Breaking and Entering
June 2, 2004 4:53 PM   Subscribe

Someone has been letting himself into my apartment when I’m not there. What can I do to prove it? [much more inside]

A few months ago, I came home one Sunday evening, after having spent the weekend away. When I walked in to my apartment, there was a really strong scent of men's cologne, cheap cologne, in the hallway of my apartment. The way the scent lingers after the person has left. It unsettled me a bit, and I wound up calling my sister and talking to her on the phone as I walked around my apartment opening the doors to all my closets and so forth, in case anyone was hiding inside. (I know that sounds kind of silly, but I had that gut feeling that someone had been in my apartment, and I didn't know what else to do.) Nobody was there, of course, and I figured that the scent must have probably wafted in from the hallway, and I forgot about it.

Until last night.

Returning Tuesday evening after a long holiday weekend away, I hadn't been in my apartment since the previous Thursday morning. My twice-a-month housekeeper came yesterday, and I came home to a snugly made bed. When I pulled down the comforter, there is was. That scent. All over my sheets.

Yes, I am having the locks changed, and no, I’m not going back until they’ve been changed. But what if it's either a) the landlord, or someone with access to the landlord's keys, or b) someone with access to the housekeeper’s keys? I seriously doubt it's the housekeeper, I’ve known her for years, and she’s thoroughly vouched for by two different friends who have known her for many more years. Besides, the timing of the first incident rules out the housekeeper. Just because I trust her, however, doesn't necessarily mean that everyone around her is to be trusted.

How can I calm that small paranoid person inside me who knows that someone, unknown to me, has been entering my apartment and doing who knows what? Nothing is missing, that I’ve noticed, but if someone rifled through my drawers I wouldn’t necessarily be able to tell.

I don’t want to booby-trap my home, obviously, but is there something simple that I can do to give me some peace of mind- so that if someone does come in again, I would have some tangible proof of that? (I can’t exactly go to the police based on “my sheets smell like Old Spice.”)

I really like my apartment, and I don’t want to move unless I absolutely have to. I’m hoping that changing the locks will take care of it. But if it doesn’t, I need to know.

Any suggestions?

(cross-posted on MonkeyFilter and AskMe for more results)
posted by ambrosia to Home & Garden (53 answers total)
Most webcam software has motion detection security cam features built in. I use ConquerCam.
posted by keswick at 4:56 PM on June 2, 2004

this is the scariest shit (David Lynch used exactly that in "Lost Highway" but I'm digressing).

besides the webcam, I'm thinking about placing hidden cameras/tape recorders (Spy stores can help a lot with surveillance equipment)

it'd be nice if someone you know is friendly with/related to a good cop

also, if you have the money, you could talk to a private investigator
posted by matteo at 4:59 PM on June 2, 2004

I have a standalone webcam that emails on motion detection. If you have full-time internet, that might be an option.
posted by milovoo at 5:00 PM on June 2, 2004

Um. To get proof, you have to let the person do it again. Do you actually want to do that? Or do you want to focus on prevention (burglar alarms, locks, etc)? It's going to be hard to do both.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 5:33 PM on June 2, 2004

joe's spleen: odds are that if it's someone getting their hands on the landlord's or housekeeper's keys, it will happen again whether she likes it or not. A measure of both would be the way to go, I think, until the breaker-inner is identified.
posted by tracicle at 5:37 PM on June 2, 2004 [1 favorite]

This happened to me; someone with access to the landlord keys entered my apartment. Nobody believed me, so I ended up having to move. Best of luck.
posted by aramaic at 5:48 PM on June 2, 2004

Do you frequently leave for long weekend get-aways, or business trips? In addition to the housekeeper, who knows when you're leaving? Is your carport or parking space (if your building offers one) in a noticeable spot where, if someone were tracking your movements, they would be able to tell whether or not you're at home?
posted by invisible ink at 5:48 PM on June 2, 2004

Leave a note. "I know you've been here. I will be prosecuting. Leave now."
posted by five fresh fish at 5:54 PM on June 2, 2004

A friend of mine had the same thing happen to her. She put a tiny X in lipstick on the underside of her doorknob so that it would smudge if anyone opened her door. Wouldn't stand up in court or anything, but it's free and will tell you whether someone's been opening your door.

Please be very, very careful.
posted by LittleMissCranky at 5:58 PM on June 2, 2004 [1 favorite]

Thanks everybody for the input. It's been kind of icky to think about.

invisible ink: I don't travel for work, but my usual pattern is to spend the better part of the weekend over at my boyfriend's place, and that part is pretty predictable. In fact, it's pretty easy to predict when I will be home. I don't have a parking space in the garage (there aren't enough to go around.)

