Multifamily Property Management: Seven Tips for Hiring a Locksmith
Apartment security and locksmiths are now in the spotlight with recent headlines about codes and mandates that require locks to be re-keyed or changed when residents move out of apartment complexes.
Texas has a code that requires property owners to re-key locks and MHN Online recently reported that an Illinois Public Act effective Jan. 1, 2012, says landlords who operate in counties with populations of three million or more must change or re-key locks before new residents with signed lease agreements move in.
In the Lone Star State, a landlord “must re-key or change all the key-operated locks (or other combination locks) on the exterior doors between each tenancy at his expense,” according to The Texas Tenant Advisor. Work must be done within “a reasonable time period, usually with seven days of the request.”
Because locksmiths can literally hold the keys to a property, choosing the right company to re-key or install locks is a little more sensitive than hiring other licensed contractors like plumbers, carpenters and electricians. A quick glance at the Association of Locksmiths of America website reveals locksmith scams are high in number. As many as 150 news reports since 2005 are posted on the site for the international association of security professionals. Last fall, a movement began in California to give the state greater enforcement powers over locksmiths who are unlicensed or gouge unsuspecting customers. In Portland, the Oregon Construction Contractors Board began looking into allegations that a local locksmith company was using bait and switch tactics following a local television station investigation. And in Wisconsin, a Madison locksmith company was slapped with a $35,000 fine and ordered to stop using phony names and underhanded tactics against competitors.
So what’s the best way to pick a reputable locksmith? Property managers should consider researching locksmiths before they are needed, much like they should for finding other contractors. A vendor management system can help with this task (See Property Management Insider’s Do You Know Who Your Property Management Vendors Really Are?).
Regardless of whether new locks need to be installed or re-keyed, the Federal Trade Commission offers these tips to help you hire a legitimate, local locksmith.
- If you find a locksmith in the phone book, on the Internet, or through directory assistance, and a business address is given, confirm that the address belongs to that locksmith. Some disreputable companies list street addresses to give the impression that they’re local. But the addresses may belong to other businesses or vacant lots, if they exist at all.
- If a company answers the phone with a generic phrase like “locksmith services,” rather than a company-specific name, be wary. Ask for the legal name of the business. If the person refuses, call another locksmith.
- Get an estimate for all work and replacement parts from the locksmith before work begins. If the price the locksmith provides when he arrives doesn’t jibe with the estimate you got on the telephone, do not allow the work to be done. Never sign a blank form authorizing work.
- Find out if the locksmith is insured. If your property is damaged during a repair, or if faulty work leads to loss or damage, it’s important for the locksmith to have insurance to cover your losses.
- When the locksmith arrives, ask for identification, including a business card and, where applicable, a locksmith license. Fifteen states require locksmiths to be licensed: Alabama, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. In addition to a business card, check to see if the invoice includes the company’s name, and whether the locksmith’s vehicle has a name that matches the business card, invoice, and/or bill.
- Expect the locksmith to ask you for identification, as well. A legitimate locksmith should confirm your identity and make sure you’re the property owner before doing any work.
- Some locksmiths will work out of a car for quick or emergency jobs, but most will arrive in a service vehicle that is clearly marked with their company’s name. Be wary of locksmiths who arrive in unmarked service vehicles.
Check out locksmiths with your state Attorney General, local consumer protection agency, and the Better Business Bureau to make sure there are no unresolved complaints on file. Property owners and managers must be able to trust a locksmith, whether it’s for a one-time job or ongoing work. Don’t turn over the keys to your multimillion dollar property to just anyone.
Are you in good hands with your locksmith? What are your thoughts?