Portable door lock that works from the outside as well as inside
January 22, 2023 3:02 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for a secure portable door lock for my bedroom door that works from the outside as well as the inside so I can lock it when I'm out.

I live in a apartment that I do not own. I am a tenant and I do not live alone. I would like to lock my bedroom door when I'm out to prevent the others/their visitors from getting into my bedroom and getting into my things. Bonus if it works from the inside as well.

Since I don't own the apartment, I'm not able to do anything to the door like hammer in nails etc. The bedroom door does have a built-in lock but the apartment owners have copies of the key so I don't trust it.

I've been looking at hotel locks but most of them seem to work only from the inside and I need to lock the door from the outside.

I would like to move but I can't afford it for financial reasons. I don't live in the US so I might not be able to get some brands of locks.
posted by whitelotus to Home & Garden (38 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Forgot to say that the handle is a lever so devices designed for doorknobs don't work and the door in question opens inwards.
posted by whitelotus at 3:22 AM on January 22, 2023

Can you buy a replacement locking doorknob of the same type, but with a different key set? Replacing a doorknob is a bit fiddly but not terribly difficult and doesn't usually require any tools more specialized than a screwdriver. (At least not for the sorts of hardware we have here in the US.) And replacing a knob is not as "invasive" a modification as driving nails into walls and such.
posted by Johnny Assay at 4:58 AM on January 22, 2023 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Johnny Assay: The apartment owners will flip out if I replace the lock. I am not even allowed to hang anything on the walls because they claim it would damage the paint job.
posted by whitelotus at 5:04 AM on January 22, 2023

I think the point of replacing the lock is that it will not damage the door, and you should be able to get a doorknob set that looks pretty much exactly the same as the existing one unless it’s really exotic.

Is the concern that you wouldn’t be able to install the lock without them noticing?
posted by jeoc at 5:17 AM on January 22, 2023

Response by poster: Due to the unique design, anyone will definitely notice if it's changed. All the bedroom doors in this apartment have the same kind of old obsolete locks and identical replacements are not commercially available.
posted by whitelotus at 5:34 AM on January 22, 2023

Response by poster: Also, due to the design/structure of this particular lock, changing it would involve doing major stuff to the door.
posted by whitelotus at 5:51 AM on January 22, 2023

I am not aware of a lock that would work in your circumstances. Have you considered getting a lockable box to store your personal items in your room? It would be quite difficult to fiddle with that without you noticing on your return. It would also be quite difficult to come up with an excuse why they would need to access a movable locked box e.g. you can just move it out of the way to get access to a radiator for maintenance (or whatever). They sell lockable storage and tool boxes and safes at all DIY stores and on Amazon. I have no idea what you‘d consider sensitive (beyond not wanting people in your space in general) but for me the box wouldn’t need to be very big. I would look to store my data carrying electronics (small laptop/tablet), my important personal documents like passport and birth certificate, any analog journal, sex toys and valuables if I had any. I have all my financial information digital at this point.
posted by koahiatamadl at 6:04 AM on January 22, 2023 [4 favorites]

Since your door already has a lock and you're worried specifically about the apartment owners using their key to come in, how about setting up a camera? The hotel lock while you're home, the camera while you're not.

Ultimately, locks only keep honest thieves out. An apartment owner who would transgress the tenant agreement to come search around your room in your absence isn't going to be deterred by a lock. Set up a nanny cam and spy on their ass. If it happens, you'll have receipts.
posted by phunniemee at 6:07 AM on January 22, 2023 [18 favorites]

Would a deterrent in the form of an alarm work for this purpose? I’m thinking of something that would make a noise and also notify you if someone came in, perhaps with video.
posted by needs more cowbell at 6:09 AM on January 22, 2023

Any photos of the latch, lock, mechanism and/or door would help you get more tailored advice!
posted by thejoshu at 6:09 AM on January 22, 2023 [2 favorites]

Try the X-Lock.

