Neighbor broke in, we can prove he did it, should we be scared?
October 3, 2010 12:30 AM   Subscribe

Our downstairs neighbor broke into our apartment, there's a good chance he'll be caught. We don't feel safe.

Yesterday our apartment got broken into. We don't know exactly how they got in but when we arrived the back door was left ajar but there were no signs of damage to either of the doors.
We immediately suspected our downstairs neighbors. It's an older couple around their 50s and a younger man mid to late 20s, who has a warrant for his arrest in Texas and has tried to sell us meth on many occaions. One of my roommates has let this guy in on several occasions and kind of became friends with him so he has seen the inside of our house. Also none of our stuff was rummaged through and random items were taken (a PS3 but not an Xbox 360) etc. Overall about $2000 worth of electronics.
We had the police come over, CSI came and took fingerprints, couldn't find anything.

Today we confirmed it was definitely our neighbor because one of my roommates went to the pawn shop 2 blocks down and the owner of the shop showed him a video of our neighbor attempting to sell our stuff with his girlfriend and another random guy. The cops came and saw the video, asked my roommate a ton of questions and said the case has been escalated and they'll let us know if anything happens. When my roommate was waiting at the pawn shop for the cops, he saw the neighbor suspect drive by on his bike and they said "hey" so obviously he knows we know it's him.

Also the roommate who went to the pawn shop identified the random guy the neighbor was with at the pawn shop to my other roommate, who noted that the day of the incident a guy of the same description asked to use his cellphone (after the breakin had occured). He didn't let him and said it was extremely peculiar. Could this mean anything?

Also, the day of the incident I called my landlord and told her what we suspected and why (about the drugs, hearing him beating his gf, etc) and she was surprised, said she had never heard anything about this before and today told him he and the neighbors he (and only he, not the older couple he's living with) has to evacuate in 3 days otherwise he's trespassing. So obviously he's going to know this has something to do with us.

I'm very concerned about our safety. I've always felt uncomfortable around this guy and he's super shady with even shadier friends and I feel like they may lash out or try to get revenge if/when they get in trouble.

I've already talked to the landlord about moving out because I feel extremely unsafe. She said she'd think about it and even tried to play it down pointing out constantly that we didn't lock the deadbolts and maybe we left a window open and she doesn't consider it a breakin if we've left a window open. (We live on the second story, there's absolutely no way in through any of the windows unless you have an extremely tall ladder, which is highly highly highly unlikely).

Am I being paranoid about this revenge thing? I think the cops know we might be in some danger because we've seen them patrolling around our house pretty often since the incident.

Is it logical that this guy would try to do something to hurt one of us?
We have no idea what's going to happen but there's definitely enough evidence to bag this guy and the police seem very interested.

If my landlady refuses to let us break our lease (or shorten it, we signed for a year but we're coming up on 6 months in November) is there anything we could do? I work for lawyers and it wouldn't be hard for me to obtain a letter or something to nudge her into letting us leave.

posted by ad4pt to Law & Government (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Robberies always heighten the physical tension of a living space. I was burgled a few years ago and moved right away, trying to fall asleep was pretty awful for the first week. I would of course change the lock and add an auxiliary lock to the door if you are able to. I don't see why the landlady does not go ahead with an eviction order for the people downstairs. This definitely takes the cake for that.

Your landlady is unreasonable if she thinks you are at fault for being robbed by another tenant in your building. I am guessing this is really nothing new. She's clearly more interested in seeing her places rented than she is to see it in good standing. You might raise the issue to the local property owners association, which could definitely take non-legal action about her conduct.

If this guy hangs around the apartment after the 3 day notice comes up, do immediately call the police. Trespass with cause served is an arrestable offense.
posted by parmanparman at 1:04 AM on October 3, 2010

I can't speak to all of your concerns, but I doubt this guy is going to seek retribution before an arrest is made. All that is going to do is draw more attention to him and add charges; my guess is if he is even a little smart that he will take off for parts unknown very soon to evade the impending arrest.

If he DOES get hooked up before he can flee, it's a real possibility that he might be back out on the street somewhat soon, depending on the jail population and what bail gets set at. I would be more concerned at that point.

In any event, any retribution he might take would likely be of a nature that he can plausibly deny (so not attacking you, per se, but keying your car, or a rock through the window, that kind of thing).

Best thing I can tell you is to get some renter's insurance if you don't have some already and talk to the police about some form of no-contact or retraining order.
posted by Menthol at 1:06 AM on October 3, 2010

I don't think you should be scared about retribution. I have a fair number of clients in similar situations as your neighbor, and they are generally worried about 1) how to get out of jail, if they've been charged, 2) how to score more meth, 3) how to keep their drug use hidden from their probation officer, as they almost all have one. To your neighbor, you are probably just one of many resources he is trying to use to fund his drug habit. That doesn't mean you shouldn't feel you've been victimized, but I wouldn't be worried about him being vindictive. This isn't legal advice, I am not your lawyer, and please, if it makes you feel better, you can see if you have grounds to file a restraining order against him.
posted by Happydaz at 1:30 AM on October 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

Nthing others - don't worry. When he broke in this guy was after your valuables, not you. He has a lot more to lose than you by initiating any kind of physical or otherwise confrontation. And if he's already as familiar with the law as you allude, he will be well aware of the risks of doing so, and uninterested. Trying to beat you up etc will not get him any more meth or money, and that is all he cares about.
posted by smoke at 5:10 AM on October 3, 2010

Happydaz's opinion on the revenge angle seems reasonable to me, but I'm here to comment on your landlord. She doesn't consider it a break in if the window was open? Ha.

