Short-term vacation rental property owners in Lake Geneva now must allow emergency workers access to their properties through a key box system installed on the outside of the building.

The city council on Jan. 28 unanimously approved updated rules for tourist rooming houses that include requiring property owners to install the so-called Knox Boxes.

A Knox Box is a small security vault that contains keys, which police and firefighters can use to enter a building during an emergency.

Mayor Tom Hartz said only representatives from the police and fire department would have access to the key boxes.

“That allows them access without breaking down the door or coming through windows,” Hartz said. “Because the owner has asked to make their home a tourist rooming house, it becomes a public place. Therefore, we can request and require that they have a box that includes keys to gain entry.”

A representative of the local real estate industry had earlier voiced opposition to the Knox Box requirement as too intrusive on property owners.

“I think it’s something that needs to be done,” Alderwomen Selena Proksa said.

Alderman Richard Hedlund said he, too, was required to install a Knox Box when he owned an apartment building during the 1980s.

“If you’re going to be renting a place for someone to sleep, I think it’s important that emergency responders should be able to get into the building to potentially save lives,” Hedlund said.

Some aldermen asked if building inspectors would have access to the key box systems.

City Attorney Dan Draper said only emergency workers would have Knox Box access, and building inspectors would be required to give property owners reasonable notice before entering a property.

“Knox Boxes are for emergency situations only,” Draper said.