Are the other people living in the apartment the owners or leaseholders? Do you have any sense of how they’re likely to react if you do something like this? Do you have any reason to suspect that anyone is going into your room and/or going through your stuff when you’re away, or is this more a generalized concern that they could do so?

ETA: Some leases require that management/ownership have keys to the apartment, which presumably would include all the rooms in the apartment.
posted by slkinsey at 6:13 AM on January 22, 2023

Response by poster: I live with the owners so it's very hard to carry out any kind of modifications without getting caught. I went out once briefly lately. I left the router in my room switched on because I was going to be away for just a short time and when I returned, it was off.

Owner A (who is retired and the only person home all day as the other owner was at work) swore blind that he had not gone into my room ("Why would I go into your room!?") but I'm pretty sure it was on when I left so I don't see how it could have switched off by itself. The owners are kind of obsessed about the electricity bill so I suspect he went into my room, and switched off the router when he saw it was on since he saw I wasn't around.

Also, they have rowdy visitors over and I have no confidence that these people would not invade my bedroom when I'm not present even if the door is closed.
posted by whitelotus at 6:32 AM on January 22, 2023

Response by poster: slkinsey, thanks for the recommendation but I'm not sure if this X-lock will work because there's not much of a gap under the door, less than 4mm.
posted by whitelotus at 6:50 AM on January 22, 2023

I think you need two things, one while you are in, one for when you are gone. I have no experience with either of these, so caveat emptor and all that.

Outside: https://smile.amazon.com/Disable-Doorknob-Prevents-Operating-Password/dp/B09XXBG7CP

Inside: https://smile.amazon.com/Rishon-Enterprises-Inc-Apartment-Essentials/dp/B00186URTY/
posted by donpardo at 6:57 AM on January 22, 2023

Response by poster: donpardo: It's a mortise lock with a lever handle so I cannot use your round doorknob disable suggestion.
posted by whitelotus at 7:06 AM on January 22, 2023

Remove the lock, take it to a locksmith and get it re-keyed.

I have a hard time even coming up with something that meets your restrictions. All solutions involve having a gap around the door on the sides, top, bottom that could be used to bind the door shut with a locking mechanism that only you can open.

Given the right type of door I can lock somebody in their room with a few pennies by binding the door shut hard enough that they can't get out.

You if anything need more of an alarm system that counts door open/close cycles to you know that the owners of the home you live in have actually been in your room so you can possibly call them out on invading your room.

Good luck, you need at least a few millimeters of space around your door to do what you want.
posted by zengargoyle at 7:27 AM on January 22, 2023

Response by poster: zengargoyle: Owner A is retired and thus practically home all day. He seldom goes out and when he does, he's not out for long. It's very hard for me to have enough time to remove the lock and have work done without him noticing.
posted by whitelotus at 7:32 AM on January 22, 2023

If you can't attach things to surfaces, then you can't prevent the lock from being turned.

You should be willing to leave this situation, so you should be willing to secure your room even if it causes a confrontation. In that case, install a simple clasp and use a padlock.
posted by flimflam at 7:49 AM on January 22, 2023 [3 favorites]

Even if you do manage a solution for locking the door, that doesn’t solve your problem at all, because the first time they try your door and can’t get in, they will know you added some kind of lock against their wishes and they will freak out. If you live with people who say you have no right to a locked door, just secretly installing one anyway won’t change anything. They will figure out a way to violate your privacy regardless, possibly by calling a locksmith to unlock the “inexplicably” locked door in their house and then trying to charge you for it. I would recommend moving somewhere with roommates who are not insane.
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:25 AM on January 22, 2023 [31 favorites]

Best answer: Agreeing with everyone else, and especially showbiz_liz, that the problem as posed can't be solved, sorry.

But I think using the existing lock is going to go a long way towards getting you what you want. There are three categories of people to consider:

1. Your landlords. They have a key to your room and will object if you modify the door in any way. You can't keep them out if they really want to go in, but you can signal that you do not want them to enter your room by locking it. You can also use a camera to find out if they're going into your room in your absence, which might give you peace of mind.

