So there's this person who likes to hang out in my basement....
January 20, 2015 12:16 PM   Subscribe

One of our neighbors in our co-op has given a friend of theirs the keys to our basement and now this friend comes and goes as if she lives here. How do I make this stop?

I live in a co-op building in New York.

One of our shareholders - I'll call them The Long Family - offered up storage space in our shared basement to a friend of theirs. They also gave this friend a key to our basement to allow her unfettered access to her things. They did this without telling anybody.

Each of the units in our small building is allotted a roughly 100 sqft parcel of basement storage space. There are no lockers or anything like that; it's just floor space that is delineated in each shareholder's lease.

The friend, whom I'll call Shanti, has taken now to hanging out in our basement many mornings, locking her bike on our fence all day, and keying in to the basement to access her belongings at all hours. I'm primarily a stay at home parent who works part-time and I have seen this woman around our building now no fewer than twenty times over the past several months.

About four months back, I asked her who she was and who she knew in the building because I'd noticed her bike locked to our fence several times. Our co-op discourages this because it's hard on the fence and creates a traffic jam by the front door. She told me her name and that she was friends with The Longs. She then started to chat up my toddler son, telling him how beautiful he is and how "blessed" I am, and so forth. I told her thanks and asked her to find somewhere else to park her bike. She said she would. She did not.

I then noticed her coming up the basement steps one morning. I assumed she must be doing some sort of work for or with The Longs, and figured this was a temporary thing. It filed it away in The Hmmm File.

About a week later, I came downstairs with my toddler to fetch his tricycle out of the basement. There was Shanti, talking on her cell phone, right next to my storage space. She'd actually called out the name of ANOTHER of my neighbors when I keyed into the basement, as if she was expecting that neighbor. This was when I started to get weirded out by her and irritated.

About a month ago, the rest of the building was alerted to the extent of this woman's presence when another of our neighbors decided to use some of their own storage space which had not been previously in use. They came down to the basement to find half of their unit taken up by this woman's belongings. These neighbors sent out a building-wide e-mail to alert everybody that they'd found this stuff and that they had moved it out of their unit and into the center of the floor. This e-mail was apparently forwarded to Shanti by The Long Family because, incredibly, Shanti then sent everyone on our building-wide e-mail list an e-mail saying, effectively, "Hi, Guys! I'm hanging out in your basement but will move my stuff into The Long Family storage space. By the way, did anybody see a bag of expensive teas when they moved all my stuff to the center of the room? They were really expensive and I'd like to get them back. Love and Light, Shanti."

My husband responded that he didn't know who she was but he was not cool with people who aren't shareholders having keys to our common areas. The Long Family then sent an e-mail to my husband and the neighbors whose unit Shanti had taken over, saying that they'd get the keys back from Shanti immediately.

Well, they didn't. I've seen her no fewer than four times since this all happened and told her myself that she was not supposed to have access to our basement any longer and to stop coming and going as though she is a shareholder in this building. She placated me and said she wouldn't.

Just this morning, her bike was again parked on our front fence around 9 and still there around 1030, when I happened to see her emerging from the basement, coffee in hand, after clearly hanging out amidst hers, ours and everyone else's belongings for a little while.

This irritates me, clearly. I feel that The Long Family is acting in supremely bad faith and that this woman is clearly a bullshit artist who is taking this as far as she can. It's not so much that I begrudge her space for her things; my neighbors can share their space with someone else if they want to. The issue is, of course, allowing somebody with no financial stake in the building to hang out in our basement as if it were her home, around everyone's private things. It goes without saying that this is unacceptable.


1. How do I approach this with The Longs?

- We are not friends and, truthfully, I feel the wife does not particularly care for me. I don't like her much, either, but she's more popular amongst the other shareholders. She's more involved in co-op business than I am, and charming. I'm a person who was raised in a family with boundary issues, and this is why I am standoffish and do not readily invite involvement. I come by this honestly, and recognize that this is why this situation is so triggering for me. That's why a script would be good, and why I'm having difficulty coming up with one that isn't pissy and over-emotional.

