People keep getting into my apartment building?
December 3, 2015 1:26 PM   Subscribe

We've had at least two instances of people who are not supposed to be in the apartment building being in the building since we moved in July. One in late October; one yesterday/today. I don't know what, if anything, I need to be doing right now, both from a perspective of "I like my apartment building being secure" and a mental health perspective. So many words inside because what do I do, oh god.

We moved into a building in the Mission on July 1st. Three units; two with 4 tenants and one with 3, so 11 people in total.

Sometime in August, one of the other units lost one of their sets of keys while taking out the trash; they didn't report it to the landlord. Someone found their set of keys and on 25 and 26 Oct used them to enter the building's garage and take some (mostly non-valuable) stuff. (Camping gear, bike parts, etc). My partner actually ran into the person while they were in the garage and managed to get the set of keys back. The landlord did not rekey the building, saying that our keys could not be duplicated. One of my housemates did some research and came to the conclusion that they could be copied, but at great expense and effort, so we didn't press it.

This morning I got a text from the unit right above us letting us know that 1) "it appears someone has moved into the water heater room on the roof" and 2) someone got in the building lobby yesterday afternoon (sometime around 5 or so). They also told the landlord and asked to have locks added to the apparently unlocked water heater room and the roof door. The landlord has not contacted us directly yet.

Related things:
There is construction next door on a 5-story building. I do see people in the construction at night; they've talked to me before. I also know that it's possible to get from the construction to our building; when we moved in, they had run extension cords from our porch (back of the building, 2nd floor).

The door to the building is supposed to automatically close, but occasionally doesn't. All three units have asked for it to be fixed, which is supposedly was... but it still doesn't always close. It's possible that earthquakes have made it finicky, I guess? People able to open the front door: tenants, the landlord, the maintenance people, and USPS.

We’ve been trying to have some maintenance done, with difficulty. Our oven has been broken for months; a curtain was supposed to be installed the day after move-in and still isn’t; it took a week to get someone to look at some bad wiring, ... . After the Oct 26 entry, the front door was supposed to have some opaque film put on so people couldn’t see in; that still hasn’t happened.

We have a parking spot in the garage; we have permission to use our spot as storage, since none of us own a car. We keep bikes locked (ulocks) to a bike rack, though it’s not secured to the ground. We also store some camping gear, bike parts, etc in some bins. We have renter's insurance, which covers replacement cost of the bikes. It isn't possible to store the bikes in the apartment itself; there is no room for them.

My partner and one of our housemates used to live in the Castro; I and the last housemate came from Pennsylvania. My partner’s old apartment definitely had some weirdness to it (unresponsive landlord, unfinished unit, non-tenants in the unfinished unit; A month after he moved out, the bank foreclosed on the apartment). My old place in Pennsylvania was entirely fine and we never had anything like this happen. We’re loathe to move; we like the area a lot, we all work nearby, there is a half year on the lease, and (given how hard apartment searching was) leaving here probably means leaving SF.

I have some mental health issues (depression, anxiety, trauma, autism-spectrum); in addition, the last few months have been unusually stressful (apartment hunting & moving; transatlantic wedding; flu; two deaths in the family Oct 27 and Dec 2). I am newly seeing a therapist (3 times so far; I have a standing Sunday appointment.)

What do we need to be demanding that the landlord do? Or is this just the price of living in this part of SF?
What can I do / what do I need to do for my own mental health?
posted by you could feel the sky to Home & Garden (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Speak to the local tenants' union; they will advise you of your options and rights. If you're concerned about squatters on the roof, call the police non-emergency line and report them.
posted by blnkfrnk at 1:30 PM on December 3, 2015

Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco or San Francisco Tenants' Union might be able to help.
posted by Etrigan at 1:32 PM on December 3, 2015 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I would also definitely talk to someone at the construction site (the builders/developers, not the squatters). They could/should be concerned about unauthorized access to the site for both personal loss (equipment and materials) and general liability - their builders risk policy should require them to keep the site secure, and i think (IANAL) they could be held liable (you'd at least have a claim) if you could prove that someone gained access to your building as a result of their inability to keep the construction site secure.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 1:37 PM on December 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