2. Other people who live in the house, if any. They do not have a key to your room. Using the existing lock will keep them out.

3. Visitors. They also do not have a key to your room, and while there are certainly people who think it's OK to open any unlocked door in a house they're visiting, I would hope that pretty much anyone would see it as a step too far to go and ask the homeowners for the key to a locked door. Locked doors are locked for a reason. Using the existing lock should keep them out.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 8:48 AM on January 22, 2023 [6 favorites]

Here are two possible solutions

Knob cover for lever handles

Portable lock that works for both inward and outward opening doors, so in theory you could use it while in the room and when out.
posted by CleverClover at 8:54 AM on January 22, 2023

I think showbiz liz is right, installing anything will not solve the problem and if they find out there will be trouble.
That said, i personally would worry more about someone entering when i am in the room. there are portable travel locks, intended for use in Hotels, to use when you are inside.. I don't know the brand linked to. But if you Google portable travel lock there are many suggestions for prdocts that can be installed without leaving marks.
posted by 15L06 at 8:59 AM on January 22, 2023

Response by poster: CleverClover, the keyhole is not integrated in the handle but separate so the knob cover for lever handles will not work. The lock looks something like this, just a lot fancier.

mortise lock
posted by whitelotus at 9:07 AM on January 22, 2023

I am so sorry you are going through this. Feeling unsafe in your own home is a terrible stressor and could affect your health. It sounds like there is a three part solution suggested by commenters above:

1. Use the existing lock whenever you are out of your room (or when you are in your room while there are visitors.
2. Get a very sturdy, heavy box or chest--something difficult to move (you might find something on your local free group or in a used furniture store. Add a very sturdy hasp and padlock and make sure it is securely attached to the lid/chest. Put anything personal or of value inside and keep it locked at all times.
3. For your own peace of mind, set up some kind of motion-activated camera to record if anyone enters your room. I would keep this as a backup and not immediately call out your landlord if he just comes in and turns something off and leaves--only use it if you see really awful snoopy behavior.

This will cost some $$--will it cost as much as moving? Probably not. But this is a not a sustainable situation. Do what you can to get out as soon as possible. I know what it feels like to be trapped in a shitty rental situation. Use whatever resources you can to get the money together to move--you'd be surprised at who you know who might be able to help.
posted by agatha_magatha at 9:11 AM on January 22, 2023 [2 favorites]

The knob cover looks interesting for the outside. The portable lock is the first thing I thought of that the OP doesn't have the clearance around the door (evidently) and is just another variation of the other locks mentioned.

On the right type of door and frame I could teach you how to penny-stack the door closed from the outside, but relatively speaking interior doors can't even do that because of structure and it's more of a secret security through obscurity sort of thing that your landlord might not comprehend. But most interior doors outside of industrial construction like in an actual apartment building are cheap and easily replaceable and breakable if the owner wants to go in.

On preview, the lock being separate rrom the handle makes no real difference. You have two things. The owner cah open the locking bolt, but if you can prevent them from turning turning the lever they still can't open the door. The lever part also has the same keep door shut as the bolt lock, it just doesn't have the actual lock part. They'll still have to kick down the door if they want into your room.
posted by zengargoyle at 9:13 AM on January 22, 2023

Oh, and none of these solutions escape the break down the door and fix it, or calling a locksmith to open the door. Except maybe the camera/alarm sort of solutions.
posted by zengargoyle at 9:16 AM on January 22, 2023

Does the door have a locking mechanism from the inside? Is it a deadbolt style lock?
posted by CleverClover at 9:23 AM on January 22, 2023

Response by poster: zengargoyle: Do you mean that the knob cover for lever handles that CleverClover suggested will work because with it on, no one will be able to turn the handle even if they can unlock the door?

CleverClover: It can be locked from the inside with a thumb latch. Meaning that if someone on the outside has the key, they can unlock it and come in.