I'll be having conversations with the landlord and that housekeeper about why the locks are being changed, so without making accusations they will at least be on notice that someone's been up to something fishy, and that I know about it. I'm hoping that will end it, but I might look into the motion-detector webcam thing. (Anyone have any thoughts about how well those things work on a Mac?)
posted by ambrosia at 6:13 PM on June 2, 2004

Webcams, lipstick on the doornob, sticking a hair in the lock, etc are all good ideas, if nothing else then for your peace of mind. However, consider that smell is one of the fuzzier senses, and add to that that suggestion is a powerful thing. It could just be a strong smelling plant blossom outside your window or something like that? Also, unless I'm misreading your story, it could be your housekeeper or some cleaning liquid she uses?
posted by fvw at 6:21 PM on June 2, 2004

I'd suggest a note, somewhere on the door (or bedroom door), stating the fact that you've got a camera now watching the place with INSTANT (if you choose the vid-to-email software) motion detection and notification. As well, mention that you're going to take the maximum steps to prevent and prosecute the offender.

I'd say the warning of security and prosecution will take care of this itself. Some people have a lot of nerve. I hope you get this straghtened soon.
posted by dflemingdotorg at 6:22 PM on June 2, 2004

all Mac users I know (myself included) have only good things to say re webcams on Macs.
two more things, quickly: I thought you meant "what can I do to prove it" in a court of law or to the cops. if you simply want to know for yourself if somebody was in your apartment, use the old hair trick: glue (or attach with clear adhesive tape) a 2-inches-long hair on the outside-looking right-hand bottom side of your door. when you come back, look at it before you open the door. if it's been opened while you were away, the hair will now point inwards

even after the new locks are done, try to have something you trust coming with you, check out everything's OK. then secure the perimeter. it'll make you feel safe once you're inside.

you might want to put a chain inside, to secure the door when you're in, you'll sleep really tight then.


and no matter what you do, how nervous this situation makes you, do not get a gun. talk to a cop first. accidents are much more frequent than actual successful crime-fighting by private citizens who carry guns.
get Mace/ppeper spray/etc instead (if it's legal where you live of course)
posted by matteo at 6:30 PM on June 2, 2004

A brief mention about someone using a Mac with an iSight to catch a thief.
posted by invisible ink at 6:31 PM on June 2, 2004

Webcams are awesome for this sort of thing.

I lived in a rooming house - basically a bedroom in a big old farm house with communal kitchens and bathrooms (shudder) - with a rather insane and busy-bodied bitter old lady as a landlord.

Someone had been getting into my deadbolted, 2nd story room and mucking about with my stuff.

Back then, all I had was an old-school Connectix ColorQuickcam and an old 486 DX 66, and there wasn't any reliable fancy-shmancy motion detection software that I could find.

I set up the cam to take snapshots every 5 or 10 seconds or so, and then a script would batch upload those every minute or so to an FTP server at work to put them somewhere remote and "safe", so that even if whoever it was tried to steal the comp or destroy it (or as unlikely as it was back then, format the drive) I'd have a remote copy of the evidence.

I'd left a large sign pointing to the monitor explaining that they were being recorded, and that destroying the computer wouldn't protect them as the images were being stored remotely.

And yeah, it was my landlady. She had the gall/insanity to be upset with me when I got home from work that I'd dare set up such a thing in my room, muttering insanely all the while about "damn computers" and "technology" or some such crap.

I calmly pointed out to her that it was the law that she had to give me 24 hours notice to "inspect" an apartment, and that entry without that notice without an actual emergency was highly illegal and probably a felony charge of breaking and entering.

Needless to say I moved out of there shortly.

It sounds like you've got some sort of weird stalker, though, especially with the bed thing.
posted by loquacious at 6:50 PM on June 2, 2004 [1 favorite]

This thread is unsettling for the number of people this has actually happened to.

Unhelpful but on topic digression: my mother has an elderly friend, single all her life, who in her dotage has become convinced that someone is breaking into her apartment. This someone does nothing - leaves no trace - except for maybe a small tear in a dress in the back of the closet, or a vase moved an inch on the table. Now this is a rich Manhattanite with doormen and supers and what have you. Instead of finding comfort in all those layers of security, she thinks the doormen etc are in on it. She had moved five times in six years, all in the Park Avenue area. She's clearly mad, but she won't listen to any arguments questioning the logic of why someone would take the risk to break into her place just to move a vase. I hooked her up with a security company - they installed cameras. When nothing appeared on the film, she said the intruder must have monkeyed with it.