2. There's a shareholders meeting in a week. Do I bring this up at then? I'd rather talk with her privately beforehand, if so, but even still would it seem too much like calling them out publicly if I sought to put down in the co-op by laws that non-residents other than the cleaning guy not be given common areas keys?

3. Would it be ridiculous to call the police the next time I see this woman? I don't want things to go that far but I feel strongly that this situation is a slippery slope.

TIA for your counsel.
posted by TryTheTilapia to Home & Garden (31 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: You have brought it up with both Shanti and the Long family (via asking her to move her bike and via the email from your husband). They've had their opportunity and chosen not to take it. You don't need to try any harder, it's time to escalate. I would DEFINITELY bring it up at the shareholders meeting and it seems super rational to seek to put it down in the co-op bylaws (perhaps with a procedure for granting an exemption when that makes sense). It would surprise me if it wasn't already in there, actually, as that seems like a super obvious common sense thing about common areas.
posted by brainmouse at 12:25 PM on January 20, 2015 [24 favorites]

1 - Don't. You have brought it up already and they have no interest in doing it.
2 - This is the right time to bring it up. If you have a board or committee, you should let them know in advance.
posted by jeather at 12:27 PM on January 20, 2015 [6 favorites]

If the Longs said they'd get the keys back but they haven't yet, then change the locks. Email the shareholders and say the locks need to be changed to fix this problem. The Longs can help Shanti move her stuff out.
posted by phunniemee at 12:30 PM on January 20, 2015 [11 favorites]

Bring it up at the meeting.

Keep it impersonal and forward looking--no one is a bad person, we're not here to say what anyone did wrong, but it is time to correct the situation.

It sounds like The Longs might even be happy with this outcome, if their first response was a promise to get the keys back already. "Peace and Light" can be hard to argue with, so this may be easier for them if they can say "hey, look, sorry, this is out of our hands, Shanti."

Don't think of it as wanting Shanti gone. Think of it as wanting a clear policy that shareholders shouldn't be making duplicate keys for non-residents, no one should ever put anything in anyone else's storage space ever, no bikes on the fence and the common areas are not for loitering in. Period.

It sounds like you have a keycode, which makes everything easier. The Longs can tell Shanti that the building has made this decision and the keycode will be changing in 7 days. Her things need to be moved out by then or she'll have to coordinate with The Longs for access.
posted by amandabee at 12:32 PM on January 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

When you bring it up at the shareholder's meeting, with advance notice as jeather mentions, make sure to make it clear that the Long family has given this outsider her own keys (and therefore access to the building, as well as free access to everyone's property), as well as giving this same outsider every resident's private email addresses. Make notes ahead of time so you can bolster your case with details about how long this has been going on, how often this non-resident is in the basement, and perhaps photos of the bike blocking the entrance.

And yeah, get those locks changed, asap.
posted by easily confused at 12:32 PM on January 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: PS. You can let The Longs know that you'd like to discuss this at the shareholder meeting so they aren't blindsided, even if it ought to be obvious to them that this is coming. But you don't need to discuss this with them. You can just say "It seems that Shanti is still here, so I'd like to make sure we have a chance to discuss use of the storage room at the meeting next week."
posted by amandabee at 12:33 PM on January 20, 2015 [7 favorites]

Change the locks. Make sure the keys are the type that say right on their face: "do not duplicate this key."

Bring keys to the next meeting.
posted by Flood at 12:34 PM on January 20, 2015

Best answer: The Long Family then sent an e-mail to my husband and the neighbors whose unit Shanti had taken over, saying that they'd get the keys back from Shanti immediately.

