What to do about a building key, and obstinate landlord?
May 30, 2014 1:51 PM   Subscribe

So i've read the previous Asks like this and this but i'm in a bit of a bind moreso than those with regards to an obstinate landlord who wants to charge me a TON for a new key, snowflakes inside...

So i lost my keys. Not a huge deal, i had spares of everything except for the main entrance to my building and my mailbox(the spares i had cut don't actually open it, awesome!). I have my partners set of keys available, which include the missing front door/main entrance key.

The problem is, it's one of those "REGISTERED DO NOT COPY" medeco keys. I've read the previous posts on here about putting tape over it and other ideas, and found some locksmiths willing to help out... but thusfar they don't have the correct blank, couldn't even order it, and can't help me. I'm starting to think copying the key i already have isn't an option here, without going through the landlord.

So, Why don't i just call the landlord? They want $500. five hundred dollars. More than half my rent. They refuse to issue an extra key, and want to re-key the entire building as it's a "safety issue"(and had a wonderful "if i give you an extra key, i might as well not lock it at all!" rant) and bill it all to me, because "we wouldn't have to do it if you didn't lose it". They've already offhandedly told me an extra key costs them $13.(there's a separate issue here but i care less about it, of them wanting to charge me ~$50-80 to re key the mailbox because "we don't keep spares, that would be illegal anyways it's a mailbox!" then why does EVERY other building?)

Is this even legal? do i have any recourse? It's in the lease, but they could have also put "we are allowed to set fire to tenants possessions if rent is 1 day late" in there and it would be meaningless. I've had several landlords put unenforceable stupid shit in leases before. I'm in seattle if it helps. I tried to call the local tenants union, but they literally only accept calls from 10am to noon... monday through wednesday(yes, seriously). Normally i know quite a bit about landlord tenant stuff locally, but this one is new to me and my "lifelines"(former landlord family members, etc) id normally call gameshow style are stumped.
posted by emptythought to Law & Government (24 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
If you don't know where your key to the main entrance is, can you be sure it isn't in the hands of a nefarious person? If I lived in your building, I would want the main entrance rekeyed. I think it's legitimate for the landlord to want to protect all the tenants by rekeying, rather than assuming that a lost key hasn't fallen into the wrong hands.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 2:08 PM on May 30, 2014

Leaving aside the "lost key == re-key the building" argument for the moment: if your partner's keys work, take those along with your bad copies (but which were presumably were made from the correct blanks such that they fit in the locks and simply won't turn?), and go to a locksmith and ask him/her help to make your keys work. It may just require a minor amount of filing.
posted by mosk at 2:12 PM on May 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: I forgot to add this, but i'm somewhere around 80-90% sure the key is somewhere in my works giant, labyrinthine warehouse and office facility and not in the hands of some hamburgler-esque villain. I've searched, but it's an ancient building and there's so many ruts in the floor that lead under giant shelves with thousands of pounds of stuff on them, weird corners that don't meet up right, chunks of plywood dividing walls which are hollow and don't quite meet the floor, etc that it could easily get kicked under something and i'd not only never find it but even if i knew for sure where it was i'd need the help of a bunch of people/a forklift/a saw to get to where it ended up. They know this, but the response was essentially "well if you knew where they were for sure, then you'd have them lol". It's extremely unlikely they just ended up on the street somewhere, because the day i lost them, the last time i had them for sure and used them was to get into my office. And yes, i've searched the hell out of the place. It's just like, the bonus expert mode level of "play hide and seek with an object" as far as spaces go.

I'm mostly just miffed by that being the default response since i've lived in apartments my entire life, both with my parents and on my own, and every other place has just gone "Hmm ok" and issued a new key maybe with a deposit/payment of $50-100. not re-keyed the whole place.

Also, my partners set of keys didn't include a mailbox key. They only issued us one mailbox key. She never tried any of the copies i made, because it was our routine that i'd just bring the mail in when i came home from work every day. We have no mailbox key that actually works, because of that.
posted by emptythought at 2:19 PM on May 30, 2014

For the mailbox specifically, what kind of lock is it? Most of the time, you can just drill out the old lock and replace it with a new one from a big box home improvement store, which will run you less than $20 on the high end. I've had to do that for various tenants when I was a super. Can you post a picture of the lock?

