How can we unlock a house that isn't ours?
May 9, 2007 9:16 PM   Subscribe

My boyfriend just locked his keys inside his boss's house. Boss's house key is on the key ring that is inside the house. Boss is on vacation out of the country and is unreachable. Boyfriend's wallet and phone are also locked in the house, and so is the boss's cat. Please help us.

He checked all the windows and doors, and the house is completely locked. Will a locksmith unlock the front door to house that isn't ours? How would a locksmith know the house isn't ours if we tell him that it is, in fact, ours? Any helpful suggestions?
posted by tatiana wishbone to Grab Bag (34 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Locksmiths are particularly useful in these situations. Look them up in your local yellow pages.
posted by spiderskull at 9:22 PM on May 9, 2007

Second the locksmith, when I was house-sitting and got the wrong keys it cost about $50
posted by Deep Dish at 9:33 PM on May 9, 2007

I have called a locksmith once before, and to my recollection, he did not require any proof that we were legit. Try calling one outfit and explain to them the situation. If they balk, try another one, and hope it doesn't arise . . . but be aware it may cost you for the service call in any event.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 9:34 PM on May 9, 2007

If a locksmith is not an option: Break some glass, fix it, and be honest about what you had to do.
posted by longsleeves at 9:34 PM on May 9, 2007

Generally a locksmith looks at your photo ID before opening the house and makes sure the house address is listed on your ID. This is a more sketchy situation and I have concern that a locksmith might not do this job since you can't prove the house is yours.

It may be cheaper to just break a window and have it repaired later. Be sure you have your ducks in a row in case cops show up.
posted by zek at 9:35 PM on May 9, 2007

Unless electronic security monitoring service is in use!
posted by longsleeves at 9:38 PM on May 9, 2007

Best answer: Okay,

If you locked yourself out, it couldn't be with a deadbolt, unless you threw the keys through the mailslot after you had locked the house. That means that the door is very breachable with a credit card. Always a good idea to try several, as different cards have differing flexibilities.
Try an old license, one of the laminated ones etc. You want to slip the card into the space between the door and the jam, on an angle. Then, on an angle, you want to draw it downwards past the little springy piece of metal that is holding the door closed.
If there's any space at all between the door and the jam, a little elbow grease applied to this should work.

Wiki how has a tutorial (simplistic)

If you can't open a lock that way, you'll want to pay a locksmith to drill out the lock, and then re-key it to the previous pinset, which he can get from the key that's inside.

Good luck!
posted by asavage at 9:40 PM on May 9, 2007 [77 favorites]

posted by longsleeves: If a locksmith is not an option: Break some glass, fix it, and be honest about what you had to do.

on edit: Yeah, hopefully no alarm that you don't know how to use properly.
posted by a_green_man at 9:41 PM on May 9, 2007

Well, since his wallet is locked inside with the keys, he can claim (rightly) that his ID is inside. Once the door has been opened, if the locksmith is still suspicious, he could show them his photo ID that was locked inside the house along with a key to the front door. The presence of these items inside the house should clear up any concern over whether he was supposed to have access.
posted by contraption at 9:43 PM on May 9, 2007

How about one of those bump keys we keep hearing about?

Your boyfriend's boss might have hidden a key somewhere, so try the typical hiding spots (under the mat, under rocks, sometimes taped to the inside of rafters from the roof).

Another option: go talk to your boss' neighbors. It's not uncommon to give one of your neighbors a spare key.

If you run into problems with a locksmith, you could try contacting your friends to see if any of them personally know a locksmith. Alternatively, if you have proof that your boyfriend is looking after the place, that may be enough.

Barring that, explain your situation to the locksmith (no wallet or ID), and if/when they ask for proof after they've let you in, you can probably show him/her that you do, in fact, have a key to the house.
posted by spiderskull at 9:44 PM on May 9, 2007

I see that you're in Gainesville - I think you can relax a little. Every local I had to deal with there was exceedingly nice. Call locksmiths, explain the situation, and I think someone will help you. Be sure to note that your boyfriend's wallet is inside - that is a Good Thing because it should prove that you were in the house previously unaided.
posted by gatorae at 9:45 PM on May 9, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks y'all, we opened it with a credit card. It was disturbingly easy.
posted by tatiana wishbone at 9:57 PM on May 9, 2007 [6 favorites]

Seconding spiderskull. Be upfront, tell the locksmith it's not your house, you're housesitting (don't need to tell them it's your boss'), and that your photo ID is sitting inside.

A similar situation once happened to me when I was staying at my girlfriend's apartment. Locked myself out, all my stuff was inside, and I had no real way of proving that I was supposed to be in there. Eventually, the maintenance guy settled by having me describe what was right inside the door but not visible through the windows, unlocked it and verified that I wasn't full of shit, and let me in.

