Anyone ever clone a Key fob in DC?

Photo by PoPville flickr user brunofish

“Dear PoPville,

My apartment complex is staunchly refusing to provide me with an extra key fob, for any price. They gave me a spare key to my door however, so this policy is a bit confusing (I can’t get to my door without being able to get into the building, duh). According to my management company, were I locked out and there no security person present, which is every night after 8pm, I would have to call an emergency management number to get in the building for a fee of $40. So that means I’m standing alone, at night, in who knows what weather hoping the maintenance guy answers and comes to get me. Ridiculous.

After a great deal of frustrating back and forth, I’ve decided my only real solution is to clone my key fob. I’ve seen mail-away services that do this, but since I only have one fob I can’t afford to send it out to be cloned. Does anyone know of a reliable fob cloner in the DC metro area I could use to solve this problem??”

85 Comment

  • I thought the whole point of having an electronic key fob and electronic entry (vs. a regular key and lock) is that if the fob is lost or stolen, that individual fob can be deactivated and the building management doesn’t have to change the fobs for everyone else. Wouldn’t cloning the fob defeat that purpose?
    Incidentally, I think the management ought to let you purchase a second fob — it doesn’t seem like there’s any reason beyond $$ why they couldn’t.
    Do you anticipate being locked out multiple times? I guess my initial reaction is to be unsympathetic because 1) cloning a fob could compromise the security of the building and 2) it seems like the problem is getting locked out, not the fob itself. Maybe a lanyard or wristband thingy is the solution.

    • Cloning the fob would create a second fob with the same signature. They’d present with the same identity and deactivate simultaneously.
      So it doesn’t quite pose a security risk if OP’s problem doesn’t involve losing possession of one fob and opting not to deactivate the remaining one.

  • Or you could get the phone number of a few neighbors and save them in your phone should you forget your fob. Give them a call and they can let you in.

    Your request is kinda like asking for two badges or two VPN tokens at the job in case you lose one. It poses a security threat one and secondly it sets a bad precedent. If all the tenants started asking for extra fobs than it makes it a nightmare to track who has access.

    • This is Awkward

      For some reason I’m having trouble logging in today, but this is my real username if anyone was curious.
      1) Thanks to everyone who has responded, I am hoping to find answers here!
      2)Sorry I’m just getting to this now, was out of town
      3) I’m not sure how this request is so unreasonable? Most people have a spare set of keys that they leave with neighbors and most apartments provide them. Case in point, I was provided with two keys to my front door, even though I am only one person. But two keys with no extra FOB is fairly pointless. If I need someone to watch my cat, for example, I have to give them my only set of keys and make sure we meet up exactly when I return home so I can get into my building. Really seems silly to me!

  • Oh, and a fee of $40 to have someone let you back in is pretty reasonable. The one time I locked myself out of my (condo) apartment, I had to get a locksmith and it cost me $120.
    Non-deadbolt-type locks (pushbutton or turn things) are the devil. Supposedly they’re easy to break into (although the first locksmith I tried — who was on the same block as my building, but who had limited equipment because his buddy was out with it — couldn’t break in). And it’s really, really easy to lock yourself out.

    • This is Awkward

      This is not a fee to have a locksmith come and bust in, its a fee to have someone come open the door (with their own key).

      • Correct. What I’m saying is that the potential cost of locking yourself out COULD be a lot higher.

        • It is not the cost its waiting around that is annoying. My building also will only give me one FAB. When my sister was staying with me for 2 weeks to look for jobs they would not give her guest keys which meant we had to leave the key downstairs with the front desk person. One time the front desk person was not there ( he was helping another resident with something) and i had to wait 30 minutes to get my key.

  • It’s not clear to me how having two fobs will help you avoid “standing alone, at night, in who knows what weather hoping the maintenance guy answers and comes to get me.” do you plan to carry both fobs every time you leave the building? If so, whatever steps you would take to ensure you don’t lose the second fob should just be taken to ensure you don’t lose the original.

    • For all they know, she could be asking for an additional fob for a boyfriend or a roommate not on the lease.

      • and that is probably exactly what management wants to avoid. If someone’s staying there so much, put them on the lease. If you don’t want to do that, they are a guest and you should come down and let them in.

