Keeping apartment safe during maintenance
December 21, 2010 5:14 PM   Subscribe

My landlord wants me to leave my apartment unlocked so maintenance people can enter during the day. This makes me uncomfortable. How much should I push back?

I'm renting a condo from an individual owner who, despite living 5 blocks away, refuses to come on-site to let in maintenance people. An upstairs pipe burst a couple weeks ago and ruined the bathroom ceiling/walls, and we now have maintenance guys coming every day to check moisture levels and randomly cut chunks out of the plaster. There's an on-site condo board president who my landlord usually calls on to unlock the door, but when he isn't around, the landlord expects me to let people into the unit. Tomorrow I absolutely can't, and he wants me to leave the door unlocked.

This makes me uncomfortable, mostly because I have the unit closest to the building's front door. While that door requires a separate key (or phone buzz), it does not close/latch securely about half of the time.

Additionally, my landlord plans to have more extensive repair/lead abatement done while I am out of town. What will stop them from leaving my door unlocked then, possibly for days at a time?

Am I overreacting? How can I effectively express my concern? How much can/should I push back here?
posted by Maarika to Home & Garden (35 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I would totally push back about this. It's unreasonable to expect you to just leave your place unlocked for their convenience.
posted by gomichild at 5:16 PM on December 21, 2010 [8 favorites]

A lot. He or a rep for him should be there to let them in or they should have the key from the owner.
posted by parmanparman at 5:16 PM on December 21, 2010 [3 favorites]

Also you don't say where you are living so there may even be rules that you can quote about just this kind of situation.
posted by gomichild at 5:18 PM on December 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't think you're overreacting at all. I wouldn't agree with that either.

What does your lease say about the landlord entering the unit, etc?
posted by hansbrough at 5:18 PM on December 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Push back hard. To be honest, someone should even be there supervising the contractor work. Strangers should not be left to their own devices in your home.
posted by jerseygirl at 5:24 PM on December 21, 2010 [8 favorites]

That would be completely unacceptable to me. Review your lease. What does it say about your landlord, your apartment, or your building providing adequate security? You'll have a better argument if you have a signed lease that backs you up.

Do you have renter's insurance? Call your insurance company and find out what they think about leaving your unit unlocked and unattended.

What are the crime stats like for your neighborhood? Has there been any recent media coverage about break-ins and thefts?
posted by germdisco at 5:38 PM on December 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

"Landlord, I'm just not comfortable laving the door open. If something happened, I'd hate you to have to cover it. My renter's insurance won't cover losses if the door is unlocked. With all these workpeople in the building, wouldn't this be a good time to get the front door lock fixed?"

Lead abatement is hazardous to your health if not done correctly. There must be a tenant's rights organization listed in the deadtree phone book in the Community Services section. I used to be a Landlord;I would not have gotten away with this, even though my town is very safe.
posted by theora55 at 5:38 PM on December 21, 2010 [8 favorites]

Leave the door locked. Tell the landlord to give the maintenance people the key. Justify this by telling the landlord that your insurance policy doesn't cover theft due to leaving your apartment unlocked for days at a time.

(Optional: tell the landlord that you need to cover your ass in this way for reasons of financial liability; point out who will therefore be liable if there happens to be any theft while you are away; point out that insurance companies are rather litigious.)
posted by astrochimp at 5:41 PM on December 21, 2010 [4 favorites]

It's a boilerplate Minnesota lease - the closest sections that apply are:

Maintenance and Repair By Landlord: Landlord promises (1) that the Apartment is fit for use as a residence; and (2) to keep the Apartment in reasonable repair during the term of the Lease, except when the damage was caused by intentional or negligent action of the Tenant or Tenant's guests; and (3) to maintain the Apartment in compliance with the applicable health and safety laws except where the violation is caused by the Tenant or Tenant's guests; and (4) Landlord shall provide a copy of all outstanding inspection orders for which a citation is issued.

The section on "right of entry" states that they have to make a "good faith effort" to give notice prior to entry, and if the Landlord and/or Landlord's agent enters without Tenant(s) present and without giving notice, they have to leave "written disclosure in a conspicuous place in the apartment."

