How do I get this door open?
February 19, 2012 10:16 PM   Subscribe

My bedroom door won't open. I'm not inside and can't get in another way. What do I do?

Earlier today I pulled my bedroom door closed, as usual, upon leaving. Now I, can't open it. The doorknob has a (modern) keyhole on the outside and one of those toggle switches inside. No key around. Any screws holding the doorknob on are also on the inside.
Questions :
1) I rent. I don't believe I did anything to make this happen, I leave the toggle thing alone, but who knows for sure 100%. Do old locks just do this? Who is responsible for something like locksmith fees here? Landlords are private party who own this house only, probably can't fix this themselves. I don't have a lot of $.
2) any way I can fix open it myself? I'm ok with destroying the doorknob, but not the door. I have hammer, pliers, screwdriver but no drill.
I'll try to post a picture... There's a gap between doorknob and the wood of the door that might be useful. Attempts to reach through and turn the lock with a bent coathanger are fruitless so far.

Apologies for typos or lack of clarity, typing this on my phone because my computer is locked in my room.
posted by needs more cowbell to Grab Bag (44 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Does any one you know have lock pick tools? Your best bet might be to take the entire doorknob off and maybe replace it with one that you can unlock from the outside.
posted by amapolaroja at 10:23 PM on February 19, 2012

Response by poster: Doorknob and gap: here
posted by needs more cowbell at 10:23 PM on February 19, 2012

Are the door hinges on the inside or the outside? If they're on the outside maybe you can take the pins out of the hinges and just remove the whole door (Without damaging anything)
posted by chndrcks at 10:24 PM on February 19, 2012

Response by poster: Hinges are on the inside :( also, no room for the credit card trick, there is molding in the way.
posted by needs more cowbell at 10:26 PM on February 19, 2012

You should see if you can fish the end of the cost hanger into the gap between the doorknob and its hole, with the goal being to pull back the locking bolt enough to push the door open.

Given how poorly that doorknob is installed, this certainly isn't your fault.
posted by anildash at 10:28 PM on February 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

I had locked myself in my garage once, with a knob a lot like that. Didn't have a gap like that though, and what i did was grab a pry bar type thing and put it by the knob where it meets the molding, and gently made it so the door moved away from the spot it holds it shut. Got in, didn't seem to permanently damage anything, as it just flexed, but my door was metal.

That gap is huge though, so i'd try to do like the person above said about coat hanger first.
posted by usagizero at 10:32 PM on February 19, 2012

You didn't say anywhere if the knob is turning, is it?
posted by fake at 10:34 PM on February 19, 2012

Try opening the door with a grocery store membership card or something similar. Just stuff it in the crack and wiggle.
posted by oceanjesse at 10:35 PM on February 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

If the doorknob is turning, turn it all the way in the right direction and then pull it hard toward the gap in the door. While doing this, bump your shoulder into the door, hard.

The idea is to retract the bolt as far as you can, and then further pull it away from the hole it is in by pulling the knob toward the gap (toward the door hinges) and then bump whatever bit of bolt is left by the force of your body.

If I was there, I'd be doing this and just throwing my shoulder into it. I've opened doors a lot more secure than these with this method.
posted by fake at 10:37 PM on February 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Probably a long shot, but does the key to your home happen to fit that doorknob lock too?
posted by vytae at 10:37 PM on February 19, 2012

Since it closes toward where you're standing now, have you tried slipping a card between the door and door jam to push back the bolt? The bolt should be spring loaded, and angled such that you might be able to push it back in with a stiff card (a thin plastic card works great, but whatever you use will be ruined, so don't use a credit card).
posted by planet at 10:38 PM on February 19, 2012

Can you fit a hacksaw blade into the gap? You could cut off the knob on your side and that should let you knock out the knob on the other side. It will still be tricky to turn the latch to open the door, but you should be able to do it (or remove the latch components all together once you have access to the guts of the lock).
posted by Nightman at 10:48 PM on February 19, 2012

Response by poster: Knob doesn't turn.
No keys around here fit (I tried a bunch.)
And there is molding that sort of covers the doorjam so I can't slide a credit card in.
And so far, no success with the coathanger. There's some stuff hanging on the doorknob inside, that might be making it harder. I thought I'd be able to do it easily.
posted by needs more cowbell at 10:49 PM on February 19, 2012