        • You should look into purchasing a blank fob from the security company your building uses. When I had to purchase them through the security company used by my office building, they were only $12 a piece. Then, go to your building management and ask them to add that FOB as a secondary under your name. That way you won’t have a cloned FOB (which I agree would defeat the purpose of having a FOB in the first place), but you will have two separate FOBs (with separate numbers) linked to you. Put one on your key-chain and one in a safe place in your apartment or with a friend you trust.
          Of course your building may still not add the FOB, but it’s worth a shot.
          For what it’s worth… I think your building’s policy is pretty terrible… maybe illegal even? Might be worth looking into.
          Good luck!

          • I meant this to be a stand alone comment, not a reply to “well.”

          • west_egg

            If building management has any sense at all they will refuse to put some random fob on their system. Property owners have every right to secure the building however they choose (within reason). Limiting access to one key per leaseholder is perfectly reasonable.

        • Why should you put a boyfriend or girlfriend who stays over a lot on the lease? Some people may enjoy having regular sex and companionship without any of the legal strings that come with signing a lease together. Saying your significant other should be on the lease if they stay over a lot is as stupid as saying you should have to marry them if they stay over a lot. Not everyone wants that type of relationship.

          • I distinctly remember that when I was in college, my boyfriend’s apartment building had a policy that no “guest” could stay more than 15 nights a month.

          • because the building has a right to know who’s walking around unaccompanied, and they can do background checks and have information about people who are on the lease. if you don’t want to add someone to the lease, you should not be giving them their own fobs to come and go as they please.

            a similar argument applies for people who want another fob so they can put their apartments on air b&b.

          • Oh let’s get serious. It’s not like XYZ management company is running anybody past the Interpol fingerprint database or the local sex offender registry. Stop living in your fantasyland. In DC, *the city council has made it ILLEGAL to consider someone’s prior FELONY criminal record to be used against the FELON* in renting them housing!
            You are incredibly naive if you think some stupid FOB at the door keeps you safe. Literally, CONVICTED RAPISTS have access to your “secure building”, because our City Council has put the “rights” of rapists and murderers (pardon me – “returning citizens”) ahead of your safety.
            Your FOB will not protect you. And you are an idiot if you think that it will.

          • This is Awkward

            Thanks for the common sense responses Shaw. A boyfriend, dog walker, or visiting sibling should not need to be on the lease to visit regularly and without you being at the door for them all the time. Again, most people have a spare set of keys, maybe in DC this is unheard of….but not anywhere else I’ve lived!

        • This is Awkward

          Still really astounded at these comments. No one on this thread has a spare set of keys? I don’t believe that for a minute.

          • The issue isn’t a spare set of keys. It’s that the OP wants to make a copy of the fob on the sly, unbeknownst to the management.
            Personally, I think the management ought to make extra fobs available for a price, but my guess is they’re trying to prevent not-on-the-lease roommares, Airbnb-ing, etc.
            The best thing would be for the OP to try to meet some of her/his neighbors and get their phone numbers in case she/he gets locked out. And it would also behoove the OP to make an effort not to get locked out — make a habit of keeping the fob on a lanyard or wristband.

      • Or for a dog walker.

    • Right. If the issue is forgetting the fob, how is having an extra going to help OP’s memory? If the issue is losing the fob, wouldn’t OP just as likely lose both if he/she is carrying both? If they’re not carrying both, what good does the extra do?

    • No idea about the original poster, but my best friend and a relative who lives a few blocks away both have keys to my building and my unit in case I ever get locked out (I can walk to go get the spare set) or in case something ever happened and I was stuck at work or whatever and needed someone to go walk the dog. It’s completely reasonable that someone may want to have a second set of full-access keys for that reason. Or for any other reason, for that matter. If you’re paying $25,000 to $35,000 for an apartment for a year’s worth of use, I think it’s fair that you should be able to get to it, and let anyone else you choose get to it, using whatever method is convenient for you.

      • west_egg

        OTOH if I was paying $25-35,000 to lease an apartment, I’d be upset if the building was open to whoever my neighbor wants, however my neighbor wants.