Unfortunately, there's nothing in the lease about locking the unit (unless you interpret "safety laws" in the first part as locking doors).
posted by Maarika at 5:41 PM on December 21, 2010

How about this?

- Landlord mails key(s) to maintenance person
- Maintenance person comes to your apartment at the arranged time and lets self in
- Maintenance person locks your apartment and mails the keys back or slides them under your door, through your mail slot, etc
posted by germdisco at 5:57 PM on December 21, 2010

Tell him you've talked to your rental insurer's agent and the police and both agree it's not advisable in any way to have the premises unsecured or unattended while contractors are on the property.

You don't even have to talk to either to say that, because common sense dictates leaving the premises unlocked so contractors/strangers/ne'er do wells can have free roam of your apartment and valuables is a terrible idea. It might even void your insurance -- that you should actually look in to.

Five blocks away might as well be 5 states away. I couldn't tell you what was going on 5 blocks from anywhere at any given time.
posted by jerseygirl at 5:57 PM on December 21, 2010 [9 favorites]

They have a right to let themselves in after proper notice has been issued. With their own key. This has nothing to do with you having to leave the door unlocked. Call your local housing inspector or a tenant's rights group.
posted by SMPA at 5:59 PM on December 21, 2010 [3 favorites]

Double ack! This is a safety concern on so many levels. It is common sense to not leave your door unlocked and not to let strangers in your house unsupervised. Demand that someone be there with a key and supervise the work. It's a risk for you because your renter's insurance won't cover losses in this situation, AFAIK.
posted by two lights above the sea at 6:02 PM on December 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

There is so much wrong with your landlord's requests and assumptions, I don't know where to start. although you must provide him with reasonable access to your abode, he needs to be respectful to yours. As the others said above, if you place full financial responsibility for loss or breakage in his pocket, he will perform due diligence by safeguarding your goods. It wouldn't hurt to rent a nanny-cam to watch over as well, and let him know that. A broken first entry lock is unacceptable in any case. Don't trust anyone!
posted by ~Sushma~ at 6:04 PM on December 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yeah, do not leave your door unlocked. This is how you tell your landlord: "Landlord, as you know our lease gives you the duty to "to keep the Apartment in reasonable repair during the term of the Lease." I think this means that it is your responsibility to let the maintenance men in one way or another. I'm not leaving my door unlocked because it is unsafe and stupid. Thanks for getting these repairs done!" "PS. I'm not renewing my lease."
posted by motsque at 6:11 PM on December 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

I can't find a precise ruling on this in my copy of the MN Landlord/Tenant handbook, but you can call the Attorney General's office at 651-296-3353. I am fairly certain that no renter's insurance carrier would be pleased if something happened to your property because the door was left unlocked. This is certainly not something I would ever do as a landlord myself.

If your landlord did not provide you with it, you can download the landlord/tenant handbook as a pdf, and at the end there's a list of various local and regional groups who might be better suited to answering the specifics of your question.
posted by padraigin at 6:11 PM on December 21, 2010 [4 favorites]

Could you use a combination lockbox like realtors use? I know you probably couldn't get one by tomorrow, but wouldn't this be a better approach in general? Maybe point out to your landlord that he can acquire one and use it in the future -- or you could just get one, set it up with your key, and tell the landlord the combination. Then you can change the combination whenever you want.

It looks like they're sold as key safes at Home Depot.
posted by amtho at 6:35 PM on December 21, 2010 [3 favorites]

Just get a realtor lock box. Tell the owner the code, and the only can tell the code to one or two of the repairmen. Tell them that you expect them to use the lock box, and to keep the apartment locked.

I am an electrician, and have several realtors and property managers as customers. We do service work for them a lot. Using a lock box is normal procedure. Only the lead-men, the boss on-site, needs to know the code, not every worker.

This is a procedure most contractors will be accustomed to - not leaving the apartment unlocked and unprotected. Leaving the apartment unlocked and unprotected is not good for the repairmen either. If you TV goes missing, you are going to count the repairmen among the suspects. Seriously, as a contractor, I want to lock the place up when I am done too. I left it as I found it, my professional reputation is on the line there too.