If worst comes to worst, you might need to kick it open. If you need to do that, make sure you've got some leverage by hanging on to something and kick as close to the doorknob as possible.
posted by griphus at 10:52 PM on February 19, 2012

Response by poster: Hacksaw might work. I'd have to buy one tomorrow. But if I'm buying tools maybe a locksmith makes more sense.
From a human relations perspective, how should I bring this up with my landlords? I feel weird since I don't totally know it's not my fault...I don't think I did anything to the switch inside, but I can't be 100% sure. On the other hand, I don't want to pay for something not my fault.
posted by needs more cowbell at 10:55 PM on February 19, 2012

Is there a window you can climb through instead?
posted by coriolisdave at 10:55 PM on February 19, 2012

I'd call the landlord and ask permission to have someone in to open the door and replace the knob, or ask that she (or he) do this. Don't think it is an expensive project, but it is necessary, and not your fault the knob broke.
posted by chapps at 10:59 PM on February 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Can you see anything through the gap between the knob and the hole the knob lives in? The screws that hold the doorknob on, say? If you could unscrew those from this side (with a pair of pliers?) you could disassemble the knob enough to slide the bolt back.

If you're feeling patient, you could get a file and make a bump key, or sit down with some stiff wire and a lockpicking guide. Bump keys are pretty effective; I helped a friend back into his house with an impromptu bump key not long ago.

Talking to the landlord is probably worthwhile; they might have a key for that knob sitting in a drawer. Or they might say, "I've been meaning to replace that knob for ages, go ahead and hacksaw it off". Worth a try, at least? Worst case, you end up paying for the locksmith visit.

Otherwise I had the same ideas as Nightman: hacksaw off the knob on this side, buy a replacement at the hardware store.
posted by hattifattener at 11:05 PM on February 19, 2012

I would phone around to friends before paying a locksmith, as chances are good that someone has/had lock bypassing as a hobby, and may have tools (you are in the wrong Oakland, but otherwise you could borrow mine). The DIY route, mostly involving paperclips but adaptable to what you have on hand, is explained in this old thread and demonstrated here and here. It is possible to manage with a paperclip and a tension wrench cut and folded out of a Coke can.
posted by notquitemaryann at 11:10 PM on February 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Your landlord will probably be uncomfortable with anyone who is not a licensed and bonded locksmith or themselves fucking with the door, much less sawing stuff off or kicking it down. I'd give them a call tonight before anything like that, say that the thing spontaneously locked, and ask them to stop by with a way to open it. If your landlord is older, and you have a comfy couch, they might appreciate getting a call early in the morning before work more than one tonight.
posted by Blasdelb at 11:10 PM on February 19, 2012

Best answer: To answer your question via liability...

If the door has a lock and your landlord did NOT provide you with a key - your landlord is at fault. Full stop.

I've been a landlord and worked in property management. This information is not jurisdictional-dependent. It's fact.
posted by jbenben at 11:16 PM on February 19, 2012 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Of course this isn't your fault. It doesn't matter whether you did anything to cause the door to lock; if there's a lock, your landlord should have given you its key. Frankly, they're lucky it's just you locked out of the bedroom; it could easily have been a small child or animal locked in. There's no reason to be apologetic. Your landlord provided you with a poorly installed doorknob and forgot to give you the key. It's their responsibility to get the door open and to make sure this doesn't happen again. (And you definitely should not have to pay for it).
posted by embrangled at 11:18 PM on February 19, 2012 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: I am fine for a place to sleep tonight, fortunately. So it's not an emergency.

Jbenben and embrangled, it hadn't occurred to me to think that way. That's really helpful. For some reason I tend to see things as my fault or worry too easily that there's a chance they could be.
posted by needs more cowbell at 11:21 PM on February 19, 2012

I've seen this work before but it depends on the quality of the knob/lock. Take the knob in hand and vigorously turn it back and forth - not like you're trying to rip it out of the door, just as if it were a sticky lock.

The person I saw pull this off was at it for close to a minute, but got the door open.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 11:23 PM on February 19, 2012

I agree that you should call the landlord and that it is not your fault.

One more thing you could try to DIY, though, is with regard to the moulding that is stopping you using a credit card. Moulding is often just nailed on with small nails. If you can get a thin, strong lever (even a butter knife) in between the moulding and the door, you might be able to lever it off. If the moulding runs the whole length of the door, you'd need levers/pry bars at multiple points and the help of a friend. You will probably chip the paint if you go this route, so be prepared to renail the moulding back on, and touch it up with wood filler and paint afterwards. But that would almost certainly be cheaper than a locksmith.
posted by lollusc at 11:25 PM on February 19, 2012

Two potential approaches if you don't want to wait for the landlord:

Use a sharp blade and a slim pry bar to cut loose of the paint and pry away enough from to slide something in to pop the latch (depends on the type of latch).

