Tales from the tenancy vault – keys


Hi there housing staffers. It’s Mark Smoljo. I run the CHIA Vic Help Line, where I try to answer questions from tenancy workers about anything  to do with the Residential Tenancies Act (RTA), taking matters to VCAT, or tenancy management practices in general. Obviously you should talk to your experienced colleagues first about a matter you are not sure on. However, if you are stuck you can always call me.

Decades running rooming houses and every other kind of accommodation, plus a frequent flyer card for appearances at VCAT mean that I have come across most things that are raised, but I still get a few out of left field. What can you do about someone keeping bee hives on the balcony of a rooming house in St Kilda?

Each month in our eBulletin I am going to highlight an area of tenancy management that has come up as part of my work here at CHIA Vic. This month it is key management. As I talk to and travel around community housing organisations I think that it is a somewhat neglected area that some groups could improve on. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Have an organised key cupboard, with at least 2 copies of each set of keys. Each set should contain all the keys required for that particular property.
  2. Make sure that you do, in fact, have duplicate copies of each key in your program. I have been shocked to find a few examples where groups do not actually have all of these. How are you going to gain access for a repair or an inspection, let alone in an emergency, if you don’t have a set of duplicate keys?
  3. If you don’t have a duplicate key because the tenant has changed the locks then you can ask them to supply you a copy. If they don’t you should issue a Breach of Duty Notice under section 70(2) of the RTA.
  4. If you don’t have a duplicate key for some other reason, then you should ask the tenant if you can make a copy. If they don’t co-operate you have a choice of sending the tenant a notice under 86(1)(c)  that you will attend with a locksmith to change locks and keys OR make an application under s452 because a dispute has arisen and get VCAT to make an Order.
  5.  If you work with security keys, and particularly, with restricted master systems, make sure you have a key register and that you keep it up to date. You should know where each copy of each security key is at any time. I once worked as a locum at a rooming house and was given a copy of the ‘grandmaster’ key that opened up hundreds of doors in a number of houses. I noticed that I had been given copy no. 14. I enquired where the other 13 were. 3 were with fellow housing workers, 1 was with the boss, 1 was with the fire brigade, 2 were in the key cupboard, and the other 6 were unaccounted for. This is not good enough for such an important key. I have proformas that you can use for key registers. If you want one you can email me
  6. Have a sign in and out book for keys, preferably linked with your key register. This is particularly important where tradies are taking keys for maintenance jobs. For security keys, record which copy they took. My experience is that this is a common cause of keys disappearing forever.
  7. When you change a lock remember to swap the sets of keys in the key cupboard AND to record this change in the key register. Remember to change the copies in the key cupboard if you are using bi-lock or fob systems too.
  8. If you are using card systems that are programmed electronically you need to have a recording system for this too.

Keys are a very important part of a housing worker’s life. You must be able to produce a spare key for a tenant or a tradie. If you can’t guarantee the integrity of a security system then it may have legal consequences for your organisation.

If you have any questions or suggestions please email or you can ring me at the office on 9654 6077 on a Monday or Thursday.