Making a home accessible for others in emergency
November 4, 2013 5:43 PM   Subscribe

How can I deal with a ticked off strata president who is threatening to hold me personally liable for any floods to my suite?

I live in an apartment building. The building caretaker has a key to my suite provided by the previous owner. He has repeatedly entered my suite without my permission, for seemingly benign reasons. I have repeatedly complained and was assured by the management company that he would not enter my suite without explicit permission. I had decided to let him hang on to the key, because there are sometimes emergencies in the building, often related to water leaks. But he seems to have his own view of what constitutes an emergency and was in my suite again this weekend.

The strata president just ripped a strip off me for complaining to the management company about this. He was furious and said he'd make sure no one ever goes in my suite again and that they'll hold me personally liable.

I would like to be able to provide emergency crews access to my suite if there ever is a flood or some other issue. Ideally, I could just give them a code or something - maybe even something available via their head office. I just don't want the caretaker, who lives on site, to have the code.

How can I make sure that emergency access can be given without having the on site caretaker have my key?

Caveat: I have children and don't want to risk them giving the code to anyone else. So the solution can't just be a combination door lock. I don't know if you can get some sort of combination lock that releases a key that could be used in a door.

I kind of know the downstairs neighbour and I guess I *could* give her a key, but I'd really rather find a more secure way. Now that the strata president has chewed me out, I feel unsettled about anyone living here having my key.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats to Home & Garden (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not certain I'm reading the question + caveat right, but there are definitely keypad locks that can use a key OR a code, so you could give a physical key to the kids and a code to the emergency folks. Mine looks like this and it works fine.

You can also definitely get combination key lockboxes - my brother uses one locked to the railing of his steps.
posted by ftm at 5:50 PM on November 4, 2013

I would check with a lawyer to see what is reasonable. Do you own or do you rent? In either case, especially with children in the home it would be me ripping the strata president a new one over this scenario.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:06 PM on November 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

This is a question for a lawyer. We do not have any idea what kind of housing situation you are in. Do you own? Where are you? What sorts of contracts do you have with these people?

That is to say, you need advice from a qualified professional in your jurisdiction. Someone whom you pay to give you that advice. A lawyer.
posted by bilabial at 6:07 PM on November 4, 2013

My elderly mother has one of these mounted to a post in her garden in case someone needs to access the house. Strong and easy to use. Key case
posted by Kerasia at 6:23 PM on November 4, 2013

Response by poster: I own. I wasn't looking for legal advice, so much as soft skills and practical (e.g. key storage) advice. If someone has an idea for how I could, for example, also give the downstairs neighbour a way to access the code via some sort of one-time email that would track the address used or something, that would be helpful too.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 6:26 PM on November 4, 2013

Change the locks? Report trespassing to the police?

This bluetooth door lock would do everything you've asked. You can even send "eKeys" to people while you're away.
posted by fontophilic at 7:09 PM on November 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've been in real estate and in property management.

I can think of a hundred ways someone accidentally or on purpose will give away your coded lock or lockbox, and I think you need other measures along with the Bluetooth lock and ekey.

You really should google around and find out your rights because IT IS POSSIBLE YOU CAN NOT BE HELD FINACIALLY RESPONSIBLE FOR ANY DAMAGE.

If I were being threatened, I'd want to know if the threat has teeth.

In case your ekey or similar fails in an emergency, you need to know your rights.

Similarly, wtf is this guy entering the home you own without notice and how is that legal??

Get googling. Free phone consult with lawyer if need be.

I think the management company is bluffing and they're the ones who are liable in all sorts of ways.

Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 7:41 PM on November 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

In many jurisdictions, buildings have special lockboxes (e.g. a KNOX-Box) for access by the emergency services. In the event of a major emergency, the authorities (often the fire department) can open the box with a special master key, giving them access to a set of master keys for the building.

Perhaps your building already has such a lockbox installed (they are often required by various cities in the US, but I don't know how common they are in Canada, assuming that's where you are)? Or maybe you could even get one installed at your apartment door if there isn't one for the whole building.
posted by zachlipton at 8:37 PM on November 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks. It looks like KNOX is not available for my major city.

I know there have been some major water leaks in the building and I imagine the strata president is stressed and just wants to keep damage to a minimum. But I can't see how I would be responsible for asking that the caretaker ask for access when it isn't an emergency. Apparently he interpreted a note I left over the weekend (when he is supposed to be off work and we're supposed to call after hours service for emergencies) as an indication of an emergency. But he didn't try calling me (he has home and cell numbers). He just knocked and then went in. I found it very invasive and I explained to both the property management firm and the strata council president (ie. owner's association) that a reasonable person, had it been an emergency, would have called the emergency line, not left a note in the drop box to be read for Monday. And I noted that I had repeatedly asked the caretaker not to enter the suite without my permission.

