In the past decade, multifamily housing complexes have undergone significant transformations, especially when it comes to access control. Cutting-edge technologies are dramatically altering how property managers approach access control — and how residents interact with these systems.
This article looks at traditional methods still in use, explores the emerging trends incorporating smart technology, and the benefits and challenges which the new wave of solutions offers to residents and property managers alike.
Traditional Access Control Methods
The most traditional access control system is the simple key and lock. It allows some flexibility, with individual residents’ keys allowing access to their property, but also to communal areas and entrances/exits. However, key-based systems are vulnerable to a number of issues, including loss of keys or unauthorised duplication, which can be costly to address.
Intercoms and Buzzers
Intercom systems, with a buzzer for granting access, allow for two-way communication between residents and visitors, sometimes including closed-circuit video feeds so residents can see who’s at the door. However, traditional intercom systems only work when the resident is home — there’s no way of granting access remotely — and don’t generally work well for communal areas within a multifamily unit.
Keypads with personal identification numbers (PINs) are also a common solution in multifamily units, particularly for main entrances, communal facilities and utility areas. While convenient, they’re not foolproof, as code sharing or infrequent updating of access codes can compromise security — and updating all locks on site can be a time-consuming manual process, including ensuring that any changes are promptly communicated to all residents and staff.
Emerging Access Control Trends
Mobile Access Control
Smartphone applications can be used as part of a smart access control system, enabling remote door unlocking, management of guest access and monitoring of real-time video or audio feeds, without the need to be on site. Updates can be applied instantly over the air, and in the event of a phone being lost, a resident can log into the same app on a replacement phone easily.
The use of fingerprints, facial recognition, and other biometric systems is an increasingly common way to add a layer of advanced security to smart access control systems. They offer the dual advantage of being difficult to falsify while offering a seamless user experience, as there is no risk of key loss, although while relatives or friends may be added as authorised users, biometric systems aren’t ideal for granting access for ad hoc visits, such as for deliveries or tradespeople.
Remote Video Intercoms
Today’s intercom systems are more advanced than traditional buzzers — using IoT technology to allow residents to visually confirm the identity of visitors over the Internet. Modern versions use a smartphone app to allow residents to view visitors at their door even while away from home, and grant access with a single click — for example to a petsitter or visiting relative.
Using cloud storage to host smart access control systems is increasingly popular, reducing the risk of system unavailability or performance issues associated with reliance on a local server located on the premises. Web interfaces allow property managers to access and monitor various aspects of the security remotely, reducing the need for onsite security staff, and the associated costs.
Benefits For Residents
Convenience and Security
Newer technologies provide an unprecedented level of convenience without compromising security. Mobile apps and biometrics offer quick, secure entry, removing the need for physical keys or PINs.
Smart Home Integration
Modern solutions can be integrated into smart home systems, allowing centralized access control alongside various other household functions, such as lighting and temperature.
Smart access control systems enable residents to receive instant alerts about any suspicious activities detected by video cameras or sensors, as well as access attempts recorded by smart locks.
Benefits For Property Managers
Streamlined Access Management
Smart access control systems significantly reduce the overhead associated with managing physical keys or code-based systems — allowing property managers to easily add or remove access privileges or apply updates remotely.
Data Analytics and Cost-Effectiveness
Cloud-based data analysis offers valuable insights into residents’ movements and behaviour, helping property managers optimize services and reduce operational costs. Real-time monitoring also facilitates preventive maintenance, delivering additional cost savings.
Data Privacy and Security
The popularity of digital systems raises concerns about data privacy and the potential for hacking — particularly for IoT-based systems. Property managers should recognise the importance of encryption and secure cloud storage to mitigate these risks.
Resident Adoption and Compliance
While younger “digital native” residents may readily adopt these new technologies, and in fact see them as a necessity, older residents may have more difficulty learning to use smart access control systems. Offering training and clear documentation can help to ease this transition.
Looking ahead, artificial intelligence (AI) applications in access control are promising. Machine learning algorithms have the potential to further enhance security by detecting abnormal behaviour patterns and issuing alerts automatically, without human oversight. Other applications likely to emerge in the near future include automated facial or voice recognition, faster incident response and advanced analysis of surveillance data.
Overall, embracing new technologies is not just beneficial; it’s essential for the long-term sustainability and competitiveness of multifamily housing complexes. It’s imperative that property managers stay abreast of these evolving trends and consider how they can be integrated into their current systems.