I'm not so concerned about locking it from the inside because there are many cheap hotel locks designed for this but locking it from the outside when I'm leaving the house is really tough.
posted by whitelotus at 10:01 AM on January 22, 2023

I just want to amplify what showbiz_liz and manyleggedcreature wrote above -- I think "try to lock the room in a way the owner can't access" is almost certainly a nonstarter from a legal and practical perspective, so it's probably worth looking into other alternatives for peace of mind, like more secure storage for any valuables. Frankly, I think the "motion-activated camera" plan is a really great next step, since it would allow you to have peace of mind that the owner was not entering your space, or be aware of what they do if they actually are. Your router turning off does not alone convince me of foul play -- I work in tech and observe that hardware fails all the time without malfeasance, particularly consumer-grade stuff.
posted by Alterscape at 10:15 AM on January 22, 2023 [6 favorites]

Based on the lock you posted, depending on where the receiving hole is located in relation to the door handle, I think CleverClover's portable lock solution might work while you are gone. From the inside, you can just shove a door wedge into the bottom crack and you'll be reasonably secure from someone opening the door while you are inside.

And if you want to know if someone has been in your room while you're gone, there's always the James Bond hair or transparent tape over the crack trick. Cut the tape into a slim sliver to minimize its visibility. You can also leave the router on next time and take a picture of it before you leave. That should erase any doubt you might have about whether it was on.

Sorry you're dealing with this.
posted by donpardo at 10:19 AM on January 22, 2023 [1 favorite]

This might work. https://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B005409JNU/ref=cm_cr_othr_mb_bdcrb_top?ie=UTF8#cm_cr_carousel_images_section
posted by CleverClover at 10:22 AM on January 22, 2023

And if you can't come up with an actual lock solution that works. Mayve a monitoring /alarm system that let's you know if the door has been opened and when it was opened. There are lots of options like this one
posted by CleverClover at 10:35 AM on January 22, 2023 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Alterscape: When I said the router was turned off, actually the power to the router had been physically switched off at the wall power socket it was plugged into, not just the power button pressed so this was definitely no equipment failure. Someone switched off the electricity and this switch is stiff and not easy to click off.
posted by whitelotus at 10:45 AM on January 22, 2023

It won’t keep intruders out but what about the ol’ mystery standby, a piece of scotch tape covering the jamb way above (or below) eye level. At least you’d know if someone entered while you were out.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 10:51 AM on January 22, 2023 [1 favorite]

zengargoyle: Do you mean that the knob cover for lever handles that CleverClover suggested will work because with it on, no one will be able to turn the handle even if they can unlock the door?

By the picture of the approximate sort of lock you posted, yeah. I have seen many things where the key operates the 'deadbolt' but the handle just has it's other turning thing. Common in many situations. The 'lock' keeps the door locked, the handle keeps the unlocked door closed and just not opened.

Take a look and make a test, does the handle part rely on the key part? Can you turn the handle when the door is open but 'locked', do the bits still go inside. At least in the US, these sort of things might be separate completely, the knob/lever/whatever just keeps the 'unlocked' door open or closed, it's the key and deadbolt that locks the door.

If your lock works that way, the owner could unlock the deadbolt but if they can't turn the handle they still can't get in without breaking the door.

You need to determine how the 'lock' part and the 'handle' part work. But even if the 'lock' locks both, unlocking the bolt part while leaving the handle unable to turn would work. For at least the outside.

It only fails if turning the key both retracts the big deadbolt and at the same time does the bit that turning the handle would do.

If you can shut your door unlocked but open/closed and only turn the handle and the only real lock you have is the deadbolt with the key... keeping the handle from turning would do the trick.

The locking from inside is pretty trivial, there are many things to do to keep someone out of your room while your are sleeping.
posted by zengargoyle at 10:58 AM on January 22, 2023

Oh, not abusing the edit window, I am the devious sort to get some sort of alarm system sort of thing or put a little piece of paper on the top of the door when leaving to 'know' that somebody had gone into my room. Even just a piece of thread that would be overlooked that if it wasn't where I stuck it when closing the door is missing.... somebody has been in my room.