Many of such locks can be opened just by applying sufficient torque. Use locking pliers on the handle and turn as hard as possible (this will destroy the lock, obviously).
posted by ssg at 11:30 PM on February 19, 2012

Response by poster: If I'm not liable for locksmith fees, I'm not inclined to too much DIY... although still nervous about liability. If it's something easy I would try not to spend the landlords money, but I'm not itching to do repair work, either.

The lock situation in this house is odd; I just realized all bedroom doors have locks, but none of us have keys. The front door has one lock to which there is no key; the toggle thingy is taped over so that no one will lock it. When I moved in my housemate cautioned me about that, but I'd never even noticed my bedroom had a lock til tonight.
posted by needs more cowbell at 11:35 PM on February 19, 2012

After reading your updates, ohmyjesusfuck - just call your piece of shit landlord. Fuck the hour. This is his JOB. It's his responsibility since he enjoys the profit of the rent.

It's his or her's job to address this. No locksmith required, just a hairpin or a handyman.

Handle install via pic is shite quality, BTW.

You pay rent. Request service!
posted by jbenben at 11:41 PM on February 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Try lifting up or pushing down on the door while pushing inwards, if you are unsure that the bolt on the lock is engaged. Sometimes the doorframe shifts a bit and the door gets stuck due to a vertical offset.

Nthing getting the landlord. If the doors have locks you need keys.
posted by benzenedream at 11:54 PM on February 19, 2012

I had a door where the shopping bag I had hanging on the inside put enough weight on the door knob that it wouldn't open.
Is there anyway to dislodge the weight you have hanging from your door knob?
with a coat hanger through that hole, perhaps?

Or maybe push down on the door knob from your side so that you can level the door knob?
posted by calgirl at 12:00 AM on February 20, 2012

Nthing call the landlord before doing anything else with the door - also maybe I missed it, but I can't believe no one's suggested calling the landlord and just asking if he has a key? I know you don't have one, and I see you've mentioned there isn't one lying around the rest of the house - but maybe your landlord has a spare/the original?
posted by Squee at 12:11 AM on February 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Without going into details.. The key situation is super sketchy and the landlords pretty hands-off, so I doubt it. I'd been hesitant to contact them because I didn't want to pay for a locksmith if I could avoid it. It seems like I have a good case for it not being my responsibility, though. I'll be in touch with them in the morning. (honestly, it's not urgent enough to justify waking them up, and I think doing this at a decent hour is a better bet for getting a good response.)
posted by needs more cowbell at 12:23 AM on February 20, 2012

Response by poster: I should clarify that the front door has one lock *out of two* with no keys. The front door does get locked. I wouldn't live someplace with out a front lock.
posted by needs more cowbell at 12:26 AM on February 20, 2012

Oh, I locked myself out of my bedroom once. I bought tiny screwdrivers to try to work my way in. The screwdrivers ended up being useless, but the packaging worked! It was a stiff laminated cardboard and I was able to jam that sucker into the door frame next to the door knob such that it depressed the bolty thing enough for the door to swing open.

How snugly does the door fit in its frame? If you lean on the door a bit does it give enough that you could slip some thing stiff around the edge? Can you do something like this or this?
posted by losvedir at 3:13 AM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

On my rental contracts (in Victoria, Australia) I have always been authorised to spend up to $1000 on property repair work without needing pre-approval from the landlord, and the cost should be reimbursed by the landlord. I've never had any situation where I needed to do that (so far, knock on wood,fingers crossed, etc), but this seems like exactly the kind of situation where I would. YMMV, based on your lease agreement, obviously. I'd prefer to call a professional than to risk getting stung with the cost of repairing and repainting a door and frame.
posted by Diag at 3:20 AM on February 20, 2012

It's probably on the other side, but are there any slots or holes on the side of the knob. Sometimes shoving things in them is how you get the door knob off.
posted by kjs4 at 4:04 AM on February 20, 2012

Can you shift the doorknob over to the side and try opening the door or turning the knob then? I had something similar happen with a shifting doorknob, and just moving it around a little did the trick.
posted by Slinga at 4:46 AM on February 20, 2012

Can you take the molding off easily? Molding is generally pretty easy to remove* and then put right back in the same position. Jam something underneath and peal it away gently. Then maybe there would be room to slide a credit card between door and jamb.