Your property manager must be too cheap to buy a $10 lock box - you could just get it yourself.
posted by Flood at 6:40 PM on December 21, 2010 [7 favorites]

And you CAN get a lock box by tomorrow morning. Lowes and Home Dept open at 6am - both sell lock box.
posted by Flood at 6:42 PM on December 21, 2010

I do like the idea of the lock box, but I don't see how that solves the issue of having people in the apartment unaccompanied. Any ideas on how to mitigate this aspect for the long term? My landlord obviously doesn't have a problem with it.
posted by Maarika at 6:45 PM on December 21, 2010

If you have a renter's insurance policy, see if your insurance agent will call your landlord on your behalf and explain his potential financial obligations.
posted by device55 at 6:55 PM on December 21, 2010

Your landlord is opening themselves and you up to ridiculous risk by asking you to leave the door unlocked. The landlord should have their own key to enter in emergency situations like "your pipe is broken and the apartment downstairs is flooding."

You and they should not leave the apartment unlocked and unattended (unless you live in Mayberry, and then maybe).

If you're worried about things when you're away, have a friend check on the place every day to make sure it's locked.
posted by zippy at 7:07 PM on December 21, 2010

If you don't already have renter's insurance, call tomorrow and get it. It's usually very inexpensive and even if you never make a claim, it's a useful resource in a situation like this. As others have said, if you had a policy you could call and ask them about this and then let your landlord know what his liability would be.

I'm not sure that the people doing the work would be comfortable with this situation. Doesn't it expose them to a lot of potential trouble? Would their insurance be happy with this? If I were a plumber or electrician or whatever, no, I would not want to enter an unlocked home, work unsupervised and then leave, closing the unlocked door behind me. What if you come home and your diamond necklace is missing? Fingers would point at me the electrician who was there all day, all alone.

The whole thing stinks and you need to calmly tell your landlord that it is unacceptable. A lock box doesn't solve the problem, you're right about that. This needs to be his problem. It's his property, it's his responsibility to maintain it and it's his job to make sure that your home and your valuables are secure while this is being done.

OMG. What if you leave the door unlocked, workers come in and leave, then a Bad Guy lets himself in and is waiting for you when you come home? Farfetched? Maybe. A chance you or your landlord wants to take? Probably not.

You gotta tell him, NO, and stand your ground. And, get renters insurance ASAP.
posted by Kangaroo at 7:20 PM on December 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Make sure the repair contractor is bonded; that is that he is insured against issues like missing personal items, etc.
posted by AugustWest at 7:45 PM on December 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

With all due respect to GermDisco, please do not allow anyone to mail copies of your house keys to any maintenance people. It is far, far to easy to make a copy of a key, and unless you want to change the locks on every door in your house, you'd put yourself at a real risk to have your belongings and your home taken advantage of.

IANAL, but I agree -- insist that the landlord make other arrangements.
posted by patronuscharms at 7:47 PM on December 21, 2010 [4 favorites]

Batshit insane. Absolutely not. You don't need to come up with an elaborate justification, in fact, I'd avoid dignifying this suggestion with an argument.

Countless people can see the workmen coming and going, and anyone inside the building can see that the door is being left unlocked. Would he leave his front door hanging wide open while he's across town? Okay, maybe he would, since he's suggesting leaving HIS PROPERTY open to whatever.

This is why you don't argue, and instead stick to "absolutely not."
Because you're not leaving my home unsecured, that's completely unacceptable.
Why, what do you think is going to happen?
Well, you're not interesting in speculating, but you're not putting your possessions, your security, or your personal safety at risk.
Blah blah blah!

(FYI, when people say renter's insurance is "cheap," we're talking less than $15/month. Seriously cheap. Travelers, State Farm, etc., they all offer it.)
posted by desuetude at 9:18 PM on December 21, 2010

I certainly understand your concern about having a repairman in your home un-attended. Unfortunately, I believe the landlord is allowed access for repair.

You can still take one important step to protect yourself. Demand licensed professionals do the work. Find out who these repairman are. A reputable contractor will want to leave a business card.

You should demand information on the company - like at least a business card. If he can't produce a business card, he is an un-licensed handy-man (aka some guy with a few tools), and not skilled licensed professional.

Anyone who has a license would never risk that license stealing something from you.
posted by Flood at 9:26 PM on December 21, 2010

Phrased nicely, put the following requirements in an email to your Landlord. You want this in writing between the two of you.

