My Key Fob Isn’t Working- What To Do When Locked Out Of Your Apartment

Originally posted on August 12, 2022 3:00 pm
Updated on August 04, 2022 9:49 pm

There are few situations more stressful than not being able to get into your apartment or home. No matter how cautious or responsible you are, keys can be lost or broken, and key fobs can stop working for various reasons. Even with today’s hi-tech advances and the ease of keyless entry systems, there remains the potential for lockout. So, what do you do if this happens to you?

Electronic Keys Versus Key Fobs 

An increasing number of buildings in New York City are converting to keyless entry systems that use electronic key fobs to gain entry. These systems increase the security of the building and are an added layer of protection for tenants. Reports have shown a notable reduction in crime after tenant buildings convert to electronic key systems. By allowing only a limited number of key fobs per apartment, managers can protect against illegal tenants and illegal Airbnb renting. Since key fobs cannot be copied or replicated in the same way a regular key can, both landlord and tenants have added control over who has access to their building and when. Despite these added benefits, electronic key systems can still malfunction or break, leaving residents stranded and locked out of their building. 

How Smart Keys Really Work

Key Fobs and other electronic keys are known as smart keys. Today’s smart keys do not fit into a matching lock like standard keys and instead operate via radio frequency signals. The transmitter in the key fob sends a signal to the remote device in the receiver, and when near the door, this short-range signal communicates for the door to unlock. Working instantaneously and without the struggles of fitting a key into a lock, these systems are meant to make life easier. But at times, they can also provide added challenges. 

What if the Key Fob Stops Working?

If your key fob is not working, there are several things you can investigate to figure out why it isn’t working before calling for help. First, check to see if you are using the key correctly. If you were given a physical key as a backup, try using that instead.

The Key Fob’s Batteries are Dead

In most cases, the key fob quits operating because the battery has run out. Key fobs are generally powered by lithium batteries and will eventually run out of juice. The standard key fob will run out of batteries between three and four years. When this occurs, the battery will lose its charge, and the signal can no longer reach its destination, leaving you stuck outside. 

First, try replacing the battery. Lithium batteries can be found at Walgreens or most local bodegas and corner stores. It is not too hard to change the key fob battery, and it should only take a few minutes. Videos online can help, but all it requires is prying open the edge of the fob with the flat edge of a knife or a tool, then popping out the old battery and putting in a new one. Replace the cover and try using it again. 

The Key Fob has Lost Connection

Keyless entry systems run on electricity and may not be hooked up to a backup generator. In this case, any sort of power outage could leave residents outside. Some residents report their electronic keys won’t work if the building’s Wi-Fi is down.  If this is the case, you will need to contact your landlord for help and assistance to gain entry to the building. Some buildings have a back or side entry that can be used instead, or the landlord might have to prop the door open until the power has been restored.

The Key Fob has Mechanical Damage

Another issue could be mechanical damage. Think of all the stress our keys go through. Keys are put in our pockets, sat on, and dropped on the ground. Daily wear and tear can damage the technology within the fob beyond working conditions. If replacing the battery doesn’t work, try opening the fob again and look for any signs of damage. This would include cracks in the caging or circuit board, oxidized or calcified battery, and buttons or electronic components that are not connecting to the circuit board. 

If the key fob appears to be working correctly and does not have noticeable damage, yet you still can’t gain entry, there could be damage to the receiving component within the door. If there is damage to the door or lock panel on your front door, it’s possible the signal cannot complete between key and door. In this case, contact your landlord or building manager to gain entry and find a solution. If these efforts have been made and the landlord cannot be reached, call 311 or contact the New York City Housing Preservation and Development department for assistance.

Troubleshooting Issues with Standard Lock Keys

If you use standard keys and worry about losing them, one idea is to leave a spare key with a trusted neighbor or friend.  Your building’s landlord has a master set of keys and can be contacted to make you a new set, although many buildings charge a fee for issuing replacement keys. If all efforts have been made and the landlord cannot be reached, call 311 or contact the New York City Housing Preservation and Development department.

The Key Fob Consistently Fails 

If gaining access to your building is a recurring issue, action can be taken to ensure your right to apartment access. Many buildings have an alternate entrance on the side or back of the building that uses a regular key. Ask your landlord what options there are to gain entry should your keys stop working. It’s best to have a plan set in advance so you aren’t stranded if the issue arises. 

​​”You could try to find out what the key fob system is and get in touch with the manufacturer,” advises William Gribben, a specialist in tenant rights and partner for the law firm HMG&J, “Find out from a mechanical point of view what can be done. If nobody can get into the building, there must be a backup system when the key fob doesn’t work. Either the building management could leave a door open with a security guard posted there or have an old-fashioned lock on the door.” 

If the landlord is unresponsive and unwilling to help, a complaint can be filed with the New York City Housing Preservation and Development department to bring attention to the issue. Landlords are legally required to provide tenants with 24/7 access to their dwelling, and it is within your tenant’s rights to request this. If the problem is experienced by other tenants in the building as well, it could help to approach the landlord as a group in a request for a solution. 

Hopefully, this will never be a problem you experience, but it’s always best to know your options beforehand. Losing your keys or being unable to get inside your apartment can be very scary, and being prepared with either spare keys or alternative solutions for entry is wise preventative action. 

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