I would email them and the other neighbors again and say something like "I'm not sure what happened because Shanti seems to still be in and out of the common area--I've seen her Saturday, Sunday, and Tuesday. I know everyone is busy this time of year and that you might not have realized she still has access to the space. If getting the key from her won't work, then it seems like the kind of security issue that would necessitate changing the locks. Let us know if that is the case. Thanks!"

This gives them an out if she's truly a leech who they can't get to stop doing this. It also gives the other neighbors a heads-up that she's still in there. Finally, at the co-op board meeting you can say that there has been a security issue with the basement and you think that changing the locks is needed. Avoid naming them specifically--being general should help you steer clear of the political issues here--everyone will know it's them.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 12:38 PM on January 20, 2015 [36 favorites]

I agree with everything everyone's said so far, just wanted to address your #3 (calling the police):

Calling the police would be a bit much, and likely wouldn't get you anywhere. She has explicit permission from the Long family to be there, as well as her own set of keys, so she's not exactly trespassing or anything.

For the stakeholders meeting:
Start documenting every time you see Shanti coming and going, every time you see her bike on your fence, every time you run into her. Don't include emotional arguments or conversations, just a simple, clinical list, like "Jan. 20th, 10PM, Shanti entered building. Jan. 21st, 9AM, Shanti's bike locked to front fence. Jan. 21st, 9:30AM, encountered Shanti talking on her cellphone in the basement." Bring that to the meeting to reinforce your point.

Print out the emails from the Longs saying they would get the keys back, as well as the email from Shanti saying she's "hanging out" in the basement -- not "storing her stuff temporarily," but "hanging out." That sounds very suspicious to me that she worded it that way.

Is Shanti, by any chance, actually living in the basement? You may want to go down in the middle of the night (3AM, maybe?) to check sometime.
posted by erst at 12:38 PM on January 20, 2015 [15 favorites]

Ok, no, definitely do not take it upon yourself to have the locks changed without the express permission/agreement of the coop board. Bring it up at the shareholder's meeting as everyone else has suggested.
posted by poffin boffin at 12:38 PM on January 20, 2015 [17 favorites]

1. and 2. have been addressed; as to 3., some have addressed it, but to address it in another way: this is a civil matter, not a criminal matter. The police can do nothing about that.
posted by resurrexit at 12:52 PM on January 20, 2015

This looks like a trespassing issue to me and I would look up the relevant laws.
posted by brujita at 1:05 PM on January 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

Is this a self-managed coop, or is there a professional management company? If there is a management company being used, call the building manager and make him/her aware of this so they will bring it up to the board, or if they have the authority, to order the super to change the locks to prevent this person from entering. If it's a self managed building, well I don't think you have any choice other than to make a stink at the board meeting.
posted by Calloused_Foot at 1:53 PM on January 20, 2015 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice, all.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 2:49 PM on January 20, 2015

Change the locks. Make sure the keys are the type that say right on their face: "do not duplicate this key."

FYI keys of this type can be made that can not be duplicated anywhere. My building uses them. You pay extra fees, and get a lock with a keyway that only that one lock shop can sell, and a set number of keys. Only that locksmith can make more keys, and only with a signed order from the building org or whatever.

This setup costs around, or at least, a thousand bucks. My building is INCREDIBLY secure though, and there's been since i lived there(for years!) one issue of someone who probably shouldn't be there being there, and they had gotten ahold of a tenants keys.

Note that this is only for entrance and common area doors, and that the units themselves have normal locks because who cares what people do with their own stuff.

It's not without its downsides(hassle if you lose a key, mainly), but it might be something to look in to here. Medeco is the one i know of who makes that system, but the locksmith i talked with said he had contracts with other manufacturers for similar high security "custom" locks for co-ops/apartments/condo complexes/offices/etc.

I see the value in no one being able to make additional common area keys without going through official procedures. Make some sort of form and fast-track to get new keys if you lose them, but make that person liable for replacing ALL the keys and rekeying the system if they're found to have given a key to anyone who isn't a resident/shareholder.