Anyway, it's going to cost you, but it's not like you're the first person this has happened to. Just don't be sketchy, and DON'T LIE. Unless you're a really good liar, that's going to set off warning bells with the locksmith, and next thing you know, the cops might be there or something. At any rate, it could be bad.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:16 PM on May 9, 2007

You opened it with a credit card, as directed by a MythBuster.

posted by 5MeoCMP at 10:25 PM on May 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

Thanks y'all, we opened it with a credit card. It was disturbingly easy.

Holy cow, if there's a manufacturer name on that lock, let me know what it is so I can avoid buying it. No exterior door should be openable with a credit card.
posted by zek at 10:41 PM on May 9, 2007

It's not the lock itself that makes a door openable with a credit card, but the installation of the door allowing a gap so that one can access the little thing that "locks" the door. You just sweep it and it pushes into the door rather easily.

I might have gained access to a library after hours this way to use the internet in the early nineties. Disturbingly easy is right.
posted by bilabial at 10:55 PM on May 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm going to have to try the credit card trick for myself now (thankfully I have a deadbolt too). As I understand the explanation, isn't this reliant upon the original installer having put the doorlock in backwards - so that the slanted edge is accessible from the outside not the inside?
posted by Joh at 11:15 PM on May 9, 2007

Joh, it's not in backwards, the slanted edge faces towards the direction the door travels when being closed, enabling the latch to ride up over the striker plate and click into the slot.

If you have it around the other way, you can't push the door shut, you have to turn the knob while shutting it. Potentially you could push it open, too.

A properly installed door has a tight fit so you can't get anything into that slot. For a period of several months during high school, I let myself into my house with a piece of plastic because I couldn't find my keys. It was stupidly easy.
posted by tomble at 11:42 PM on May 9, 2007

Does the credit card thing only work on US locks with rounded bolt ends? Like all I've ever seen my UK lock's bolt is sort of pie slice shaped, in effect a quarter slice, at its end, the bit that goes into the hasp, so the end that would face the credit card can't be wiggled past.
posted by A189Nut at 12:02 AM on May 10, 2007

A properly installed door has a tight fit so you can't get anything into that slot.

A steel door, maybe. If the door is wood, it cannot be mounted with such close tolerances, or it won't close when the weather is humid. Wood doors expand in those conditions, and if it is installed in dry weather, the swelling will make it bigger than the opening. If it isinstalled in damp weather (which is the better situation), it will shrink away from the strike when the door dried out, leaving a gap.

Note that steel doors also expand slightly when warmed up, so it's unrealistic to expect no gap. Even if a credit card is too thick, there are other simple devices that are not.

The solution is to not rely on simple spring-latch locks. They will not keep out even a mildly determined thief.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:38 AM on May 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

Now the question is, do you tell your boss that he has a really crappy lock that even a complete tyro thief can open with a credit card, or do you remain silent so as not to embarrass yourself about locking the keys, and cat, into the house?
posted by caddis at 4:58 AM on May 10, 2007

I have accomplished the same thing with a small, thin putty knife bought down the street at a hobbyist store (where people who build models of things go). It was a little bit thicker than a plasticware knife, and less brittle, so even with a steel door I was able to slide it behind the lock and retract the steel bit. A professional locksmith has a dedicated plastic shim that does the same thing, but he'll charge you about $60-75 to do it.

If you are a lock-out type of person, I recommend you keep a set of these somewhere (I kept mine in my truck, since my truck keys are on a different ring than my house keys and it's rare for me to forget both). Because the time I tried it, I snapped my credit card damn near in half. Spend the $3 on a small set of these instead (I got a three-pack, dirt cheap!).
posted by Eideteker at 5:06 AM on May 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

The credit card thing has always worked for me.

Always, ALWAYS lock the deadbolt on your house when you leave. When I was living at my ex-gfs apartment, I didn't have my own key for a few weeks and I always just popped the lock with the credit card. Took no more than a few seconds and somebody walking by would have never noticed anything.

As soon as I got my own key, I made sure that we started keeping the deadbolt locked at all times.
posted by empath at 5:54 AM on May 10, 2007

Yeah, it's all about the gap in the door. A housemate called my cell phone a few years ago, in tears, as it was 50 minutes till she had to be at work and she'd just locked her keys in her part of the house. I made the fastest commute *EVAR* (22 minutes vs the usual 35), ran up to the door with card and popped it faster than I could have with a key. The door was so out of whack you could almost see the lock bolt past the jamb.
posted by notsnot at 7:31 AM on May 10, 2007

A189Nut, yes it works with UK locks. It's been used by several of my family to get into the house when they've locked themselves out.

The pie shaped ones are the ones that do it, we call them yale locks, even when it's not made by yale. Because the curve of the pie faces in the direction the door closes, it means there's space for leverage when it's shut.
posted by Helga-woo at 8:29 AM on May 10, 2007

Just quintuppling about the gap. I have a door that was framed in for my apartment in an old's height varies from 6' to 6'4" across the top! You can see all around the door except the latch side. While you likely could get it off the hinges, you cannot slip the latch with a card because of the tightness there. Helps too that it was installed slightly past the edge of the door....need even more room to get at it.