You should just move. You gave her a chance to participate with you in this -- finding a new tenant, making a smooth transition, etc. What's the worst that can happen? She can hold on to you security deposit and sue you for unpaid rent. Under these circumstances, is that so bad? Would she automatically win, given the clearly unsafe living situation you were in? (I am not a lawyer).

Good luck.
posted by Buffaload at 5:15 AM on October 3, 2010 [4 favorites]

I was once mugged at gunpoint, by people I believed lived in my apartment complex. I didn't ask permission to break the lease. I told them I was moving, and did move the day after the mugging. I'd decided that my safety was more important to me than it was to the landlord, and that no agreement would force me to stay in an unsafe situation.

In the end, I found a new place to rent immediately. I explained the situation, and showed them the police report -- and they completely understood. Nothing negative was put in my rental history.

I recommend the same action for you: Don't ask permission, just do what you need to do to feel safe.
posted by Houstonian at 6:14 AM on October 3, 2010 [11 favorites]

I would move, and in the future, don't be roommates with someone who befriends meth dealers and lets them in your place.
posted by runningwithscissors at 7:02 AM on October 3, 2010 [3 favorites]

Last August, I was in the exact safe position as you. My downstairs neighbor, who happened to be a drug dealer, broke into my apartment and stole my laptop and some of my roommates' electronics. Now, you sound like you're in a better position than I was as far as actually getting the guy convicted, so congratulations on that front. Your landlord, on the other hand, sounds almost as useless as mine was. I was fortunate in that my lease was ending in three weeks, and after that my tenancy was going to be month-to-month. I told the landlord I felt unsafe and would be moving out at the end of the month, and after offering me three hundred dollars not to go to the cops with the fact that one of his tenants had broken into my place, he let me go.

That feeling of violation you get after a break in is hard to get rid of, and you have my sympathy. Like you, I was afraid he would try to break in again, even though I knew rationally that he wouldn't. I jumped at noises in the middle of the night. (I later found out that the neighbor was equally worried I would do something to him, because I had an Italian last name and so he assumed my dad was in the mob. Apparently sometimes stereotypes can work in your favor.) That hyper-vigilant feeling didn't quit until a few weeks after I was in my new place.

I don't think you need to move to be safe, but you may need to move to feel safe. Is feeling secure in your own home worth the hassle of moving? I would say yes. If I were you, I'd start scouting around for a new place to live, and if you feel like your landlord is likely to get litigious about you breaking the lease, consider contacting a lawyer about your options.

And finally, if you can find it in you to forgive the guy who stole your stuff, I think you'll find it easier to move on. You just have to realize that his life is likely to be full of incidences like this in the future, and you're going to go on to bigger, brighter, better things.
posted by Grafix at 7:55 AM on October 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

she doesn't consider it a breakin if we've left a window open

Fortunately for you, whether or not there was a breaking and entry is not her judgement call. The definition of 'break-in' is a legal one, and you have a record of a crime taking place in your apartment - that's all you need to show that it was a break-in.

Am I being paranoid about this revenge thing?

No, but I'd be more worried about living above drug dealers and meth heads - that's the greater risk, because of the individuals and unpredictability it introduces; what they might do when they get mad at you specifically would seem to be the lesser risk.

If my landlady refuses to let us break our lease (or shorten it, we signed for a year but we're coming up on 6 months in November) is there anything we could do?

There are conditions which make your lease invalid, and you might very well have some of them in place here. I'd ask the lawyers you know for a quick consult. It should be easy for them to recommend a course of action.

Also, move. There's no reason to deal with this kind of madness in your daily life. Your safety was already compromised by living in a place like this. Even if you have to break your lease, I'd consider it worth it. It's possible you'd be robbed again, if not by this guy then by his buddies, since they know there's more stuff in your apartment that they didn't take.
posted by Miko at 8:02 AM on October 3, 2010

Read your lease. Your landlord cannot not let you break the lease, he just can charge you a fee (which should be in the lease) for doing so, but there may also be clauses in the lease that will exempt you from the fee under certain circumstances. Unless you signed an agreement actually saying you would pay out the rent for the remainder of the lease if you have to leave - which would be a horrible thing to do and possibly not legal in some states - there is probably a reasonable way to get out of it, even if you have to throw a bit of money at the problem.

