What is a key fob for an apartment? Is it safe?

using key fob

A key fob is a small electronic device to allows authorized tenants to unlock doors and provide keyless access to communal spaces in their apartment complex. With them, you can track, manage, and limit access to a building without relying on traditional keys.

Key fobs operate using radio frequency identification (RFID), which allows for data exchange through electromagnetic waves and built-in authentication.

Key fobs for apartments provide a simple way for tenants to access the apartment while keeping unwanted parties away. They are popular because they allow the building owners to control who can access the doors, adjust access according to who’s moving in and leaving, and see records of exits and entries. 

What does FOB mean?

woman opening an apartment door with her key fob

Fob is the colloquial term for the key fob, the small security hardware device used to unlock doors electronically. The word itself is derived from watch fobs, ornaments in the 1800s that were attached to pocket-watch chains. Today, key chains, car remotes, garage door openers, and keyless entry devices in apartments, hotel rooms, and offices are all called fobs or key fobs. 

How do you use a key fob key?

using key fob

As mentioned earlier, modern key fobs use RFID to pass information from the fob to an electronic reader in the door. The fob contains identifying data passed through radio waves to the reader. The door gets unlocked when the reader gains the information and recognizes it. All this happens without the need for any physical contact between the key fob and the reader. 

To use a key fob key, you must hold it or wave it in front of the reader on your door. Every key fob has a microchip that transmits a unique frequency to the reader, indicating that the door needs to be opened. 

Key fobs can also be programmed to allow different levels of access within the same building. For example, your key fob may only be able to open the door on your apartment but not your neighbor’s door, even when you live right next to each other. 

How do apartment fobs work?

Key fobs rely on an RFID system to pass built-in verification information from the fob to the reader on the door. This process only requires a single factor, which means all you have to do is place your key fob next to the reader on the door, and if the system recognizes it, the door will automatically open. 

Apart from the main apartment entrance, fobs can also be applied in parking garages, individual apartment units, gated communities, buildings with restricted areas, office spaces, communal swimming pools, college campuses, gyms, and so on. 

Some homeowners have also started using them in their Airbnb properties in recent years. This allows them to keep the guests safe while also giving the owner greater control of who can come and go and, therefore, some peace of mind. 

Are keyless apartments safe?

using key fob

Yes, keyless apartments are entirely safe. They are much safer than apartments that rely on traditional metal keys for access. If your apartment’s keyless system uses key fobs, here are some of the benefits you get to enjoy: 

  • Selective entry: Key fobs allow you to decide who can come in and who can’t, as well as when they can go in 
  • Access to records: You get a complete history of everyone who enters the building, complete with time and date
  • Better security: Even if the key fob gets lost, you can deactivate it to deny anyone who tries to use it entry
  • Convenience: No more fumbling with locks! Plus, you do not have to change entire locks to deny someone entry. Just revoke their key fob access!
  • Customization options: They can be used for way more than apartment doors. For example, the same key fobs can give residents access to the apartment gym.

Can you copy a key fob for an apartment?

Yes, you can copy a key fob for an apartment. To do it, you will have to go to a key-fob-copying service where they will do it for you at a fee. Alternatively, if you have the technical knowledge to do it yourself, you can buy an RFID reader that reads and writes 125kHz key fobs and use it to clone your key fob. The cloned key fob will be identical to the original key fob and subject to the same restrictions and allowances.

Can apartment key fobs be tracked?

No, apartment key fobs cannot be tracked. While key fobs are relatively high-tech devices, you cannot track their location if they get lost, and neither can your apartment manager cannot use them to track your location. 

That said, if you want to give your key fob the ability to be tracked, it is possible. You can use key finders, which are keychain-ready tags that you attach to your key fob (or wallet, phone, car keys, or anything that you often lose!)

With a key finder, you can track your key fob using your phone. Key finders use Bluetooth to sync with your phone. They will then emit a sound, pinpoint their location on GPS, or alert you when they are a certain distance away. 

What causes a key fob to stop working?

using key fob in an elevator

Your apartment key fob can stop working for various reasons. 

The most common reason key fobs stop working is if the battery dies. If this is the case, you will have to replace the battery, which is relatively easy to do. 

If your apartment key fob has buttons, the problem could be that the internal contacts are broken, or the buttons are misaligned. If the key fob can be taken apart, you can easily verify whether or not this is the problem. 

If your apartment key fob does not have a battery (which is usually the case for tap-only key fobs), it may stop working if the chip inside is damaged. In this case, it will need to be replaced. 

Key fobs can also stop working because of a programming issue. When this happens, you will have to take it to your building manager to have it reprogrammed. A lot of times, though, when programming issues arise in key fobs, it is usually because the key fob’s access has been revoked. 

To confirm that your key fob has stopped working, you can check whether your spare key fob works, if you have one, or if your neighbors’ key fobs work. If other key fobs also don’t work, there could be an electrical or mechanical problem with the door lock. 

What happens when your key fob dies?

apartment door opening with a key fob

When your key fob dies, it can no longer transmit data to the reader. This may leave you stranded or locked out of your apartment. 

If your apartment key fob does not use batteries (tap function only key fobs), you will need to replace it when it stops working. 

If your key apartment key fob has a battery, you will need to replace the battery when it dies. However, some fobs have a tap functionality that can be used when the battery dies. This means if your battery is dead, instead of being stranded, try pressing the fob against the reader just in case yours does. 

How long does a key fob battery last?

Most key fob batteries are designed to last up to 4 years with regular use. You can make your key fob last longer by storing it at least 10 feet away from the reader at the door. If you often leave it closer to the reader, the reader will recognize the fob and activate it, draining the battery. The good news is that fob batteries are cheap and easy to replace, and you can easily get them at your local store. 

How do I know if my key fob battery is low?

When your key fob battery gets low, you will notice that you have to get much closer to the door before the key fob gets recognized. This is a sign that you may need to change your battery. 

Your battery may also be low if your key fob is not giving out any signal or if it works inconsistently and unreliably. In the case of key fobs with buttons, you have to press the button repeatedly before it is accepted. 

How much does a new FOB cost?

To set up, access control systems that use key fobs and key fob readers cost between $1500 to $2500 per door. The final cost will depend on the type of technology used to power the key fob system, the number of people who will use the system, and the number of entryways that need to be secured. 

However, once fully set up, the key fobs are relatively cheap. The cost goes up when a steady number of key fobs have to keep getting bought as residents lose theirs or move out. If you are a tenant and want a fully programmed replacement key fob, you will likely have to pay between $50 to $500. This price accounts for the key fob and the programming needed to make it work in your apartment. 

How much is a key fob battery?

Key fob batteries are pretty cheap, and they usually cost around $10 or less. When you buy a key fob battery, you can easily also get it replaced on your key fob for free because it is a very quick process. You can also get the battery and replace it yourself if you like. Note that you may need a pocket knife or a screwdriver to open the key fob to access the battery. 

Final Thoughts

So there you have it; everything you need to know about key fobs. As you can see, they are quickly becoming a central part of our lives as technology revolutionizes how apartments are managed. Understanding how key fobs work, how to use them, and how to get the most out of them is important for anyone who wants to enjoy their stay in an apartment with key fobs. 

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Zoltan Szatmari

Zoltan is a test and industrial engineer from Europe who loves learning anything new and working on small projects. When he is not working, he is usually hiking or going to the cinema.

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