apartment keys

Is It Legal to Duplicate My Apartment Keys?

On move-in day, your property manager will discuss the dos and don’ts of living in the complex. However, they often miss one important detail — copying apartment keys.

Whether you need a spare for a significant other or pet sitter or feel worried about getting locked out, it’s important to know if it’s legal to duplicate your key. Depending on where you live, making copies of your key may be against the rules as outlined in your lease agreement. Before you make a copy, it’s important to know what you can and can’t do when it comes to apartment keys.

apartment keys

The legality of duplicating apartment keys

Before getting into the details of whether or not your current lease allows you to duplicate your apartment key, it’s technically not illegal to make a copy. Even if your key has “Do not copy” stamped on it, you’re not breaking any law getting it copied.

“There is nothing illegal about a locksmith cutting a key which has do not copy stamped into it,” according to Wynns Locksmith. The only caveat to this is if the key design itself has patent protection. In this case, authorization is necessary for duplication.

Most often, the do not copy request printed on a key does nothing but offer the tenant a false sense of security. You assume this means there aren’t any other copies of your key floating around out there, but it’s not always the case.

It may decrease your options when going to get a second key made, but doesn’t make it impossible. Certain hardware stores won’t duplicate a key stamped with a do not copy message. However, locksmiths will usually make the copies for you. They’re more aware that the request on the key is just that, a request, and not an order.

Legal vs. allowed

Although you now know it’s legal to copy apartment keys, it doesn’t get you off the hook with your property manager if it’s not allowed. Based on your lease and the rules enforced by your property manager, copying a key without permission can still get you in trouble. It won’t be the kind of trouble that involves a police officer, but it could lead to some uncomfortable repercussions. For that reason, it’s always best to look at apartment-specific documents first, to see what’s allowed, before assuming copying a key is OK.

apartment key

Look at your lease

All restrictions and rules related to living in your apartment are clearly outlined in your lease. It’s the best place to look at first when in need of clarification of what you can and can’t do.

Every lease agreement is a little different, which is why it’s always a good idea to read through yours carefully. Depending on where you live and who’s managing your building, strict provisions can get written into your lease. Copying a key could become a serious infraction with a fine, or even end up being a breach of contract.

Locks and keys

Most lease agreements will have a lock and key section within it. This is the area that defines whether it’s allowed to duplicate apartment keys. If there’s no mention of keys, it’s safe to conclude you’re allowed to make a copy.

The language within these sections can feel very formal and legal. Read it carefully and highlight specific areas within your copy of the lease in order to find the information fast later. You’ll most likely see some information regarding apartment locks, and whether you can add additional ones on your door or not.

The specific number of keys your property manager gives you at the start of your lease is also included. Then, comes the rule about duplicates. Usually, the lease will say you can’t make duplicates yourself. Your property manager will handle that by request, and you’ll have to pay a fee.

A key might not be a key

Also, look at your lease to see how it defines the word key. With today’s smart systems, key may refer to items other than the cold metal thing that dangles from your keychain. It can include fobs, keycards or anything used to gain entrance to the building and your specific apartment unit.

Talk to your property manager first

Because lease agreements can feel hard to interpret, if you’re confused about your ability to duplicate a key, talk to someone. By confirming the restrictions with your property manager, you’ll eliminate any unease you may have about making copies. Your management office can give you a concise yes or no answer.

Consulting an actual person before you move forward with making duplicates of apartment keys is a great way to not burn any bridges as a tenant.

copying keys

What if you don’t follow the rules?

It’s hard to say how extremely a property manager will react to finding out you’ve duplicated apartment keys without their permission. It shouldn’t be a surprise, though, since it’s written into your lease. While you may think you can copy a key without anyone knowing, you’re creating the potential for a costly issue.

Say, for example, you make a copy of your apartment key for your friend, who’s crashing at your place for about a week while they’re between places to live. You give them a key because their schedule is different from yours. You’re not allowed to make copies, but who’s going to know?

Then, your friend loses their key. Now, you’re worried about someone having the ability to break into your apartment. You have to report the missing key to your property manager, pay the fine to replace the locks and probably get caught with an unapproved duplicate.

Another scenario is that you get away with making copies of your key even though it’s not allowed in your lease. When it comes time to move out, you have to turn over all copies, but you don’t remember who has one. You don’t want to leave any extra keys floating around out there, so you have to pay to replace the locks.

You’ll also have to pay to change your locks if, at any point, your property manager finds out you’ve made duplicates without permission. This cost, broken down in your lease, usually includes the actual charges from the locksmith with an additional convenience fee tagged on for the property manager.

It also makes you look bad, and your property manager might not trust you anymore. This could lead to them keeping a closer eye on you and more problems down the road.

To duplicate or not

While it may seem like a hassle to confirm whether or not you can duplicate your key, it’s important to tread carefully. In some cases, it’s an argument over what’s illegal and what’s simply not allowed.

While you can get almost any key copied according to the law, if your lease says not to do it, it’s best to think twice. Take the time to review your lease and check in with your property manager to make sure you don’t face any repercussions for having that spare key made.

The information contained in this article is for educational purposes only and does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal or financial advice. Readers are encouraged to seek professional legal or financial advice as they may deem it necessary.


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