-Lockbox on the door during the repairs with a spare key to your apartment inside. These boxes are about $50. Your landlord gets it from the hardware store and ONLY gives the foreman on the job the lock box code - that's how these things are usually handled when no one from management is available to unlock the door.

- Your landlord stops by daily to check the work and make sure the door is secured while you out of town.

- The workmen leave a business card on your kitchen table so you have the info on the contractor.

- Once the entire job is completed, the locks get changed. New locks are about $15 to $20 a set. You can install yourself, btw, and the landlord gets copies of new keys.

That's it!

If your building's front door were more secure, I wouldn't recommend the lock change. Ditto because this sounds like a professional water damage repair company coming to do the work, so this means they are an unknown quantity to both you and your landlord, which makes me think the inexpensive lock replacement is worth the peace of mind. Likely the firm is on the up-n-up, but individual day laborers that get hired by the firm are likely unknown to all, so no need to take the chance.

Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 9:44 PM on December 21, 2010 [3 favorites]

Oh, we've got renter's insurance covered. I just can't find out about the landlord liability piece until start of business tomorrow morning. Thanks for the suggestions to follow up with them.

Due to the holidays, delaying tomorrow's service visit will likely delay us getting a properly repaired, mold-free bathroom by the end of the month. If they don't do the repair while we're out of town, we will have to vacate the apartment anyway during the lead abatement (it is our only bathroom). So my husband will be staying home from work to let this particular maintenance guy in - it should be his last visit. This maintenance guy is actually the person who originally asked if we could leave the door unlocked, which was seconded by the landlord and condo president. It's tough because we are trying to speed up this repair timeline, as the ceiling mold is a major concern - at what point do you prioritize health concerns over taking a stand against a careless landlord?

I want to firmly reset expectations with the landlord and his buddy the condo president about apartment access, but the last time I quoted MN Tenant statutes (he threatened to sell the condo a month into our 13-month lease) it resulted in major landlord drama. I really don't know how we will be able to guarantee any sort of apartment "supervision" while we're out of town, though. I could see my landlord simply handing over the keys on day 1 and having the condo president (who lives a couple doors down) check in every once in a while.

Thanks again for your feedback - any other comments/suggestions are obviously still appreciated.
posted by Maarika at 9:50 PM on December 21, 2010

Quoting Tenant statues probably got their hackles up for fear that you were planning to sue. But as far as I can see, it's not the legal contract that's driving this, it's plain common fucking sense. Or, in other words, "don't make me get all pissy and go get the tenant law citation to explain that you're being laaaaazy."

Can you have someone apartment-sit while you're out of town?
posted by desuetude at 10:06 PM on December 21, 2010

Is there an onsite super during the day? If so, s/he should have a key to let workers in. When I've needed to have people do work in my place while I'm out, I've left a signed note with the super giving permission.
posted by brujita at 10:48 PM on December 21, 2010

but I don't see how that solves the issue of having people in the apartment unaccompanied. Any ideas on how to mitigate this aspect for the long term?

You can't.

We recently had major extensions done and there were fellas marching in and out of our house for MONTHS while we were at work. I found it extremely stressful.

Our builder once let himself into another person's house to show us some of his near-completed work. I felt very uncomfortable - almost certain that the owners didn't know about it, that he just had the key.

I did find one internal door with an old lock, and managed to get a key cut. I put some expensive stuff in there for slight piece of mind.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 1:35 AM on December 22, 2010

I'm a landlord and I would never ask this of someone. Occasionally I've asked them to shepherd the maintenance person in and out of the unit if they will be there anyway, but it is always with the understanding that I'll do this myself if the tenant isn't willing. I say this just to underscore that you aren't wrong to think that this behavior is inappropriate.
posted by dgran at 7:23 AM on December 22, 2010

Lockbox on door = great idea.
posted by theora55 at 9:21 AM on December 22, 2010

Yeah, this is absolutely unacceptable. Get the locks changed too if you can. I recently learned about an apartment complex here where all the apartments have the same locks; therefore all the tenants can get in to any apartment. Make sure this isn't the case in your area too.
posted by IndigoRain at 1:10 AM on December 23, 2010

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