If I were you, I would complain and insist they do something. My sister had an issue at her apartment where one of the doors was supposed to shut on its own, but would get stuck and not close all the way sometimes. One morning, she woke up and found that someone attempted to remove the deadbolt on her door or kick their way in from the outside while she was sleeping. The screws were all loose on the inside and the lock was jiggly, so it appears someone was trying to break in but maybe got scared off or gave up before they finished. She put up a note on the door that doesn't close asking people to pull the door closed behind them, and the landlord eventually fixed the hinges so the door slammed shut. If you're seeing random people drift into your building, I'd complain. It's a security issue. And I'd say the odds of something bad happening are low, but the fact is people have already come in and taken stuff, even though it wasn't valuable. Your landlord needs to address this. Otherwise, maybe this is grounds to be let out of your lease early.
posted by AppleTurnover at 1:37 PM on December 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

Yup, San Francisco Tenants Union is the exact right place. They can help you press these issues with the landlord.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:39 PM on December 3, 2015

Very occasional stranger in the lobby? Unfortunate reality of living in an apartment building in a busy neighborhood.

Stranger living on the roof? Call the cops!!!
posted by miyabo at 1:46 PM on December 3, 2015 [23 favorites]

I'm going to help you with this problem.

- Call the police about the person living illegally in the building.

- Get a copy of the police report from the incident.

- Send copies of the police report certified and return receipt with a polite demand letter requesting specific security upgrades and repairs to both your landlord and the owner of the property next door.

- Enjoy the improved security in your building. You might harm your relationship with your landlord a bit, but I don't think you have a choice at this point.
posted by jbenben at 1:54 PM on December 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: This sounds really stressful. I think taking action might help your mental health, as scary as it can be to get assertive with a crappy landlord. Rather than continuing to feel (I'm guessing here) helpless and anxious and in that anxious-don't-know-what-to-do, feeling-bad-for-not-doing-anything cycle... bust out of it! You don't have to put up with this crap, no matter what neighborhood, etc. You deserve a safe, secure dwelling with a working oven!

Call the non-emergency police line about the people squatting on your roof. There is no reason you would need to go through your landlord first for that. Definitely let your landlord know about it in writing if the upstairs neighbors haven't done so already, just because it's a polite thing to do.

Talk to the Tenants Union and the construction people next door, etc. Then you won't have to wonder what they're going to say or worry about it, you'll know and can move forward.

Follow whatever advice the tenants' union gives you.

Include your requests for maintenance in a letter (maybe number all the items?) and consider sending it certified return receipt. You don't have to justify or explain why you need a working stove, or the curtain installed. It is okay to reference previous requests to have these things fixed if you feel like it, though that might sound fighty on paper.

Is your landlord the owner or a rental management company? If it's the latter, and you've gone through all these steps and you're still not getting a response, you could try to figure out contact information for whoever actually owns the building and complain to them both.

Can your partner help out with any of these tasks if they're too much for you to handle on your own? How about your housemate? Can you divide and conquer? Maybe approach this as Team Apartment--everyone wants to stay in this place, but some things have to happen in order to make that feasible. I believe you can do it together.
posted by purple_bird at 3:27 PM on December 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

The landlord's opinion of whether or not the keys can be duplicated is likely incorrect, as is the "at great expense". Unless it is an unusual key of some sort, any competent locksmith can likely do it for less than $5.

It is a common misconception that having "DO NOT DUPLICATE" stamped on the key provides some form of magic protection against duplication. It does not. Locksmiths duplicate such keys all the time, and only some of them take some reasonable steps to verify that the customer is legitimately allowed to duplicate the key. I can easily shop around a few hardware stores until I find some teenage clerk who doesn't notice or care and cuts the key, though I can also just go to the local locksmith where I've had hundreds of keys cut over the years, and my guess is that they won't even bat an eye.
posted by jgreco at 4:08 PM on December 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: I talked to the upstairs neighbor; they are going to call the non-emergency line when they get home to report the person on the roof. My partner when they come home today is going to get the contact information for the next-door construction. (He also called about the oven earlier today, and is going to call again tomorrow, probably.) I'll talk to my partner tonight and see if one of us can be up for calling the tenant's union tomorrow.