        • You are regardless. You neighbor can let in whomever he wants, fob or no fob. It’s not like there is some background check people have to pass at front door. And not like guests have to be escorted at all times on premises. Guess what, when that stranger hookup leaves your neighbors apartment at 3 am, your neighbor isn’t walking him/her out.
          If you don’t like it, you can move to a stand alone structure. Otherwise, you gotta accept that shared spaces are, in fact, shared.

          • west_egg

            I guess we shouldn’t bother putting locks on the doors at all, then!

          • Yes. Letting a resident of a building have two fobs to the building is EXACTLY like not having locks to individual apartments. Good point.
            You know what, now that you mention it, why have fobs when when don’t have a border fence?!? I mean, why bother!?!?!?! WHY?!?! You’re really on to something here.

  • I don’t understand the policy. What if two people lived in the apartment – would they have to share a fob? I”m assuming this is not an apartment building entirely made of studios.

    • Presumably, everyone named on the lease gets one fob. No exceptions. If OP added a roommate or partner to the lease, they would get their own fob. That’s how it is in our building, at least.

    • No that’s the whole point-you get a fob for each person on lease but some people try to add people or perhaps airbnb their place without telling landlord.

  • You can buy a cloner on ebay, thats what I did and it worked just fine. Just make sure you buy one that works for the right fob you have. For example the “hid” fobs need a special kind.

  • Wow, looks like everyone posting on here has clearly never made a mistake in their lives! My hat is off to all of you perfect people out there. OP, good luck finding a fob cloner. Looks like the management company is just trying to make money off of you. I fully support you getting your fob cloned because guess what, opening the door to your complex and letting other folks walk in is just as dangerous, if not even more than getting that thing cloned (and all you perfect people, I know you’ve done this before!).

  • I am surprised so many people are against this. I think it is perfectly acceptable. I have locked myself out of my apartment numerous times and was able to take an uber to the extra set of keys from my boyfriend.

    • An extra set of keys is totally different than cloning a fob unbeknownst to the management company that gave you that fob.

      • Exactly. An extra set of keys endangers your own stuff in your own apartment. A key fob to a building endangers every person that lives in the building, and their stuff.

      • Back in the olden pre-fob days, there used to be special keys for front doors that were marked “do not copy.” The blanks weren’t generally available. Of course, you could find a disreputable locksmith to cut a copy, but it was harder than just going to the hardware store. I guess my point is that landlords have always tried to limit access to their buildings to tenants. Technology has just made it more effective.

      • This is Awkward

        Can’t get in the building textdoc, can’t get into the apartment unit. Can’t have one without the other!

        • In a non-keyfob building, you could give someone a set of spare keys by duplicating each key (the building key and the apartment key). And that would be in accordance with the building management’s policy (unless they had DO NOT COPY on the keys).
          The OP wants to violate the building management’s policy for her own personal convenience. That’s why there are so many comments against the idea.

          • This is Awkward

            To be clear, the OP is me. And yes, I want to violate a ridiculous policy for my own selfish convenience of 1) an unexpected emergency 2) going out of town and not having anyone care for my pet. Just because there is a rule, doesn’t mean it’s a sensible, justified one, and that anyone looking for a workaround is a selfish, irresponsible criminal.

        • In theory you can, you’d just have to wait until a neighbor with fob came by. However that same person obviously couldn’t let you in to your unit, which is why you have the spare set of those keys. It’s not that big of a deal really.

    • I completely agree with you. Personally, I find these comments ridiculous.

  • Yikes, don’t help this individual. We have a known drug dealer and law student in our building. He has a bunch of people (classmates) living with him who are not on the lease. He is been messing with the side doors (to leave them open for room mates). This would be helpful to him.

    • I’d imagine that a dealer AND law student knows more about cloning fobs than any of us. I’d say talk to management about your law student dealer, but I lived in an apartment back in the ’80s (ah, the crack epidemic days) in one of a set of 3 efficiency basement apartments. The woman next to me turned her apartment into a crack den. Building’s owner didn’t do anything for months. Finally kicked her out after she abandoned the place and the only ones left using it were the crack users who had all apparently made duplicate keys for the entry door.

  • My building has fobs and also a telephone entry system that guests use to call the resident’s unit when visiting. My work around for when I forget my fob (which I’ve done many times) is to call my unit number from the entry system which rings my cell phone. I answer the call, press 9, and it unlocks the front door just as it would if a guest were arriving.

