Even before the covidpandemic hit in 2020, more and more of us were buying more and more goods online, and having them shipped or delivered direct to our doorsteps, with no car trip, parking search, or even human interaction required. The covidpandemic’s arrival in 2020 accelerated the trend astronomically; now deliveries weren’t mere convenience— they were a necessity for individuals and families locked down in their homes, desperate to avoid catching or spreading the virus.
Though covidis no longer the terror it was two years ago, virtual vending and the ease with which we can conduct transactions remotely is definitely here to stay. We’ve come to expect everything from groceries to new shoes to medications to arrive at our door promptly, securely, and intact. Indeed, multifamily property analytics firm ApartmentData.com estimates that in 2022, each apartment building resident received on average 9.41 packages each month, with that number expected to go up to 10.65 per month in 2023.
It’s challenging enough for a single family in a free-standing house to receive and secure the steady stream of packages and other deliveries that come to their door. Theft by ‘porch pirates’ is a perpetually hot topic on neighborhood group chats and message boards. But for multifamily co-op and condo communities, the situation is even more complex—and was so even before the pandemic kicked it into hyperdrive.
So how have residential communities adapted to this particular challenge? What new systems or technologies have developed to help boards and managers make sure packages and deliveries get to their intended recipients without leaving building staff members swimming in a sea of cardboard?
Many Options, Few Solutions
Multifamily buildings come in many shapes and sizes, of course—not to mention ages, locations, histories, financial positions, and residential cultures. When it comes to package security and storage, this means that what might work great for one building or community might not even be an option for another. And with residents continuing to spend more time at home and the options for e-commerce ever increasing, what might work for one building today might be obsolete by the time it’s installed and implemented.
“Storage needs for package delivery have changed over the years,” says Susan Lauren, the principal of New York-based Lauren Interior Design, a design firm that creates custom interiors for building common spaces such as lobbies, hallways, and amenities areas. “What was appropriate 10 years ago is no longer sufficient for most buildings. The space set aside just isn’t large enough.”
Even communities built in the last 10 years that specifically allocated space for package storage and security from the start have found that they don’t have the staff necessary to accept, track, and deliver all the packages. Joseph Ferdinando, founder of Building Security Services & Systems, a New Jersey-based security systems, technology, and personnel company that has been working with buildings and communities in the tri-state area for nearly 40 years, says that the conditions during Covidmeasurably exacerbated the issue. “In general, in residential [buildings],” he says, “80% of people were home working, so our activity during the day increased. There has been a tremendous amount of deliveries.” During the darkest days of the pandemic, “For the properties that have us providing concierge, doorman, or security officers, we found the activity during the day increased by 200%, be it food deliveries, UPS, USPS, FedEx, or Amazon.”
That “tremendous amount of deliveries” hasn’t abated, and makes the day extremely busy for security and other front-of-house personnel, says Ferdinando—especially during business hours, when there is increased activity in general. It also creates security and safety concerns with constant traffic into and out of the building, and piles of packages in lobbies, hallways, and other common areas. In addition to cluttering through-ways and posing a tripping hazard, those piles of unattended packages are a beacon for thieves and vandals—an issue that only becomes worse during the holidays.
Scrambling for Solutions
“Having a designated front desk or property management staff member accept and store packages at a multi-unit residential building is a common solution,” says Amy K. Peterselli, an attorney in Brookfield, Illinois. “However, as the increase in packages has eaten up a noticeable amount of time that front desk employees would otherwise dedicate to other administrative tasks, some associations have also begun charging residents storage fees on a per-package basis. Alternatively, some communities have added a flat package delivery fee to residents’ monthly assessments as a ‘common expense.’”
The pros report that some communities went so far as to halt package services altogether when the delivery volume exceeded manageable levels. Staffing and space limitations can simply make it impossible for on-site teams to receive, store, and distribute packages on behalf of residents while still staying on top of their other responsibilities. Some attorneys say the safety and liability issues alone are reason enough to disallow delivery personnel from entering residential buildings. The onset of Covidmade this all the more plain.