Pretty much good answers all around given the conditions.
posted by zengargoyle at 11:04 AM on January 22, 2023

I have a couple of ideas, but: the other people living there will definitely know you have locked your door when they try to open it and can't get in. You need to handle that ahead of time, so perhaps saying something like, "Since I'm a single girl living alone, my [family member] is insisting that I be able to lock my door at all times. I hope you'll understand." Bonus if you can recruit this family member to actually insist, then say "My [family member] is happy to talk to you about this. Would you like his/her number?" Maybe include: "I'm so sorry if this will bother you! Do not worry, I will not attach anything, and I have utmost respect for the property! I've searched and searched, and this is my best idea so far."

If they really need to have access in case of emergency, maybe give an extra key to building management so that they can request it if there's a reason to do so. Make sure that if that happens, you can tell (do some of the "detect if someone has been here" measures), then you can replace the lock if needed (then give the management another key), if you think it's likely your cohabitants will duplicate the key.


Now, there will have to be some visibility of your locking system, unless you find some kind of magnetic lock.

One way to address this: buy one or two extra locks and give them to your apartment mates as gifts, explaining that everyone needs to have that extra layer of security. Mention that they probably already have a lockbox, but so does everyone, so you hope this helps them feel extra safe. After all, whoever has your room after you move out could be _anyone_, and also there's always the chance of a burglary. Any burglars won't be expecting room locks, so they'd probably only take the less valuable items that were easy to get to in the living room and kitchen.

Another way: try to choose something fairly attractive, or make whatever you use more attractive.


My first idea is this:

- get a length of coated steel cable with loops on each end;
- two wooden boards, maybe equivalent to an American 2"x2" board, each a little longer than the door is wide. They should each have two holes at the right positions so that the cable can be threaded and locked securely, and the holes need to be big enough to thread the cable _loops_ through.
- a padlock that will fit through the loops on the cable.

When you go out, the goal is to have one board on the floor inside the door and one outside, just the right length to fit securely so that the door can't open without moving the boards (so, they lay across the door frame, but the edge of the door frame keeps them from sliding side to side). Alternatively, use some heavy piece of furniture on each end inside the room to keep the boards from sliding.

Then, you just need thread the cable through and, when the door is closed with one board on the inside and one on the outside, connect the loops with the padlock. The boards will be locked in place and only the person who can unlock the padlock can open the door.

I suggest:

- Rather than unfinished ugly pine boards, consider getting some pretty wood molding, large enough for the holes for the cable, and staining it. Bonus: if it's fairly thin molding, it could be broken if your landlords have a genuine emergency -- you can point this out.

- If you have wood floors, get some felt or something to put under the metal padlock, so your landlords can see that you are taking their desire (for an unscratched floor) seriously.

- If you can get help from someone with a swage tool (used to make loops in cable), have them come over to get just the right length on your cable to make sure it's just the right tightness when the padlock is added.

- Actually, you don't need to use a metal cable; if you use plastic/synthetic/meltable rope (paracord could work), so that you can make a loop/knot that can't be untied, that's going to be better -- it will also allow your landlords to enter if there's an emergency, just by cutting the cord. You and they will both be able to see that the cord has been cut, though, and it's very easy to make a new one. This should be enough to dissuade a nosy person with some sense of decency :)


Idea #2 - If and only if your door opens the right way, this portable lock could work, if you can add a thin/travel padlock to the holes to keep it closed. This cute inoffensive pink one might also work, but I'm less sure it will take a padlock (you can try contacting the manufacturer or Amazon questions to find out.). If a padlock is too thick, you can use a thin cable/cord with loops and connect the loops with a padlock.

posted by amtho at 12:29 PM on January 22, 2023

I don't see how it could have switched off by itself. The owners are kind of obsessed about the electricity bill

Is it the sort of thing that would turn itself back on after a power outage or would it stay off?

If the latter, they could be turning the electricity to your room off at the breaker box while you're out.
posted by Jacqueline at 12:58 PM on January 22, 2023 [1 favorite]

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