    • Emmaleigh504

      I do that too. But my building manager also let me have another fob for the cat sitter.

    • This is Awkward

      Thank you Aaron, that may be a good solution. I have the same system, I think. I always go down to get people, so I’ve never actually confirmed that I can buzz via my phone….but I think that’s the idea.

      • Seriously, you never even considered this as an option, but you are going to go out of your way to defy management to clone your fob. Where has common sense gone?

  • I would HATE to live in a building where folks are running around making unauthorized key fobs for whatever reasons suit their fancy. This compromises the security of the building and integrity of the leasing process — and frankly, it’s just an un-neighborly thing to do.

    OP, you asked your building. They said no. So why not work out a Plan B that doesn’t involve a clear violation of building policy? There must be other options.

    • If I’m spending over $25,000 on a product, I decide for myself how I want to use it. There is no security to these big buildings anyway besides the deadbolt on your own door. It’s all a (highly profitable) illusion. Call boxes are frustrating to scroll through and only work half the time anyway. I haven’t used one in over a decade. Every single time I go to visit someone who lives in a big building, I just wait and follow someone in and then go right to the door to knock on it. Even my friends who live in buildings with doormen – you just walk past confidently like you’re supposed to be there and nobody says a word. One resident out of ten will say “I’m sorry, I won’t let you follow me in through the door” but almost everyone else says nothing. I even laughed at a woman just last weekend who said in a kind of snooty way that she wouldn’t let me follow her in when I ran into her in the elevator less than a minute later after the next person to walk into the building after her *held open the door for me* and let me in. These fobs are profit centers for these buildings built into security theater. I’m not going to let other people’s willingness to give in to such foolishness affect me in any way. Good for the OP for cloning the fob!

      • You get what you pay for. If you pay $25,000 for a mortgage to your fee simple property, you get to WRITE THE RULES. If you pay $25,000 for your leasehold interest in someone else’s property, you get PLAY BY THEM.

        Folks have already laid out the various reasons why the owners of these buildings have these reasonable and fully disclosed policies about keys and fobs. Indeed, your anecdotal stories about all the various ways that some tenants knowingly out their fellow neighbors at risk counsels FOR–and not against–controlling the numbers of fobs floating out there.

        Bottom line is, OP gets no sympathy from most folks here because there’s no compelling reason to completely disregard her building policy to suit her mores. Besides, to use your example — if I’m her neighbor likewise paying $25,000 to live in the exact same building, then I have chosen to live in community and I (like the OP) don’t get to just decide to do as I darn well please. That’s a privilege of ownership, not tenancy.

        • Darn phone typos!

          *get to PLAY BY THEM
          *put their fellow neighbors

        • Both condo buildings and apartment buildings participate in this silly charade – so would you be in favor of an owner being able to do what they like and clone the fob?
          Bottom line for me is this – I let other people be paranoid and make silly choices only up to the point where it starts to affect me. After that point, I do what makes me happy and if that tears at the fabric of the security blanket of another, they’re just gonna have to get over it. If someone wants to get into your building, they are getting in. Easily! Full stop. If they want to get in your apartment, they are getting in. Let’s remember that it wasn’t even a year ago that an intruder got all they way into the *White House*. If even a literal army of armed guards and attack dogs and snipers and a giant spiked fence didn’t prevent that, your fob is at best a security illusion in your head that makes the management company more money and has absolutely zero impact on your actual security. Anyone who thinks they provide even a modicum of safety is delusional.

          • You’re deciding that your personal convenience outweighs the interests and safety of everyone else in your building. Come on — have some sense of community.

          • Enough with the straw men! This isn’t about paranoia and delusions. It’s about taking certain minimal and reasonable safety precautions in a communal living space.

            To your point about condos — I wasn’t thinking about those, just SFHs. But you’re right to consider them. But I think the takeaway there is that even ownership has certain limits, too. If that’s the case, then surely we understand why rentals are even more restrictive.