“We recommend that no delivery personnel be permitted past the entrance of the building,” said Dale Degenshein, an attorney with Manhattan-based law firm Armstrong Teasdale, in the early days of the pandemic, “and that in most cases, residents pick up their packages or food deliveries in the lobby or outside of the building.” Of course, such arrangements only work when residents expect to be home during delivery hours. As the pandemic ebbed, many buildings considered other approaches to keep both staff and residents—and their deliveries—safe.
For example, even before covid, and before the package pandemonium instigated by Amazon and other global e-tailers, it was common practice in many communities to arrange for a nearby business—a corner store, deli, or bodega, for example—to accept deliveries on residents’ behalf. Now UPS has a service called My Choice, says Peterselli, that allows registered users to have their packages delivered to another location—be it the local convenience store, their office, or a designated neighbor. While it can definitely help, this option might not be practical for all the types of things we order off the internet. Furniture? Perishable goods? Live animals? Good luck getting your deli guy to accept and keep those deliveries.
Tech to the Rescue?
While delivery to another address or unit might solve the problem of an undeliverable or unsecured package, it kind of defeats the purpose, which is of, course, convenience. Package management has shifted from a courtesy to a competitive necessity, reports the National Multifamily Housing Council (NMHC), so buildings of all types need options for package delivery that are as secure as they are convenient, without breaking the bottom line.
There are a lot of newcomers to the building security tech, or ‘proptech’ arena, many aiming to help underserved or overlooked types of buildings. One example is a product called Buzr, which is about to launch from its startup lab on Roosevelt Island in New York City. According to CEO Tony Liebel, the Buzr system is geared toward older, smaller buildings without lobby attendants or high-tech security systems, and is installed as a relatively inexpensive modification to an existing intercom access panel. “I like to think of it as Nest or Ring [popular app-based systems for remote home monitoring], but for access,” says Liebel.
Installation is designed to be easy enough for a resident to do themselves, he explains, using their unit’s existing wiring—no matter how old—and an upgraded hardware replacement for the intercom station. (Residents not comfortable tinkering with wires can opt for the company’s installation helper for an additional fee.) The interface remains the same, it just becomes “smart”—meaning that access data is stored in the cloud, allowing a building to maintain a record of when the lobby door is buzzed, and which unit is providing access.
It also allows for ‘virtual keys’—an unduplicable code that can be sent in a link or programmable in an app or text message. Virtual keys can allow a food delivery person, for example, to have limited, recorded access to a building for the purpose of a dropoff, eliminating the need for a staff member to handle the receipt and enhancing security by logging the access. In places like New York City, it also reduces the waste and inconvenience produced by the 30% of packages the Wall Street Journal found go undelivered on the first attempt. Theft is reduced as well, according to Liebel, who says that 90,000 packages are stolen in the Big Apple every year. “What we do is at least make sure packages get in the front door,” he says.
Communities with the space and financial resources to create onsite locker storage facilities can also partner with one of the many third-party vendors that have come on the scene in recent years to take receipt, storage, and notification—not to mention liability and customer support—off the plates of building personnel and management. Amazon itself offers such a product, called Amazon Hub. Newcomers like Package Concierge, Parcel Pending, and Luxor One also store all types of packages in electronically-accessed locker systems that provide a text message and unique PIN to the recipient when the courier places their package in a locker. But the installation of these units averages around $15,000, and using the system might be intimidating for less tech-savvy residents. The storage space may also not be sufficient for heavy volume times like holidays, or an even more package-intense future.
Offsite storage facilities with direct-to-resident delivery services offer yet another possible solution to the package problem, but their longevity in the space has not been proven. Some, like Doorman, have already come and gone. Fetch is a newcomer offering a similar business model, but is as yet not available in the Northeast.
The upshot may be that unless and until we scale back our online shopping and curb our collective addiction to ultra-convenience (and we’re not holding our breath on that one), the solution to package security in multifamily buildings will likely be some combination of space, storage, staff, and tech that each community must ongoingly assess.
Darcey Gerstein is Associate Editor and a Staff Writer for New England Condominium.