Re: Access to common areas
From: R Philip Dowds (
Date: Mon, 16 Jan 2017 12:01:17 -0800 (PST)
There’s a lot of high-tech, computer-managed, log-keeping, badge-triggered 
access and security technology available for buildings — but in the US, it’s 
unusual to find such advanced systems serving moderately-priced residential 

At Cornerstone Cohousing, 23 of our 32 units are in one of two apartment-style 
buildings, each of which has common spaces and amenities.  The nine townhouses 
have their own private locks, but in apartment buildings, one common key 
accesses seven different entry doors, and some of the normally locked interior 
rooms as well.  Once inside the apartment structure, many common rooms are 
unlocked, although the workshop and guest room have unique keys.  Apartments, 
of course, are privately locked, but the interior corridor system is not locked 
down, and any apartment entrance is easily approached.

From a mechanical standpoint, our security is comical.  All 32 units possess 
multiple common keys, and the common key has been duplicated and passed around 
many times, given to guests who fail to return them, and lost who knows where. 
For convenience, we added a pushbutton keypad lock to a main door.  In theory, 
the passcode is well-guarded by adults, but in practice, within a few week we 
saw everyone from plumbers to 8-year-olds punching the “secret” code.  At this 
point, the only way to “re-secure” the property would be to re-key all seven 
doors, and sell the keypad lock on e-Bay.

Despite this, even after fifteen years of occupancy in the heart of the city, 
we’ve never had a indoor incident of any kind.  With such mediocre mechanical 
security, how can this be?

It’s because of high social security.  Since this is cohousing, everyone knows 
everyone else, and most people know what’s supposed to be going on hour by 
hour.  We look out for each other.  If we see an unescorted stranger, we always 
ask “Can I help you find somebody?”, or some such.  As a result, some 
apartments leave their doors open a lot of the time.  No problems.

     (1) A high-tech computer-managed security system is expensive, and may be 
over-kill.  And, it is not set-and-forget; it requires … management.
     (2) Your key program needs to be designed to match your building layout 
and usage.  More advanced keying involves a hierarchy of grand masters, 
masters, sub-masters and uniques; this makes it easier to solve specific key 
problems without changing dozens of locks and hundreds of keys.  There are 
security experts who can advise on this, and your architect should be able to 
connect you with one.
     (3) Build explicit understandings among yourselves about key sharing 
policies, how to answer the door, how to deal with strangers, and other habits 
of daily life.  You are your own best security.

Philip Dowds
Cornerstone Village Cohousing
Cambridge, MA

> ----------------------------------------------------------------------
> Message: 1
> Date: Sun, 15 Jan 2017 11:43:19 +0100
> From: "Wim De Saegher" < [at]>
> To: <cohousing-l [at]>
> Subject: [C-L]_ Access to common areas
> Message-ID: <000b01d26f1c$3011dc50$903594f0$>
> Content-Type: text/plain;     charset="us-ascii"
> Hi folks,
> how do you secure the access to the common areas? 
> Using a key?
> Is there one key (with duplicates)? Who gets a key?
> Is the key part of a "big key": big key opens house, small part opens common
> area?
> Do all common areas (guestrooms, garden shed, bike shed) share the same
> key/lock?
> Using a code? A lock with code, or an electronic door?
> Biometrics? Badge?
> We're designing the buildings now and would like to know how other groups
> tackle this issue.
> Thanks a lot! 
> Kind regards
> Wim De Saegher (Belgium) 

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