            Bottom line is for me is this — I let other people be careless and make self-centered choices only up to the point where it starts to affect me. Making your own unregistered fobs so you can just do as you please in our shared living space is where it starts to affect me. If you don’t like that I ask you to do the thing you agreed to do (or refrain from doing the thing you agreed not to do) when you signed the dotted line to rent a few square feet in this community, you’re just Hobbs have to get over it. 😉

          • *going to have

          • @capital heels – I refuse to buy into your unfounded paranoia. Full stop. You are welcome to delude yourself into thinking you live in a “safe” building, but I won’t participate in your insanity.
            Our embassies, even our own White House, have failed to live up to that standard, and you’ve lost your freaking mind if you honestly think you are so special that you are above that standard because your building had a stupid FOB any fifth grader with a proclivity towards programming can’t hack.

          • west_egg

            @Shaw As someone whose professional responsibilities include management of security — your accusations of “paranoia” and assertions that fobs are merely “theatre” indicate that you have no experience in this area. “Full stop,” as you would say. Are they foolproof? No, but what is? Get over yourself already. If you don’t like it then live somewhere else. As for your laughing at a building resident who tried to (rightfully!) keep you out — SHAME on you. What an awful thing to do.

          • “After that point, I do what makes me happy . . . ”
            Let me guess – you’re a millennial?

          • @shaw is abrasive in delivery, but I have to agree with his underlying point. How would allowing residents to have 1 extra key fob create a security risk? If the resident gave to anyone else, it would be someone resident knows. Not strangers off the street. Not a situation where anyone could just stroll in off the street. Still controlled access. The risk seems minimal.
            Isn’t biggest security risk a stranger who doesn’t know anyone in building “piggybacking” in door behind a resident? Limiting fobs won’t stop that.

        • This is Awkward

          Suit my mores? Jesus christ you people are outrageous. I have never lived in a building where I did not have a spare set of keys-ever. I am glad you all have electric fences and blood tests keeping all those scary bad folks away from your condos, but most folks just need an extra GD key so someone can watch their cat. You know, sometimes people take vacations and can’t send their animals away to cat hotels. Jesus.

      • Thankful for my building. The front desk crew won’t let anyone by who “walks in after” folks without knowing where they’re going & calling up to make sure they’re expected. Not only have they called up for people visiting me, I’ve watched them do it while sitting in the lobby. Also the elevators won’t run without the fobs.

      • @shaw – the fact that you assume, without basis, that I live in a building with a fob tells me everything I need to know about how well-reasoned your position is here. The fact that you follow that leap in logic with insults and strawmen to defend your point further tells me that there’s no point in continuing this discussion.

        No one doubts that it’d be more convenient for OP to be able to make her own fob, even though she’s explicitly been told that she should only have one. No one doubts that — despite taking reasonable security precautions — those can be partially defeated by the carelessness or wanton disregard of residents. Where we apparently disagree is in what that means — and whether OP is now somehow justified in making her fob. She is not. Your mileage may vary.

  • I suspect if OP had, say, a housekeeper or pet sitter or something, they might be more amenable. But if they have a one-fob-per-person policy, it means that when someone loses theirs, they have to go to the management company to get a new one (allowing management to deactivate the old one). If someone has two, I guarantee that they are dramatically less likely to report the loss to management, creating a liability for the management company and endangering its tenants.

    If OP has a call-box, they should use it to call to their cell. (Mine I think only works with 202 numbers, but I’m thinking of getting a cheap Ting phone for use specifically for door buzzing).

    • I do the same thing, but with Google Voice instead (301 number worked for our call box). I think it just has to not be “long distance”

  • According to the management, which as absolutely prohibited the use of this service in light of the many tenants who were using it to make extra cards for their guests, does a great job.

    • Thanks for being a voice of sanity in this insane psychological experiment…

    • This is Awkward

      Thanks Mark, but I think this is a sendaway service. I guess I could try the phone trick and buzz myself in that way whilst sending the fob out, but it makes me a little nervous to have my only fob floating around (you know, because I’m a responsible adult who might worry about that, not a deranged crack head who doesn’t understand society’s rules)

    • I’ve used Sent in my key while on vacation, totally worked.

  • DC CapHill

    It seems the issue at hand is trying to get an extra key fob to remain with the spare set of keys so that you aren’t caught in a situation where you are calling and waiting for the building maintenance, paying the $40 AND paying for a replacement key fob on top of it, and a later date.