I also didn't keep mailbox keys as a super, for the exact reason that the landlord said it was illegal to have them on hand, etc (this was in Los Angeles). So I wouldn't assume they're lying about that, though they're probably unusual in being such sticklers.
posted by rue72 at 2:26 PM on May 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

The "re-key the building" "security" issue is absurd. Any person who has ever lived in the building could have copied that key and kept a duplicate. Do they "re-key" every single time someone moves out? Of course not.

I'd continue trying to contact the tenant's rights people.
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:27 PM on May 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

Agreed that the re-key the building is absurd, though I have no idea if it's legal. Let's say a nefarious person found your keys - what are they going to do, try the door to every house and apartment building in Seattle?

You could see if any of your local nonprofits are able to give advice about landlord / tenant issues.
posted by insectosaurus at 2:33 PM on May 30, 2014

I had a roommate who lost her keys while out drinking. It was definitely a safety issue because she couldn't remember enough about where she went and who she was with to assure me that she hadn't handed the keys to a stranger and given them directions.

If OP's keys were lost at work, presumably there are people there who know where OP lives.

If the building has had any bad experiences in the past with lost or spare keys falling into the hands of stalkers, etc. it would make sense for them to be sticklers.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 3:27 PM on May 30, 2014

So if it's medeco there are a couple of issues with just trying to finagle a key out of a locksmith. From my understanding, if they even have a medeco key machine they've likely signed a contract saying they won't duplicate keys for a non authorized person. My old job had filing cabinets of contracts and if I didn't know the person I had to look them up and their id. I've never known a lock smith to care about just a stamp, but their literally being paid extra to ensure that the keys are secure and are contractually obliged as well (in my experience).

That being said Medeco might be easier to duplicate than say a mul-t-lock. You may be able to buy a blank from a lock smith or specifically the lock smith your building uses. If you can get that you might be able to file the key down following your partners key pattern. If it's a secure medeco key the key to it is that the cuts are angled off of the axis unlike a normal key pattern. This will take some time and you may not be able to even get a blank in the first place.

So generally the advice about covering up the do not copy is solid or unnecessary but likely not in this case, sorry.
posted by Carillon at 3:33 PM on May 30, 2014

Also check out this followup from back in 2010 as a potential script to use.
posted by Carillon at 3:36 PM on May 30, 2014

Figure out what the brand of keys are, then google "[brand] key blanks". Medeco key blanks can be had for $2.50.

Then take them to your hardware store and have new ones cut.
posted by zug at 3:39 PM on May 30, 2014

You really do have to make sure it's the correct one though, there are security and non-security blanks and a number of different models, so make sure it's the right one if ordering online and your hardware store isn't likely to have the right machine to make those cuts. Also you may be SoL if they have a the locksmiths proprietary name on it (see this comment 6 down).
posted by Carillon at 3:42 PM on May 30, 2014

Response by poster: I contacted a locksmith friend of a coworker, who explained the deal with these keys to me. apparently the blanks and keyway are SPECIFIC to the one shop that services this building(his shop had a custom keyway+blank setup like this too, that he would install for people), and they're one of the higher end medeco locksets. Getting a replacement is impossible without going to that one shop, which will only do it with a card from the landlord+ID

So, duplicating the key without involving the landlord is impossible. The main issue here is the $500 thing, now.
posted by emptythought at 3:43 PM on May 30, 2014

So it's a general key, do you know your neighbors? Maybe have them ask for a duplicate and then pay them? That way it's not $500 bucks to rekey all the doors.
posted by Carillon at 3:53 PM on May 30, 2014

Response by poster: They only issue one key per lease signee per unit. I immediately asked for an extra key when i moved in, and got that answer. Apparently other people have tried as well. Same "I might as well give everyone a key" response.

Sorry if i'm kinda threadsitting here, but that seemed relevant.
posted by emptythought at 3:57 PM on May 30, 2014

Would you feel comfortable putting up a LOST sign at work, or asking around to see if you can find your key there? You could even offer a reward, seeing as the cost of a new key is so high.
posted by rue72 at 4:00 PM on May 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Call the City of Seattle Department of Planning and Development and ask them if this key replacement fee is legal. Call a lawyer who specializes in Washington State an/or Seattle rental law.
posted by Rob Rockets at 5:30 PM on May 30, 2014

Could you try 3D Printing a copy of your partner's key?
posted by alphanerd at 5:47 PM on May 30, 2014

They refuse to issue an extra key, and want to re-key the entire building as it's a "safety issue"(and had a wonderful "if i give you an extra key, i might as well not lock it at all!" rant) and bill it all to me, because "we wouldn't have to do it if you didn't lose it". They've already offhandedly told me an extra key costs them $13.

