Now board members and management have another reason to sit up and take notice when
issues of tenant security are raised. It can be summed up in one word: Liability. In a growing number of jurisdictions, property owners are being held liable for failing to provide reasonable security to tenants or employees within the building. Under traditional security liability cases, the plaintiff had to produce evidence of a similar prior criminal act occurring on the premises. Increasingly, however, this rule has been replaced by numerous State Supreme Courts which now use other factors besides prior criminal activity to establish foreseeability. These factors include the physical security of the building and, if steps aren't taken, buildings can find themselves on the receiving end of some potent litigation.
According to Peter Livingston, a partner with the law firm of Rosen and Livingston, which specializes in co-op and condo law, liability cases are now settling for as high as $1 million per case. The issue of security and how to improve it has remained a hot topic in the co-op and condo industry for a long time. To meet this very real need for added protection in apartment buildings, vendors have created a myriad of new gadgets designed to safeguard buildings. In addition to reducing the chances of buildings being held liable, these products and services can make residents feel safer and more comfortable in their homes.
The Keys To Better Security
When it comes to the major areas where physical security needs to be improved, key control is one of the most important. After all, if you can't control who's moving in and out of your apartment, how effective can your security really be? Fortunately, there are products available that can help residents solve this dangerous problem.
Using state-of-the-art technology to restrict key usage to only those authorized, Key-Trak, Inc., a Florida-based corporation, provides an electronic key control system that is already at work in co-ops in Manhattan. The Key-Trak system consists of an IBM compatible PC connected to an electronic drawer which locks and unlocks, depending upon commands read by the computer. An attached magnetic card reader, similar to the ones used by ATM machines, determines if the user is authorized or not. Each drawer contains 240 key slots. Keys have bar coded plastic tags with optical scanners beneath each drawer which are able to be read in their specific location. Every time the drawer is opened and closed by an authorized user, the system instantly records what keys were taken out or returned. If the system is broken into, an alarm instantly goes off. This method of tracking is essential for co-ops and condos, says general manager, Don Miller.
Board members do not seem to understand they can be held personally liable if something happens to a resident, says Miller. The courts have recognized our system as a good way of controlling keys in a building. It works. Miller also points out that Key-Trak is in use not only in New York. Our system is now being used by NASA, he explains. An average system for an average size building runs around $200 to $300 a month. Key-Trak offers installation and training for the system.
For smaller buildings, a simpler approach might be advisable. Leonardo Sideri, president of ffb Keysure, offers his key controlling process to all size buildings, but says it's ideal for those with 50 units or less which may not be able to afford a more high-priced answer to security. Keysure employs a simple-to-use method which consists of having tenant's keys encapsulated in a patented plastic container. Each key is first tagged with an assigned consecutive number from the rent roll, and is then placed in the container. No special code books are needed. To ensure secrecy, the tenant signs his name on the large labels on both interior surfaces of the container. The keys are then filed in a storage cabinet in numerical order, making retrieval an easy job. A code list enables quick and accurate identification of the containers and involves no other sort of technology.
Like Key-Trak, Keysure keeps the keys out of sight. Something very important, agrees Sideri. A major security problem is when keys are hanging from a cabinet, in plain sight. If someone's able to read bidding in keys, then they can make copies. Or, if the keys are readily available, they can be removed so impressions can be made. In any key system, you want to keep unwanted hands and eyes off the keys, he says.
Another of Keysure's attractive factors is the price. For a 100 unit building, the cost would be $1,000. There is no need for installation since the system comes in either a hanging or standing cabinet and requires only a place to keep it.
It might seem like magic but in some New York apartment buildings, with a simple wave of your hand, you may gain entry through the front door. Eliminating the need for keys altogether, Lockman, Inc. uses Proxlock, a product developed by California's Keri Systems which uses access card science to bring a 90's edge to security. Proxlock involves having a radio frequency proximity reader installed in the entry area. When someone uses the door, they hold their access card up to the area around the reader so it can be identified. If the person's number is authorized, which means they're stored in the computer's memory, access is granted. If not, the doors don't move. Each time someone enters the building, it is recorded on the computer as an event. And if a tenant moves out of the apartment, their name and number can be deleted off the computer's hard drive.
The reader can even be imbedded in concrete and the access numbers placed beneath the driver's seat so you can limit access even to the parking garage, says Angel Velazquez, who is in charge of all installations and services for Lockman, Inc.