    While I understand and am empathetic to the reasoning behind planning ahead, this process is meant to be a “deterrent” inconvenience to you, so that “it teaches you a lesson” to be more careful in the future.

    As silly as that might be, good luck getting around a management company acting as Big Brother.

  • I’m so confused by everyone’s reaction! There are so many legit reasons to need an extra fob.
    E.g., A friend in my neighborhood has keys/access just in case. Once, I had to leave town with little notice to care for a sick parent – and ended up being gone longer than expected; friend was able to check on things periodically, and ended up catching a water leak before it went into other condos. Occasionally, I’ve gotten stuck at work late unexpectedly, and my friend has let my dogs out before they made a mess. Once while I was out of town, friend was making cookies and her mixer broke, so she came and got mine. Whatever. Who cares. Just makes life easier.
    I’m just surprised that posters are attacking OP as irresponsible, when I would think the outrage should be at the management company for making things needlessly difficult. Let people have 1 or 2 extra fobs for a fee, and keep a record of who has extra fobs. What is the big deal? My building does this, and has for years, and so do tons of other buildings. It does not create any sort of extra security.
    If there are people in the building that are causing a problem, that’s a separate issue. Limiting fobs will not control that problem. We’re not talking about access to people’s apartments, just access to the halls, elevator, etc. We’re not talking about handing out an unlimited number of fobs to strangers on the street. We’re not talking about opening the doors to anyone and everyone and letting it be a free-for-all. We’re talking about other residents in the building being able to give access to one or two specific people that they know, without unnecessary hassle. It’s really a stretch to act like the halls of the building will be crime ridden danger zones based just on that.

    • This is Awkward

      God/spaghetti monster/buddah bless you Confused for understanding that some people have lives, things happen, and occasionally even the most upstanding citizen might *gasp* lose or forget their keys, or go out of town, or need to let a friend borrow a mixer, or have a cat.

  • So the OP asks the community for help finding a service and literally every response is an opinion on everything other than what the OP actually needs… Hilarious. Typical DC, government drones, incapable of living life outside their federal job manual.

    Try Home Depot… They can make copies of transponder chips (fobs) there. Good Luck buddy.

    • This is Awkward

      Thanks for 1 of 2 potential answer to the actual question, I’ll check out that option.

      Its funny that if this were a NYC I think the tilt would be toward how outrageous the management company is being by not providing a single, tracked set of spare keys. I guess I’m learning how conservative and irrationally afraid many DCers really are. (and please don’t lecture me about how crime ridden NYC is because morally degraded people are cloning keys, I’d lived there happily and safely for years, with a spare set of keys!)

      Thanks also to (most) everyone else for all the intense time and effusive effort you put in debating what a horrid citizen I must be to need an extra key to my building, you really showed me.

    • You are so, so right. So typical DC. For so many people around here, their only pleasure in life comes from telling other people that they’re wrong and then lecturing them on what they think is the right answer.

  • This is Awkward

    Okay one last thing in closing and then I will rest my tirade (the things you miss in 3 days!)

    IMO this problem is caused by a staunch, unblinking refusal to accommodate reality, causing people to seek workarounds (surely we can think of many other major issues today that are caused by this sort of thing). If my management company were to issue a single spare, they could track that spare fob, even put a separate code on it so they knew how much that fob was being used in comparison to the main fob. They could put both in my name, so they would have a record that I had two. They could also charge whatever fee they want for losing the fob, to “discourage me from irresponsible behavior” as some have suggested. The whole ‘integrity’ of the system would be kept in tact, even moreso, if the policy were more sensible. By refusing to issue a spare fob, under any circumstances except adding someone to the lease, I am forced to seek solutions outside coordination with the management company.

  • Does your building have a “buzz in” mechanism whereby someone at the front door dials you and you buzz them in by pushing “9” or * on on your phone? You can set that up to ring to your cell phone. Not ideal, but at least you can essentially buzz yourself in if you still have your cell phone. Or you can buzz the dog walker in, as long as you are in a place where you can answer your phone.

  • I gave them my cell number to program into the directory system at the front door (who has a landline anymore anyways) that way I can buzz anyone in, including myself, from where ever I am. It is great for house guests because you know when they are back. They did tell me our system can only take 202 area code numbers.

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