I would not worry too much about revenge, exactly. I would be worried about getting robbed again, possibly by the accomplices who know what's left to steal.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:18 AM on October 3, 2010

I hate to be all "talk to a lawyer", but when my car was shot up in the parking lot of a complex, a sternly worded letter with some appropriate language from an attorney got the complex to release us from the lease without penalty. This was in Texas in the early 90s, but your state may have laws that protect you in this situation.
posted by immlass at 8:26 AM on October 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

hound the cops till he gets locked up. Kick out your "roommate" who buddied up with a meth head. Buy a gun & let everyone know you have it. Get better locks on your doors. alarm system etc. moving lets the criminals win.
posted by patnok at 8:48 AM on October 3, 2010

I think the cops know we might be in some danger because we've seen them patrolling around our house pretty often since the incident.

I had another thought: The thief is a meth dealer, so it may not be too much of a stretch to believe that he cooks the meth he sells. This makes the building toxic, explosions happen when it is done incorrectly, and the DEA busts meth labs all the time. You don't want to live in a place where any of those three things are possible (in addition to being the victim of a theft).

I also think I'd put a fraud alert on your credit cards and such -- if he took paperwork with your credit/bank numbers on it, you might not notice until the bills start coming in.
posted by Houstonian at 9:23 AM on October 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

When I was burglarized in my first apartment in Chicago (likely by a couple of workmen my idiot landlord had let into my apt. without my permission or notice), my idiot landlord made the same noises about how I couldn't break my lease, it was my own fault that the burglar bars had been loosened (yes!), the police report was irrelevant, etc. A call and a single in-person consultation with the Chicago Tenants Union got all of that cleared up right away (and for free). Maybe there's a tenants union group in your area?
posted by scody at 11:21 AM on October 3, 2010

If you went to small claims to get your deposit back from your landlord, keep in mind that a lot of times, you don't even get to court. You meet with a mediator first who tries to get you to settle. Also, your landlady has to actually show up to court, otherwise the judgment will be in your favor, provided it has merit (which IMHO it does).

I would tell your landlady that you are moving, and move. Bring a copy of the police report with you, it can't hurt. I would have the lawyers you work for look at your lease and figure out what kind of letter to write to your landlady to inform her that you are moving and that you want your deposit back.

I don't know how large your apartment building is but you might want to consider leafletting the building with information that there had been a theft in the building and that everyone should consider increasing their security. You don't have to say that you suspect the downstairs neighbors (nor should you) but I personally think that everyone in the building should know.

You're going to be paranoid about revenge. I was paranoid that the person who tried to break in would just come back earlier in the day now that they knew what time I got home from work - or worse, come back when I *was* home. (This is when home invasion was on the rise.) You should just move.

As for your roommate, you should clarify why on earth they let the neighbor into your unit. Did they feel intimidated? Do they really like the person or was it one of those things where they just don't have a backbone and so when someone said "Let's go to your house and play xbox" they just said "okay"? You should have a talk with them about this before deciding whether or not they're going to continue to be your roommate.

I am sorry about the breakin. It sucks.
posted by micawber at 11:52 AM on October 3, 2010

Sorry, but this guy is clearly not smart at all, otherwise he wouldn't have pawned (or tried to pawn) your stuff two blocks away from your apartment. I don't mean to make you crazy with paranoia, but, just be careful.
posted by thebazilist at 9:33 PM on October 3, 2010

And, when I was broken into, my friend who worked for an alarm company said that many people were targeted a second time, because now the burglars knew what they'd left behind (like your Xbox). Do not bank on this guy being "smart" enough not to try something a second time.
posted by thebazilist at 9:36 PM on October 3, 2010

You've probably wrapped this up, but here's an extra .02:

I think you should still be concerned about repeat offences by this person/their friends. Have landlord change locks at minimum. Get with tenant's union or lawyer to break lease with least pain so you're not still there when the perp gets out.

I would definitely not get a gun and broadcast ownership. Guns are very valuable to certain flavours of the criminally-minded and an inexperienced user who leaves home from time to time is a tempting target. If you do get a weapon, make sure to pursue appropriate training (and, of course, appropriate certification/licensing for your area).

Harsh as it may be, really does seem like a good time to reconsider your roommate arrangement. I know there are many possible reasons that may have seemed like a not-bad idea, but it shows colossal lack of judgment & instinct to protect other members of the household.

Definitely get a restraining order, so that you are protected from any contact to the fullest extent legally available.
posted by batmonkey at 10:27 PM on October 4, 2010

Response by poster: UPDATE:

The landlady is "considering" letting us move out, but isn't really doing anything else.

We've found out several other neighbors have had their laptops stolen in surrounding blocks.

I forgot to clarify that our apartment is an old Victorian home divided into 4 units and we're living directly on top of these people. Also we're in California.

Despite my landlady ordering this guy out, we've seen him several times and his friends and surrounding meth heads coming out of the woodwork congregating around downstairs.

The cops are slow and even though they have sufficient evidence, haven't done anything as far as I know except taken statements from us.

There's a complex next door to us and in a tenant's window facing our kitchen window (2nd story) they left a message that said, "You won." We're not sure what to make of that but kind of take it as some sort of threat.

I talked to my lawyer today and he said there's nothing that legally binds the landlady to letting us break the lease so our best bet is to just reason with her.

Thank you everyone for your responses, I appreciate them.
posted by ad4pt at 5:45 PM on October 5, 2010

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