Security fobs & keys

Think that fobs give your condo building a high level of security? Unfortunately, you are mistaken.

Like most condo residents, I believed that anyone wanting to get into our condo's common elements would need a fob that was programmed and provided by the manager in our condo office. Our building was secure.

After watching an Australian current affairs TV story on how a young fellow ran a business copying fobs in coffee shops using a small device hooked up to a laptop, I realized that this may not be so.

I then started searching the Internet and came up with a number of persons in Toronto offering fob copying services.

Fob Toronto
The following is from a small Toronto company's website.

We are very happy to have been working here in Toronto for our clients. From property managers, real estate moguls, landlords, tenants, and cleaners, we have supplied almost 300 fobs to our clients in the GTA.

At FobToronto, we use a system and hardware that is top-of-the-line, and can finish keys in a matter of minutes (or sometimes in seconds), so that you can be on your way. We don't want to wait around outside, lose out on sales and occupancy, nor not be able to cook dinner because somebody lost their keys, or they're just pre-occupied and can't text back immediately. These things happen, and this is why we're here.


E-mail from a reader
We tried this service (Fob Toronto) ourselves to see how secure our fobs are by testing one of them. Thanks a million for this one, the board and security were very interested. Well it turns out that our fobs are easily copied. One fob costs $50 with price breaks for volumes.

Condo manager—North York

In mid-January, I interviewed Paul, one of the owners of FobToronto at a downtown fast-food outlet.

Like the fellow featured in the Australian TV show, Paul meets his customers at coffee shops and he uses a small black device to copy fobs. It is about the size of a floppy disk and it is attached to his laptop. It takes a very short time to duplicate a fob.

Who are his customers?
Almost 100% are involved with condos. They are:

Property managers who are renting multiple units short-term.

A person getting a fob for their girl friend/boyfriend who is going to move in with them.

A resident who is going to rent part of the unit to roomers.

A person who needs a fob for relatives or friends.
A fob for the dog walker and/or housekeeper.

Why don't they ask the property manager for a fob?

Too expensive; anywhere from $75 and up.

Too much hassle. Got to miss work to go to the management office and far too much paperwork.

Sometimes they need to pay a $300 deposit.

They are renters and they don't want their landlord to know someone is moving in.

Some condos limit the number of fobs per unit.

Lost a fob. Far cheaper and easier to get a duplicate made.

Can you duplicate all fobs?

No. For now, he cannot duplicate the fob shown above.

Paul has competition. As I was walking to our meeting spot, I saw these signs in the window of a small shoe repair shop.

Paul doesn't cut keys, he refers his customers to someone who does, but Walk & Wear advertises that it does.

Not only do they clone fobs, they cut keys, even keys that state: "Do not duplicate".

Here is an ad for a different service that charges only $40 to copy fobs.

Another supplier, Simple Key Copy in Vancouver can copy a vast selection of fobs.

This is a just a few fobs they show on their website.

What can condos do about this?
They can't do anything about closing the fob cloning and key cutting businesses. They exist, they are not going away and they provide a service for many condo residents.

They can take a good look at their fob policies to see if they are effective or are punitive and therefore encouraging residents to go elsewhere to get a spare fob.

Security must be informed that illegal fobs are a concern. When they see strangers entering the building, or the parking garage, using fobs. If it appears that people are using unregistered fobs, all fobs for that unit need to be immediately deactivated and the unit's registered owner come to the management office to have the issue corrected.

Renting a parking spot

For security reasons, the renting of parking spots in condos is restricted to only residents who live in the condo. (In this case, underground parking is a shared facility.)

Yet, here is a situation where it appears that a resident is renting a parking spot to anyone who needs one.

With over 1,100 residential units between three buildings, it would be very difficult to control who is accessing the parking garages and thereby having access to the buildings.

Security issues
With your tenants able to get extra keys and fobs, you can't be sure if all of them were surrendered when they move out. Best to change the door lock cylinder and replace your fobs.

Short-term hosts
Besides allowing your business to run smoothly, as this report from Australia shows, cloning fobs and keys can work against you.

“Our building’s bylaws say no short-term rentals including Airbnb and they have maximum occupancy of two people per bedroom,” says Max who asked us not to use his surname. “One owner of a two-bed apartment, a lawyer, has defied it, putting in a queen bed and four bunk beds in his investment flat.

“But now he has egg on his face as the initial overseas short-term tenants cloned the building swipe in Chinatown for $50-$70, cut the key, and now have short-termers taking the chance to stay one or two nights when its empty and the lawyer gets nothing. Of course he can’t complain because he breached the strata (condo) bylaws anyway.”

The condo corporation
The condo can have an unknown number of fobs and keys floating around that could be used by thieves to rob the residential units or lockers.

Best defense
Condominiums need to have vigilant staff to watch out for the improper use of copied fobs and keys.

Management should have strict rules that forbid security, the superintendent and the cleaning staff from leaving the property with their fobs and keys. That includes lunchtime. A missing key should be treated as a very serious matter.

When upgrades are planned to the electronic security system, change to a secure palm or fingerprint reading system.

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