Although Velazquez understands why boards might be leery of overspending, he feels the old truth, You get what you pay for, still applies. There are various forms of security out there that you can spend very little on. But, Velazquez cautions, you may end up getting exactly that: Very little. Velazquez is often called in by board members to offer a proposal for a system involving Proxlock but finds himself obstructed by people who can only see dollar signs and not what a better security system can do for them. We do our own research. When I come in and evaluate their existing system, it's for free. I do my homework. I'm no rocket scientist but I know what I'm talking about when it comes to security. I tell them, M-Spend the money now or you'll end up spending it later'.
One controller goes for $900. Proximity readers run as high as $400 to $500. Access cards are $5.00 each, while key tags are $8.00 each. Installation is extra.
Lock-In Your Security Options
Another area most commonly looked at in liability cases are door locks. An inadequate or broken entry door lock can result in not just litigation, but a tragedy. God forbid someone is assaulted in a building and a smart lawyer goes back and investigates. If he finds a faulty lock or one that doesn't meet Local Law 76 standards, the result can be a multi-million dollar decision against the building, says Mark J. Berger, a spokesperson for Securitech Group, Inc. Securitech is a New York-based manufacturer of d ffb oor locks and prides itself on inventing the Maglatch. The Maglatch is a door lock that uses a heavy-duty latch lock to provide a first layer of security, and then an electromagnetic lock to provide an added security cover.
Maglatch is unlike electric strike doors in that the electric release is within the handle unit, says Berger. This makes it a viable option because it can withstand vandalism and high traffic use which, unlike most electric strike doors, will not weaken Maglatch over time.
In addition, Maglatch can be used with access cards, as well as keys or intercoms. It also meets the guidelines set forth by New York City's Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), as well as New York City's Housing Authority requirements for one-hand exiting and a heavy-duty latch lock.
But Berger emphasizes that the lock is only as good as the door it's installed in. If you have a narrow style aluminum frame door, it's considered very flimsy and can be easily bent out of shape. A medium style frame is preferable and it's always a good idea to have plenty of glass around the entry door so you can see who's in the lobby. Six inches is a good thickness for the glass, says Berger.
The cost of Maglatch runs around $800 per door. Depending on the complexity and what's needed for installation, the price can fluctuate.
A Look Could Save Your Life
With the tag line, A look may save your life, comes Door Spy. Manufactured by New Jersey's Rudolph-Desco Company which developed the product with the Technology Commercialization Center at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois, this brand new product offers tenants ample security as a four-way door viewer. Unlike common peepholes, Door Spy allows the viewer to see forward, right, left and below from the safety of the apartment, simply by rotating the eyepiece.
The main thing it does is protect. You look through a normal peephole and might see a pretty woman with flowers. You think, M-Oh, that's nice', but what you don't see is the three guys with guns on the right, says Michael H. Simond, vice president of the manufacturing company. Another feature of Door Spy is the clearness of the view it presents, from all four sides. Brand new and scheduled for unveiling at the Buildings/NY show in late March, Door Spy has yet to really tackle its biggest challenge: The Big Apple. We want to protect people from crime, says Simond. That's what this can do. The building owner or manager should look at it as a reasonable expense for reasonable security. Now in use in the Washington, D.C. area, Door Spy has already been ordered by New York hotels and has been purchased for installation in new construction.
The Door Spy's retail cost is $39.95 apiece but there are discounted prices available for apartments that buy in bulk.
Concealed Cameras Offer Better Surveillance
New York's Jordan Intercom Systems, in addition to offering and maintaining the latest in access systems, also has a little secret that can help owners and board members rest a little easier at night. It comes in the form of a tiny, hidden camera small enough to be fitted behind a No Smoking sign in the lobby or entranceway, which can give tenants a quick and easy way of seeing who's down there before leaving their apartments.
They're half the size of a pack of cigarettes, says sales manager, Peter Dukarm. We can imbed it in any wall areas. Dukarm says size is the key when it comes to surveillance. Some cameras are sitting eight feet up on a wall. You have a pro come in who wants to steal the equipment. It could take him 30 seconds to remove it. With the mini-camera, a theft threat is greatly reduced because of its near invisibility. Unless you know it's there, you don't know, says Dukarm. All we need is a quarter inch hole to install, that's it.
And tenants can be included in the process by having their cable systems hooked up so that they may access a channel that shows them who's in the area where the camera's operating. They can see if somebody is in the laundry room or lo 9d3 bby. It gives them an edge, Dukarm adds.
Installation, like most products, depends on the complexity and scope of the job, although average installation, including a time-lapse recorder and camera, can run as high as $3,000 to $4,000, according to Dukarm.
For further information on any of these new security products, call The Cooperator at (212) 697-1318.
Mr. Serken is Associate Editor of the New York Cooperator.