How to Secure Your Condominium’s Master Keys
How to Secure Your Condominium’s Master Keys

How to Secure Your Condominium’s Master Keys

A condominium’s master keys are one of the most important items for property management. Safeguarding them should be considered a top priority as two recent events have called into question the security practices of condominiums.

In one case, a condo faced a bill in the tens of thousands to re-key its building after the master key was stolen from a fire safety box and used to steal a bike secured in a storage locker, according to a news report.

In the other case, a locksmith company in Toronto has been advertising that it will copy security locks for condo owners. In addition, a quick check of Google reveals several chat forums in Toronto and the U.S. where condo owners are advising each other of potential locksmiths that will ignore the instructions, ‘DO NOT DUPLICATE,’ emblazoned on these keys. These owners are also comparing notes on how to approach the locksmith for the best results.

These two events highlight the importance of how to secure condominium master keys from unauthorized duplication and use.

Do Not Duplicate?

Did you know that there is actually no “Do Not Duplicate” key law?

That’s right. The “Do Not Duplicate” key inscription found on many business keys is not really a law – it is merely a suggestion. It is perfectly legal to make a copy of a key with such an inscription.

Finding a locksmith to make a copy of such a key is another matter entirely. Many chain stores, such as Ace, often refuse to duplicate such keys. Since it is legal to make copies of these keys, a “Do Not Duplicate” key locksmith will duplicate the keys anyway.

What Does “Do Not Duplicate” Actually Mean?

Property owners and managers began pressing the “Do Not Duplicate” key message in an attempt to control security violations from terminated employees, former tenants, construction workers, vandals, and unwelcome guests in possession of a key to the premises. Instead of smashing a window or breaking down a door to gain entry to a business, intruders simply got a copy of a company’s keys. Imprinting keys with this warning created a way for business owners to communicate with locksmiths about the secure nature of certain keys.

Unauthorized key duplication remains a serious threat to security today. In fact, unauthorized key duplication is currently the single most violated security policy in business.

If you cannot control your keys, you cannot control the safety of your business. Having “Do not duplicate” inscribed on keys can reduce your organizations’ security risk as it does reduce the number of locksmiths willing to make copies.

Obviously, this trend should be very alarming to property managers and boards of directors, who expend considerable effort in ensuring the safety and security of their property and its residents. So, is there anything that can be done to rectify this issue?

First, it is recommended that condos only work with reputable locksmiths. Most, if not all, professional management companies maintain a list of preferred contractors who they know to be both reliable and ethical in their work and pricing. If a condo becomes aware that its locksmith company is copying keys without proper authorization, the condo may want to take its business to a company that abides by the rules, even if they are unspoken.

Second, experts within the locksmith industry recommend using restricted keyway locks. The reason that companies are able to copy keys with the ‘DO NOT DUPLICATE’ instruction is because the key blanks used are readily available to most locksmiths. As their name suggests, restricted keyway locks restrict access to the key blanks to the condo’s authorized locksmith.

To copy a restricted keyway lock, a person would have to identify the condo’s locksmith, and then convince him or her to produce a duplicate. Given that this locksmith has a business relationship with the management company, it is unlikely that the locksmith will copy the key without proper authorization.

Preventing Unauthorized Use

Master keys should be considered a critical asset of the corporation and, as such, have additional layers (or protection) surrounding them. If a condo has 24-hour security on site, it’s recommended that the master keys be stored within the security guard’s line of sight, as well as inside the lobby. A condominium would also be well-served to create a master key log, where anyone taking the key must sign it out and back in — establishing the dates and times of use and the person responsible.

If there is any suspicion that the integrity of a condo’s master key system has been breached, condos should discuss re-keying. The risks associated with misplaced master keys are significant — ranging from break-ins to assaults (or even worse) within residents’ units.

If a condo is considering re-keying, it’s strongly recommended that it undergoes a security audit to ensure that there are no further vulnerabilities before coordinating the project with a reputable locksmith and educating staff on proper key control policies.

It’s also worth noting that security audits for new condos commonly recommend the re-keying of master keys used for restricted common elements. That’s because the first board of directors usually does not have any way to determine how many keys were provided to contractors during the building and warranty phase of the condo.

Condos can avoid having to re-key by maintaining the integrity of their master keys through measures aimed at preventing their unauthorized duplication and use.


Looking for elite security guards to protect your condo, office park, or school? Call 305-418-9214 today to schedule Pro-Secur’s elite guard services.

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