As a follow-up question, since I need to not let my guilt* prevent me from doing things: if anyone knows of a good organization in the bay area doing things for [making housing affordable, housing-first, making it suck less to be homeless, ...] that could use some donations, that would help to know.

thanks, everyone!
posted by you could feel the sky at 5:17 PM on December 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

At the Crossroads works with homeless youth in your neighborhood.
posted by mollymayhem at 5:55 PM on December 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

It is a common misconception that having "DO NOT DUPLICATE" stamped on the key provides some form of magic protection against duplication. It does not.

It's not just locksmiths. My local Orchard Hardware has a self serve robotic key duplicator. Robot don't care about markings.
posted by zippy at 1:19 AM on December 4, 2015

Feel free to call your landlord, but it is better (always) to write to your landlord. That way, when you say "On December 4, I asked for the third time to fix the non-functioning oven in our apartment" you will actually have the documents to show when you asked the first time, and the second time.

Your requests are an exhibit for a future legal case; phone records are less useful, because they don't document what was talked about, just that there was communication. Put it in writing!
posted by China Grover at 9:57 AM on December 4, 2015

The landlord's opinion of whether or not the keys can be duplicated is likely incorrect, as is the "at great expense". Unless it is an unusual key of some sort, any competent locksmith can likely do it for less than $5.

This isn't always true. There ARE restricted blank keys that are almost impossible to have copied, which pair with pretty high security locks. I've seen even higher security ones since then(the ones where the keys have the little ball bearing embedded in them, etc)

In my building now, and previous buildings, the issues with weirdos getting in wasn't them having keys. It was that they'd either buzz everyone until someone just pushed unlock without even checking and let them in, or that one of the doors wasn't firmly snapping shut 100% of the time and they'd just try handles and get in. Or tailgating people in the doors(especially legitimate guests who wouldn't know any better).

We’ve been trying to have some maintenance done, with difficulty. Our oven has been broken for months; a curtain was supposed to be installed the day after move-in and still isn’t; it took a week to get someone to look at some bad wiring, ... . After the Oct 26 entry, the front door was supposed to have some opaque film put on so people couldn’t see in; that still hasn’t happened.

I think you need to make peace with the fact that this landlord is sort an absentee landlord, or even a mild slumlord. Oven broken for months? That's illegal here. I'm not very familiar with SF tenant law, but it seems to generally be stricter than most places. And here there's a list of things like the toilet, fridge, and heat that must work or be repaired within 24 hours... and the oven/stove is on that.

Every time i've lived somewhere that basic things like this wouldn't get dealt with, they weren't really going to make more than a halfassed stompy child whose mom is making them do the chore response that doesn't really solve the problem.

I lived in an apartment building like this for over a year where just nothing would get fixed and there were constant weirdos in the building and made peace with it because it was cheap as hell... until, yea, someone tried to kick my fucking door in and then DID after i moved out.

If this never gets fixed, even if you apply some pressure on the landlord via the city/tenants union/legally/etc, would you stay? Start thinking about that one, in my opinion.
posted by emptythought at 12:10 PM on December 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: The tenants above us on Thursday made a police report, as they were the ones that found out about the rooftop folks. As of this morning, locks were added to the rooftop doors, the glass in the entry door has been frosted, and the broken buzzer got fixed (and less-relatedly, someone is coming Monday to fix the stove, and the water temperature which coincidentally got all screwed up when someone moved into the water-heater room is also fixed...).

I'm a little put-out that the landlord never actually contacted anyone in the building to say "There's people with access to the roof who shouldn't!" until this morning when all the repairs were made, but it got done.
posted by you could feel the sky at 1:40 AM on December 9, 2015

Way to go!!
posted by purple_bird at 4:14 PM on December 10, 2015

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