I am concerned that the strata president is going to make my life hell. And I'm concerned that they will pull some sort of "you said no one in your suite" crap, which isn't what I said at all. So I want to have some physical way to grant flood or emergency crews access, even though I have *never* lived in a building in 15 years of condo living where I had to provide anyone with a key. It seems ridiculous to me. I'm all for being a friendly neighbour, but I don't think I should be admonished for asking yet again that the key only be used with my permission. It's not like they tried all my numbers and emergency numbers and water was gushing out somewhere.

I like the master lock idea, as it can hang on the door, whereas I am sure my strata won't let me mount anything on the exterior. But I am concerned about whether someone could just use a bolt cutter on it and gain access. (?)

I can look into the Bluetooth idea too. It doesn't seem to be available in Canada, but I'll see if it can be ordered.

And, yes, I will talk to a lawyer.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 9:05 PM on November 4, 2013

he'd make sure no one ever goes in my suite again and that they'll hold me personally liable

So your floormates (stratamates?) are concerned that in case of emergency, the caretaker must have access to all of the (privately owned) units in the building? And the foremost cause of these emergencies is water leakage?

It seems like your owners' association should address the problem at the root: why is water leakage a common problem in your building? Bad pipes? Bad roof? Whatever, it needs to be properly fixed. Your strata president is not doing their job unless they are addressing this.

Beyond that, the problem seems to be that the caretaker does not understand proper boundaries for a caretaker/super. Someone needs to have emergency access to all the units, and typically that is the super. But a super that doesn't understand the difference between emergencies and non-emergencies is not a good super. Again, this is something your spineless strata president should be addressing. St. Alia is absolutely right--your president is deflecting responsibility from him/her to you.
posted by bricoleur at 9:24 PM on November 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks. I think you are right. When I was doing my due diligence to buy in the building, I was told that they were planning a replumb and that the meeting was upcoming - that was more than 8 months ago and they still haven't put it to a vote. Perhaps you are right and the strata president is yelling at me because he feels stressed that he will be held legally responsible for not having addressed the leakage issues yet. I checked the laws in my province and they are allowed to enter a suite in an emergency or, with 48 hours' written notice, to check on the maintenance of strata property. But I don't think this constituted an emergency and don't think he took reasonable steps to check in with me (such as calling my cell phone or home phone even). And I don't think it was reasonable to assume that there was an emergency. He could have called and asked me if it was an emergency.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 9:45 PM on November 4, 2013

I think that in an actual real emergency, rescue or emergency workers know how to break down your door. (Probably someone with real knowledge of emergency services can say why this is a not great idea.) Personally I would change the locks and not worry about some special key system.
Having someone entering my apartment without permission now is more important than some hypothetical emergency.
posted by medusa at 10:03 PM on November 4, 2013

In the meantime, get a door knob lock box and put a small, polite note on your door:


Please, no entry without Suite Owners permission. Thank you.

For Emergency Entry, please call (xxxxxxx).

Thank You.


- It's 1000% correct that your building needs a re-pipe YESTERDAY, and someone is not doing their job. I've overseen buildings that needed re-piping, hence my experience with water damage and liability.

- I'd be exceptionally worried the super enters your unit for nefarious purposes. I'm wondering if others have made accusations and this is why strata president is on edge?

I had a super stealing from tenants (meds/cash) a few years ago - most victims did not notice, or notice right away that they had been robbed - since the perp had a key!

- Yes, a burly bolt cutter could snip a door handle lock box, but not easily. They can't get inside the box to get they key - so there would be no point.

- Not to scare you, but youtube "bump key"

- Get a cheap stick-on door alarm from Amazon or hardware store ($20 or less, GE makes a good one) and start using it.

- There was a recent AskMe about cheap recordable nanny cams or surveillance cams. Think about getting one.


You are a million times in the right. No one should be accessing your home w/out notice and consent. There are generally penalties (financial, usually) on the books in most jurisdictions to deter this sort of thing. If it happens again, your condo association may have to fire the super or compensate you in some way.

Just telling you this is serious business and you are not being unreasonable or otherwise, but I know of a few others involved who are in the wrong on this issue.

Hope this helps!
posted by jbenben at 10:46 PM on November 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

in the next world, there will be unlimited space and everyone you meet will be kind and gentle and loving.

the world we're in now is dominated by a competitive species which can occasionally be predatory, violent and cruel, and i speak to you as an individual of this species. the perimeter of an individual's home is one of the most important boundaries commonly recognized in our society. i said "commonly" instead of "universally" for a reason. someone is disrespecting your boundary, and by extension, you, and you have asked them politely to stop.

the next step is to catch them in the act of disrespecting your boundary and hurt them sufficiently so that they will know better in the future. a saint would select the most merciful option from the continuum of countermeasures available, perhaps a hidden, motion-activated camera backed up by an arrest and a lawsuit. i just checked my saint bar and it's at 65%, what's yours at?
posted by bruce at 12:00 AM on November 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

the next step is to catch them in the act of disrespecting your boundary and hurt them sufficiently so that they will know better in the future.