I can't find the Los Angeles ordinance right now, but the the San Francisco ordinance also only allows the landlord to charge you for actual costs and can only deny your request under certain circumstances. Follow Rob Rockets' advice on Monday morning. You may have to pay for a new key, but don't pay a penny more than you are required to.
posted by Room 641-A at 6:51 PM on May 30, 2014

Can you find a similar generic image on Google Images or elsewhere of which type of Medeco key you are referring to? I've made copies of keys before in hardware stores, and I'm pretty sure they haven't had trouble making a copy of this type of key before. The only difference I ever experienced was that they sometimes charged a few bucks more for those than simpler key blanks.
posted by This_Will_Be_Good at 7:05 PM on May 30, 2014

Assuming OP makes a copy their front door key, it's not going to say "REGISTERED KEY DO NOT COPY" on it. What happens at the end of their lease when they return their keys? Landlord is going to take $500 out of their security deposit because Landlord is going to assume OP still has the original front door key.

Their choices boil down to:
Sketchy Locksmith
Pay Landlord $500 for replacement key/rekeying doors
Check local rental laws to see if $500 fee is excessive
posted by Rob Rockets at 8:07 PM on May 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Honestly? I'd just lie to the landlord. Explain that your workplace is half-office, half-warehouse, say that you looked around again and your keys are in dinner weird crack under a bunch of stuff and that moving it would be a huge pain and require a bunch of people to spend a bunch of time and your boss won't let you. Borrow someone's keys and take a photo of them somewhere that looks hard to extract them from if you want to make it more convincing.
posted by matildatakesovertheworld at 9:35 PM on May 30, 2014

I'm in NYC, which is basically the wild west when it comes to stuff like this, but I was definitely able to walk into a Medco locksmith and have my keys replaced. They charged me a lot. $50 to make a new blank and then $20 per key, but that was less than $500.
posted by amandabee at 8:07 AM on May 31, 2014

If your landlord actually rekeys the build (you'll be able to tell because your partner will get a new key) then the charge seems reasonable assuming a small to medium size building and a few doors (main door, parking door, maybe a storage room or bike room that uses the same key) that require re-keying. That is 2-3 hours work for a locksmith plus cost of materials, new keys and your land lord's time distributing the keys. Actually you might be getting away cheap.

If your building has such a high security policy that they actually follow then even if you were 100% sure your key was never going to be recovered (you personally saw the key destroyed) your landlord can't take your word for it because as matildatakesovertheworld said people will just lie when so much money is involved.
posted by Mitheral at 10:06 AM on May 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Heh, so the reminder to follow up just sent me back to this thread.

The turn that this took was honestly ridiculous. If i could send myself a message back in time and explain it, i wouldn't believe myself. It turns out my neighbor found my keys less than an hour after i last remembered having them... on the shared balcony/deck on the top floor of the building right next to some chairs i had been sitting in. She turned them in right then.

This is where it gets weird.

So the manager, which she confessed to me when she confronted me while totally hammered drunk, was waiting for me to thank her for letting me in late at night and during the day a few times while i had no keys. She was holding on to the keys because she thought it was "so rude" i didn't(thank you for... doing your job? my family have been managers and letting locked out people in is just part of the job). The weird this is i did say thanks more than once. I think she expected a freaking gift or a letter or something? What?

But anyways, she had the keys the entire time. For weeks. She was just holding them hostage essentially, to make me sweat. She openly admitted that. The entire process carried through with scheduling the locksmith, getting the estimate, and everything right up until i'd actually have to cut them a check when ~mysteriously~ my keys showed up again right as i was about to pay.

So yea, now i know i have an insane manipulative sabotager manager who punishes people like a shitty parent. I would move, if the rent wasn't such a good deal.

She has, by the way, acted like that drunken yelling at me session never happened every time i've seen her since then and acted totally chipper and nice. There's no way she was that drunk that she didn't remember. It's some american psycho grade shit.

I feel like one of those guys where every girlfriend is a "crazy ex", or every boss is a "crazy asshole boss"... but i have seriously never had a landlord who wasn't completely ridiculous like this. And i spent the last year thinking i was finally free of that since the actual building owner is so nice.(although a stickler for the security rules).

At least i have all my keys back though. Some of them were going to be a huge pain to replace, and several work related ones i was simply not going to get issued a new one of since key issuing policies had changed and i was grandfathered.
posted by emptythought at 2:21 PM on June 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

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