"I might have gained access to a library after hours this way to use the internet in the early nineties. Disturbingly easy is right."

Before the internet I might have gained access to the music closet before & after the school day in the early eighties. Different goals for different generations, but the same ingenuity in geekyness!
posted by mattfn at 9:06 AM on May 10, 2007

I had a similar situation involving my daughter taking care of a neighbor's bunny. She locked the keys in the house.

One of my co-workers who owns properties told me that there is almost ALWAYS a window that can be jimmied open. Just do a walk around.

Talk to neighbors first.
posted by Danf at 9:57 AM on May 10, 2007

Using a long, thin, flexible piece of metal -- say, A Westcott brand stainless steel ruler with the cork backing removed -- will give you more leverage and will also prevent problems that might arise from dropping the credit card while attempting to break into the building.

Not that I would know this from personal experience.
posted by solid-one-love at 10:19 AM on May 10, 2007 [2 favorites]

I'm glad my door, which has one of those locks, has a metal plate over the gap where you'd slide the credit card. Probably won't stop a determined person with a screwdriver, but still better.
posted by djgh at 11:54 AM on May 10, 2007

I'm glad my door, which has one of those locks, has a metal plate over the gap where you'd slide the credit card. Probably won't stop a determined person with a screwdriver, but still better.
posted by djgh at 2:54 PM on May 10

The works pretty well. Also, many doorjambs are made so that there is no gap through which to insert the credit card. If the door opens inwards, the jamb is on the outside and the credit card would have to be inserted between the jamb and the door frame. However, if it is the kind that overlaps the frame then there is no gap through with to insert the credit card. Then you will have to bend the card around the jamb and into the space between the door and the frame. Most credit cards won't make that bend but some will as will some flexible sheet metal. Even this won't work if the lock has a proper deadlatch. In this kind of lock the latch has an auxiliary bolt on the inside. When this is out the main latch locks and can't be pressed in, as by a credit card. Why anyone would have an exterior handset with a simple latch rather than a deadlatch is a mystery to me. Regular latches are basically only sold these days for interior doors. Its really only easy to open such a lock with a credit card on the flimsiest of set ups. If you have one, you can replace it with a modern deadlatch for less than $20. Of course that won't protect you from the bump.
posted by caddis at 12:46 PM on May 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

You can also bend a paper clip or other wire into a U shape to go around the bolt and pull it back. This ought to work even if there's a plate over the bolt, though it's more difficult then. I used to do this in middle school: on days when our teacher was on hall patrol, we had to wait outside the room until just before class, so we got in the habit of bypassing the lock, going in to leave our bags and stuff at our desks, then going back out and re-locking.

The teacher noticed eventually but there was never any fuss about it — the fact that we weren't sent to detention or jail as a result of it all probably dates me more than anything else.

And yeah, this is why any exterior door should have a deadbolt. But in practice I don't think burglars use this level of finesse. When my apartment was broken into (many years later...), they just crowbarred a window open, ripping the lock out of the frame. My neighbor's place was burgled at the same time and they just put a rock through a side window. Clever lock hacking is only important if you don't want to damage the place (say, it's your own place) or you don't want people to know you were there (espionage or the like).
posted by hattifattener at 1:33 PM on May 10, 2007

I can't believe nobody has weighed in on this properly.

Making a door resistant to credit carding has NOTHING to to with the gap. However it does often have something to do with a properly installed door.

Get up and go look at a door. The latch looks something like a D yes? Where the curved bit of the D is what slides against the door jamb and pushes in so the door can shut. Once shut, the latch extends into the hole in the jamb and the flat surface prevents the door from being pulled back open.

On a door with protection against this kind of attack the latch looks more like cD where the c is a little pin thing that moves - mostly! - with the latch. Push on the curved bit and you notice both pieces push in. However if you push in ONLY that little nubbin you'll notice something interesting - now the latch won't push in!

The point of that is that the door should be hung such that when the door is shut the large latch is extended into the door but the nubbin continued to be pressed in. As you noticed trying this for yourself, when this is the case you won't be able to credit card in since the latch will not press inwards.

The unfortunate reality is that often doors are hung improperly and that pin extends inwards as well, rather than being held in by the strike plate. Or the strike plate is missing and it's just a big ol hole. Or... whatever. Anyone old enough to read things on the web is old enough to realize how often things are done half-assed or incorrectly and that there's a near infinite number of ways to screw things up.
posted by phearlez at 3:44 PM on May 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

I can't believe nobody has weighed in on this properly.

see deadlatch
posted by caddis at 8:20 PM on May 10, 2007

Also, please note that a small, thin, plastic putty knife as detailed in my previous answer will work even when the jamb is on the outside of the door. It should bend enough to snake inside the way a credit card won't.
posted by Eideteker at 5:50 AM on May 11, 2007

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