 2 keys only. I helped the owner of a large 3 bedroom condo downtown and his tenants had 7 sets of keys. They had many adult children that would fly in and out of Toronto and stayed and visited for extended visits. I actually had a family living in a one bedroom condo with a couple, two kids, and grandma and granpa always “visiting.” I didn’t even have to repaint the unit, they were so clean. It is my opinion, that as rents keep going up and prices of condos keep going up, more of these sharing situations will have to happen.

For those buildings, and to save money, you might want to hit up Fob Toronto, a fob copying company. I almost resorted to using them after trying for weeks to make an appointment with an unavailable property manager. Another possible use of this service is access to your unit, without going through management and security. Some buildings don’t want you, the owner of the unit, to have access to the building. Legitimately, you need door access to deliver any Landlord & Tenant Board forms, but I’ve never had any issues just asking security to let me up.

Have I ever lost keys?

Usually I lay keys somewhere and forget where I put them. Usually I can find them when I stop looking for them. It’s not unusual for Key Tags to fall off, break, lose a piece of plastic and become unidentifiable. I have a box of random keys. I become very cranky when I misplace keys and it’s usually just me being preoccupied and setting them down in the bathroom.  Which I did one time, upon leaving a condo showing. I looked high and I looked low and I had just set them down on the countertop in the bathroom.

Once I “lost” a set of condo keys, I paid to replace them and rekey the lock and replace the FOB and it cost me like $270. Anyhow about 6 months later, I was doing a fire inspection and found them in my tool bag, they had been in my car trunk all along, probably mocking me on a daily basis.

Don’t panic if you lose a set of keys, unless of course you drop them down the storm sewer while getting out of your car. Then panic for a few moments, until you figure out where to go to get a new set. If it’s a car key, your wallet is going to be shockingly lighter if you don’t have the original key.

Those are my key management tips.

The Main Tip is Don’t Panic!



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One Comment so far ↓

  • H. Marshall

    About keys. In apartment buildings, don’t keep them loosely in your hand when getting on/off an elevator. They will drop down the hole and you will have to wait for a monthly elevator inspection to get them back without having to pay for a service call.