I'm a former super.

There are legitimate reasons why your caretaker might need to get into your condo on the fly if there are systemic issues with the building's plumbing. For example, if there is a plumbing emergency in one part of the building, the plumber might not realize which condos have the best access to that problem or are even affected by that problem at all until he arrives at the building and starts tracing issues through the building. Just because the emergency isn't visible in your condo doesn't mean that emergency access wasn't necessary.

I'm not trying to excuse unprofessional and rude behavior on the part of both the strata president and caretaker, which it sounds like they've both indulged in. They shouldn't just be accessing your suite with no attempt to talk to you, especially now that they've clearly had to access it repeatedly, and nobody should be tearing you a new one. But I think fighting fire with fire in this case would be unproductive and just escalate the problem. Rather than making you feel safer, I think it'll make you feel like you have enemies. I think you were right in presenting the problem as as you originally did: needing to find the balance between giving the people responsible for the building's upkeep access to your suite for legitimate maintenance needs and feeling like your home is private and secure.

Personally, I find that good neighbors are the best security system. They are also a great source for information on shared problems (like the unprofessional staff and the plumbing problems) and other people in the building. In this sort of situation, knowledge actually is power (and so is good will). With that in mind, I would make more of an effort to get closer to the neighbors and even the caretaker. The people who live on your floor/have a good view of your condo door, the people you've already run into and liked, and the caretaker, are all people that it would make sense to get to know better. So I'd invite them each over to have a cup of coffee, maybe send one of your kids over with a basket or plate of homemade food, and try to become better acquainted.

I don't know much about locks, and can't really give recommendations. Regardless, there's no substitute for someone who keeps an eye on your door and watches your back for you when you're not around, and good neighbors do that for each other. I wouldn't close ranks just yet. Whichever way you decide about the locks, I really don't think a show of force is the right move here.
posted by rue72 at 1:33 AM on November 5, 2013

"I'm a former super..."

This person did not read your question or follow-ups carefully enough. The super entered based on a maintenance request, but WITHOUT PERMISSION OR NOTICE. The strata president covered by claiming access is sometimes necessary in an emergency blah blah blah.

The entry was not just unprofessional, it's highly likely it was unlawful. In fact, I'm betting your strata president feels guilty about the plumbing AND the unlawful entry(s) - hence the pushback.

Do whatever is lawful in your jurisdiction to secure your home. Feel no guilt .

There are laws and codes so that you should not have to deal with this. Management and maintenance are so far out of line right now, the mind boggles.

You already seem inclined not to make enemies, so no worries on that account.

Your management and maintenance are being unlawful and unprofessional.

It's OK of your response is firm, lawful, professional, and succinct as you safeguard the boundaries of your home.
posted by jbenben at 9:53 AM on November 5, 2013

Response by poster: Yeah, I'm pretty sure it was unlawful. But it wasn't like I called the police. I just wanted to make it really clear that the guy keeps ignoring the boundary, because it just seems very, very weird to me.

I've got one of those key storage boxes now (till they solve the plumbing issue in the building).

But where I'm a little freaked out is that the strata president made all these comments about how he was going to hold me responsible for floods, how he would make sure no one ever goes in my suite again (he said this in a threatening was, as if to deny me maintenance or to suggest they'd put my stuff at risk an emergency, which would be a pretty stupid move on their part).

I just don't get it. I have a pre-teen I sometimes leave at home for a few minutes while I run down to the car or storage room. It would be very, very scary for him if someone knocked at the door (which he knows not to answer) and then the caretaker walked in. I wouldn't ever want that to happen. And it seems like a big liability for the strata to have an employee who could walk in on me or my kids...there could be money or valuables lying around, I could have client files or my own medical files or mail lying about, etc. It just seems fraught with so many issues. I honestly don't understand why the guy acted like I'd done something crazy in complaining. It's not like I'm legally bound to provide a key. And, if it is a true emergency, the law says they can break down the door to stop a fire or floor or whatever. And it wasn't like I was blocking them from all access. I just don't want this particular guy using the key without permission. But I have my key back now and I'm trying to sort out the remote lock thing, so he'll obviously have to get permission from now on.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 10:03 PM on November 6, 2013

Very late to the thread but just in case you're still checking in, I came across this recently...
posted by lunaazul at 10:15 PM on November 9, 2013

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