*Unless it's been painted over, and then pulling it away might wreck the paint job.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 6:35 AM on February 20, 2012

There is usually a thin round plate covering the works. Can you not pry/tear this off, without cutting yourself, and move the bolt?

This happened to me once, and the problem was that something inside the lock had broken.

This advice is all based on the landlord being slow to respond.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 6:51 AM on February 20, 2012

Hinges are on the inside :( also, no room for the credit card trick, there is molding in the way.

I lock myself out of my office now and then and my door is set up this way too, but the credit card trick, which I tried only reluctantly, actually worked perfectly to my surprise. Have you tried?
posted by A Terrible Llama at 7:20 AM on February 20, 2012

It's a long shot but check the ledge on top of the door frame. It is a pretty standard place to "hide" a key for locking doors, just for times like this. If there isn't one if/when you get back in maybe get a copy of the key from the landlord and put it up there.

Also you might be able to pry the molding off with a knife or something, molding strips are easy enough to replace, then you could try the credit card trick. Though try it with it on first as that can work sometimes too.
posted by wwax at 8:36 AM on February 20, 2012

The credit card trick might still work. It slides behind the molding and will turn the corner to the lock. I have done it often. You will probably destroy the card, though, so use one of the grocery store ones or something.
posted by Vaike at 12:11 PM on February 20, 2012

Response by poster: OK, I'm in. Right when I woke up this morning I tried fiddling with a bent hanger a bit more.

It was much easier with some daylight coming in through the gap--last night I was literally poking around in the dark, with very little idea of what I was doing or where the end of the hanger was. Also, I couldn't explain this concisely when typing on a cell phone, but last night I'd tried to maneuver the cloth grocery bag off the doorknob, and instead ended up a) spearing the (very thick) grocery bag handle on the wire hanger, and then in an attempt to get it free, b) pulling a bunch of the grocery bag handle through the gap to my side, which I then couldn't push back through. (I don't know either. It was late.)

Anyway--after some fiddling and after I successfully pushed the handle of the grocery bag out, I was able to get it open. I almost wonder if the gap was made because someone else had this happen in the past.

Unfortunately, there's no key above the door frame. That was the second or third thing I checked. I highly doubt that anyone has keys, honestly, based on my other experiences with locks and keys and things here.

I emailed my landlords expressing concern about the locks-without-keys situation, and I put tape over the toggle switch so it can't get moved to the lock position by accident.

I imagine if I was able to get the door open by flipping that switch (at least I guess that's what I did, I couldn't see what the coathanger was doing), it means that somehow I'd flipped it into the locked position by accident. Are there any other possibilities? Come to think of it, in the past when I've suddenly been unable to get a door open, the doorknob was able to turn freely--the problem being that something inside dis-engaged and the doorknob wasn't turning the locking mechanism. That's obviously not what happened here since the doorknob wouldn't turn.

I"m not sure if my landlords will end up doing anything about the other doorknobs. Honestly, I'm not sure if it makes sense to push back if they don't want to change them. There's definitely no need to be able to lock the bedroom doors, and putting pieces of tape over the toggle things (man, there's gotta be a better word for that) would solve the problem of accidental lock-outs, assuming that is actually what happened with my lock yesterday. I know that the landlord-tenant relationship is a tricky thing, especially in the Bay area where the market is so congested, and to be honest this current place is pretty awesome for the price.

Thank you everyone for the suggestions and especially for the comments about this not being an acceptable lock situation. I hadn't thought of it that way but I agree with you, and if nothing else, it makes me not feel like an idiot for possibly carelessly "locking myself out," if I hit the switch accidentally. If I had had a key, a spare copy would have absolutely been resting on the ledge above the door.
posted by needs more cowbell at 1:03 PM on February 20, 2012

You can buy a basic bed-bath knob for $10. You can replace the knobs on the doors yourself in ten minutes with a Philips screwdriver. It might be worth $10 a door to swap the knobs for the duration of your stay and know that this will never happen again [and that you can safely lock your bedroom door should you decide you want to]. Then swap them back when you move out, if you care at that point.
posted by chazlarson at 10:40 AM on February 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

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