I'd definitely bring this up at the meeting.
posted by emptythought at 2:49 PM on January 20, 2015 [7 favorites]

The solution btw isn't necessarily to stamp "do not duplicate", that gets ignored. If in the future you want to prevent unauthorized duplication you need to get a higher-end system where the you can't even find a blank that would work and the locksmith required ID to get a key cut. Look into restricted or patented keys for the building to prevent such duplication in the future.
posted by Carillon at 2:52 PM on January 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

Just coming in to echo that this is the exact sort of thing that you should bring up at your shareholders meeting.

I'm sorry you've had to deal with this. For what it's worth, I think that your frustration is COMPLETELY reasonable.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 3:05 PM on January 20, 2015 [5 favorites]

Nthing bringing it up at the shareholder's meeting. And also it wouldn't hurt to talk to some of the other residents pre-meeting to get their take on the "Shanti Situation". Avoid temptation to slander the Longs (even though yeah, it seems like they're the ones who created the 'situation') - I'm just saying it might be good to go into the meeting knowing that other people are behind you.
posted by doctor tough love at 3:17 PM on January 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

Definitely bring it up at the shareholder's meeting. It doesn't seem remotely safe to have this person essentially living in the basement -- not only is there the risk of theft, either by her or someone she might bring in with her, but what if (God forbid) there was a fire, and since she's not actually a tenant in the building, no one knew to check the basement for her?
posted by sarcasticah at 4:00 PM on January 20, 2015

To my knowledge any mechanical key can be duplicated. You would need either a magnetic or electronic key system to prevent duplication. i.e. The lock system for the entire building would need to be changed.
posted by vapidave at 4:21 PM on January 20, 2015

vapidave, to duplicate one of the keys we are talking about, you'd either need authorization, or you'd have to start by making the key blank, then working out the pattern. Second just isn't going to happen. The system being discussed is the one used by schools, and commercial institutions.

We had a similar situation at my church.. people handing out duplicate keys to other people, who then could make their own duplicates, etc.
We looked at electronic access systems - card swipe types, VERY expensive.

We ended up going with the key system mentioned above - there is only one locksmith in town that can get the blanks, and the person in charge of property has to get the key - they have to show ID at the locksmiths and sign for the duplicate.

The other great benefit - besides the end of key proliferation - is that these systems can be generated in a master-submaster format -i.e., I had the grandmaster, which would open any door on the property. The Sunday school teachers had a key that only allowed access to the Sunday School building. The people that needed into the fellowship hall to make coffee had a key that allowed them in that space only, etc etc.
posted by rudd135 at 4:47 PM on January 20, 2015

She has explicit permission from the Long family to be there, as well as her own set of keys, so she's not exactly trespassing or anything.

Legally, I imagine the Longs can give permission for entry to their own premises but do not have the right to speak for the entire co-op for the common areas. Possessing the keys does not constitute proof of right of entry; if called for a trespass report the police would first establish if she legally lived at the address or was in the company of someone residing at the address.

Personally, I would call the police now as knowing she is in the building on an on-going basis means the residents may have liability (and thus denied insurance) if she damages anything or injures herself while on the premises.
posted by saucysault at 8:54 PM on January 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

The proprietary lease and the co-op's bylaws have hardly been mentioned in this thread. You won't know your rights and duties as a resident until you read them..
posted by JimN2TAW at 9:40 PM on January 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

By all means, bring it up at the meeting, but also, why not just contact the board? In my NYC co-op an email to the President or VP of the board would see the matter sorted immediately.
posted by mlis at 10:27 PM on January 20, 2015

Response by poster: Thanks again.

Just as a data point for future use of this thread, this is a small Brooklyn co-op, not an exclusive Manhattan address.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 4:15 AM on January 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Regarding key duplicatability: the "DO NOT DUPLICATE" imprints are meaningless. I used to go to chain hardware stores --- not seedy weird places but perfectly respectable businesses --- and give them keys with that imprint, which they would cheerfully copy onto new blanks which also said "DO NOT DUPLICATE".

