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​​​​Illustration by Michael Waraksa​​

An Amenity of Necessity

​Is security trendy? It may seem an odd question. But consider the current residential apartment sector, where upscale rental buildings are competing for new tenants by offering increasingly luxurious amenities such as pet daycare, wine cellars, and movie screening rooms. A recent survey asked apartment renters which amenity they most desired, and amid all these intriguing choices the number one answer was…a security-based amenity.  

“Gated access” was the most frequently cited amenity in the survey, chosen by 35 percent of respondents. It beat out such features as hardwood floors, rooftop terraces, and coffee shops. “App-controlled door locks” also made the top 10, chosen by 25 percent of respondents. The survey of 2,000 renters was conducted by RentPath and Egg Strategy in 2017 and 2018, and the results were released in October 2018. 

Angie Amon, director of research at RentPath, says the survey reflects an unshakable reality in the apartment world: “It’s universal, the desire to feel safe and secure.” As evidence, she cites a renter focus group she attended, in which people were asked about factors involved in moving to a new apartment building. “Every single person talked about security and safety,” she says. 

She adds that, in particular, the popularity of gated access is also being driven by more favorable economics. Currently, gated access communities “don’t necessarily have to be quote unquote luxury” developments–there’s a growing number of more moderately priced gated communities, which in some regions of the country are becoming popular. “They’re building them as fast as they can,” Amon says.

Apartment security expert Chris E. McGoey, CPP, says security has traditionally been one of the three most important factors when it comes to renting an apartment, along with location and price. McGoey, who conducts apartment security assessments as a consultant, has been a member of ASIS for nearly 40 years. 

Moreover, gates in particular still have a powerful psychological effect for many, McGoey explains. Their prominence at the front of properties conveys a sense of safety to many residents. “If it can reduce the amount of traffic, it will filter out a percentage of people who would come in and take advantage of the property,” he says. And although an apartment community secured by a gate is “not Fort Knox,” McGoey adds that the gate still has the power to deter some potential criminals—if only as a psychological factor.   

Another possible consideration driving the increased popularity of gated access apartment communities is demographic, says Mark Berger, president of the Securitech Group and a member of the ASIS Physical Security Council.

The gated access concept is an ancient one, Berger explains: “It all goes back to castles and moats and drawbridges.” But many of those now interested in renting are part of the Millennial generation and Generation X, often raised in controlled, structured environments, compared with older generations more likely to run wild through the neighborhood as children. “The playdate generation has come of age,” he says, adding that many of these young renters derive a certain comfort from restrictions on who can walk into their environment. 

Still, McGoey says that in one sense the growing popularity of gated communities is a double-edged sword. “The residents really like it. The developers like it, it gives the property more value. But what’s bad is the day-to-day maintenance,” he explains. In many situations, gates can be a “nightmare to maintain” because they are often hit or clipped by distracted and impatient drivers, and motorists who try to enter by tailgating, he says. Fixing damaged gates is not always easy or quick, so some communities may find them frequently disabled. 

Apartment security experts seem to agree that the use of the second most popular security amenity in the survey, app-controlled door locks, is very much on the rise, driven by demographics and new technologies. Many Millennials rely on their smartphones, so using their phones to open their doors appeals, both McGoey and Berger say. “These are the people who, if they could surgically remove their left hand and replace it with a cell phone, they would,” Berger says. 

The growing popularity of app-controlled locks is accompanied by increased use of other “smart home” devices that have a security component, Amon says. These include devices and apps that allow remote control of garage doors, thermostats, and other home components, as well as alarm systems and other monitoring devices.  

Amon also notices a shift toward a greater acceptance of cameras as a security device in apartment communities. She explains that, in discussions among renters she has been privy to, concerns that cameras in a residential environment represent an invasion of privacy never seem to come up. “I’ve never heard anyone say that, ever,” she says. In her view, this acceptance has been driven by increasing use of cameras in every­day life, ranging from traffic and inter­section monitors to the common use of smartphone video. “It seems we are now almost expecting that cameras are everywhere,” she says.

Another factor behind this accept­ance may be the physical evolution of camera design, McGoey says. Designers are making them smaller and less noticeable. “It’s like the paint on the wall or the trim on the door—residents don’t give them a second thought,” he explains. 

What will the near future hold for apartment security? Security devices that use artificial intelligence (AI) seem to be getting more use but, based on early indications, Amon senses a “lack of complete faith in that technology.” Part of this seems to be the annoyance factor of being misheard by the AI receiver: “It doesn’t understand me, so I might as well type it in,” she explains. And discomfort persists about the possibility of being recorded all the time by the device, she adds. 

Berger sees a general growth in apps and remote devices. “There’s a lot of space for electronics to grow in apartments,” he says. On top of that, he expects more use of facial recognition for security purposes. “It might be kind of Star Trekky,” he explains. And as with cameras, pushback on such futuristic technologies over privacy concerns should be minimal among younger renters.

“This is the generation willing to type in their birthdate five times a day on their phones. They don’t worry about personal information,” Berger says. “I think they’ll be fine.”