Medeco or other high-security keyways are harder to duplicate: Medeco maintains a pretty close vetting process for the businesses they provide their blanks and milling machines to, so there's a higher standard and a generally reduced ease there, but it probably wouldn't be too hard even to convince one of those businesses to duplicate a Medeco. Also, Medecos are obscenely expensive, last I checked, so the return-on-investment for the co-op is probably less than a simpler, lower-tech solution with keys you don't distribute too freely.
posted by jackbishop at 8:25 AM on January 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

jackbishop: Regarding key duplicatability: the "DO NOT DUPLICATE" imprints are meaningless. I used to go to chain hardware stores --- not seedy weird places but perfectly respectable businesses --- and give them keys with that imprint, which they would cheerfully copy onto new blanks which also said "DO NOT DUPLICATE".
Ditto. I even went with a backstory prepared, which sadly went unneeded. At Home Depot.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:58 AM on January 21, 2015

In my NYC co-op an email to the President or VP of the board would see the matter sorted immediately.

This may be one of those small, self managed coops - it might be a situation where unless it's an immediate danger, the board might just not deal with things until meetings because there isn't a management company to deal with the day-to-day/lend support (ie there might not even be a full time super, or a super period).
posted by Calloused_Foot at 12:20 PM on January 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

As 3D printing becomes more accessible, it will become easier and easier to copy today's "high-security" physical keys.
posted by grouse at 6:48 PM on January 21, 2015

Response by poster: To follow-up, in case anyone checks back in or if someone references this thread in the future:

I decided to try one last time to communicate with The Long Family about this.

So, I e-mailed Mrs. Long and told her I'd seen Shanti yesterday coming out of the basement, and framed it so that it took into consideration the possibility that Shanti had taken advantage of The Long Family's good will, and that they were having difficulty getting her to leave.

Mrs. Long e-mailed back within an hour, saying she took full responsibility for the situation and that she had personally gotten the keys back from Shanti yesterday, and that Shanti's belongings were now completely out of the building. She did take a few minutes to unnecessarily educate me about the rules surrounding bikes being chained to our fence but I figured this whole thing was probably pretty mortifying for The Longs, and she needed something to salve her wounded pride. So be it.

I e-mailed the Board President, too, and he invited me in for a chat about my concerns. He said the Board was well aware of the Shanti situation, and had met privately to discuss options. Apparently, there is a law in NYS that allows for people who are not shareholders in a co-op to still claim legal residence in the building provided they can establish their relationship to a shareholder, so they were handcuffed to legally "kick out" Shanti or call the cops on her for trespassing. Apparently, The Longs had allowed Shanti to stay in their apartment for a week while they were out of town a year ago and she'd taken that as an open invitation to slowly creep, glacier-like, into this situation. Good to know about that little loophole there. Oh, and there will be time allotted to discuss the spirit of the rules surrounding keys being given out to non-residents, and not just the letter thereof.

Anyway, so it's all going to be discussed in general terms on Sunday so as to avoid calling out the Longs, and it looks as though, for now, Shanti can spread Love and Light in somebody else's basement.

Thanks for the info and advice.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 10:16 AM on January 22, 2015 [8 favorites]

Congrats on handling it so smoothly --- and you're right, letting Mrs. Long salve her pride will be worth it long-term. But continue to keep copies of all your notes and emails!

One thing though: although Mrs. Long said Shanti handed back the keys, no-one knows for sure whether or not Shanti made copies first; so keep an eye open, in case someone needs to call the cops about a, ahem, future 'trespasser' (cough cough Shanti cough). It might still be worth considering rekeying the building's outer doors, which really ought to be done now and then anyway, Shanti or no Shanti.
posted by easily confused at 1:31 PM on January 25, 2015

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