When I read this question, I thought of her and wondered if something similar was happening to you, but then all the people who said this had happened to them kind of freaked me out.
But why would someone break in just to get into your bed? Any stalkery ex-boyfriends around?
posted by CunningLinguist at 7:10 PM on June 2, 2004

This is awful stuff, ambrosia... and I wish you the best of luck.

I second the web cam, the hair, and the door chain (though I'd use a hotel door "chain" instead)... but I would not recommend leaving a note for a few reasons: first off, if they're the least bit mean spirited (and not just weird) you risk setting them off; secondly, if they know they've just been recorded, then they may have no reason to leave — and I'm guessing you want them very much gone upon your return. No: I would strongly advise against a note. Just record their actions and let the police take care of them.
posted by silusGROK at 7:18 PM on June 2, 2004

pryme is a good freeware webcam app. a decent webcam can be had for $20 on ebay.
posted by Hackworth at 7:37 PM on June 2, 2004

Evo Cam and iSight as security cam, thanks to the responses in this thread.
posted by anathema at 8:05 PM on June 2, 2004

If you can afford it, I say go all the way and get a hard-core 'net cam, something like the Axis-210. You will have a problem getting people to believe you (I did, even though the individual was urinating all over my possessions).

You don't want to *finally* get cam footage of your perpetrator, only to find out the image quality is so bad you can't do anything with it. You don't want to have to guess who the person is -- you want to be able to walk up to the cops with a clear, positive ID.

Alternatively, if you or someone you know is a risk-taker, you can buy motion detectors that will automatically call you if they're triggered, so that you could potentially confront the perp (hopefully with cops in tow). I wouldn't recommend that myself, but...
posted by aramaic at 8:12 PM on June 2, 2004

...also, skip the door chain and get something more substantial, like a deadbolt. Door chains are too easy to break -- so far your foe has been circumspect, but you don't really know if they're going to turn violent. Especially if you manage to sic the cops on 'em.
posted by aramaic at 8:15 PM on June 2, 2004

This may be way out of line or illegal, depending on where you live, but I would suggest that once you change the locks you give a fake (non-working) key to your landlord and cancel your housekeeper for a week or two. See what happens. If the landlord complains about the key, find out why s/he was trying to get into the apartment. I've lived in the same place for 10 years and my landlord does not have a key. I see no reason why he should be able to enter whenever he wishes, whatever the law says.

Then, when you're satisfied that no one's entered, give a copy to your housekeeper and see what happens over the next little while. If nothing, I'd assume it's someone with access to the landlord's keys.
posted by dobbs at 8:44 PM on June 2, 2004

I think that if you get a deadbolt and/or new locks, then two things will happen: a) the incidents will stop happening, and b) you will never know who it is.

I understand if making it stop is the higher priority, but if your priority is to find out who it is, then you've got to get a *concealed* webcam, i.e. either hidden reasonably well or a "nannycam" (hidden in a teddy bear or some such), and you have to let it happen again, with everything else being normal. This method comes with a certain amount of risk that one day before you catch him, you'll come back to find him there. But, if you change nothing else, I doubt that will happen (but then again, who knows).

However, and I am saying this to help you, not to argue with others: I think that leaving the perpetrator a note is just stupid. In loquacious' case, it might have been appropriate, because she knew who it was and wasn't in danger. But the last thing you want to do is make someone (who may well be quite mentally unstable) suddenly feel trapped and/or, worse, like they have nothing to lose. Alternatively, if the intruder is a bit more self-confident, he is going to see a note as a sign that *you* are scared. And, most importantly of all, he will see a note as a sign that you are willing to communicate with him. Now, this is a guy who is messing around in your bed. He may *want* you to smell the cologne. He may *want* you to leave a note. He might leave you a note back, and excitedly wait for your reply. In short, if you want him to leave you alone, you have to either catch him unambiguously red-handed, or you have to make him feel like an irrelevant little rodent whose nuicanses can be swept aside easily and impersonally. Anything in between and you risk making the situation worse.
posted by bingo at 8:47 PM on June 2, 2004

A lot of good suggestions here. I am currently looking into surveillance for my house as I have found some things missing that shouldn't be, and I think some hidden camera variant is the way to go. If you are thinking about prosecuting, make sure that your surveillance is legal and admissable in court; most states allow video recording but audio is illegal unless one or both parties to a conversation is aware of the recording.

Some people are asking whether stopping the intrusion or catching the perp is the goal; I would say they are inseperable (even if you do not prosecute; a police incident report may be useful down the line if the problem continues/escalates) Do not leave a warning note, at least at first. Only if you know who is doing this and why they are doing it can you reliably stop it, and warning them off before you have evidence will only leave them free to strike again. In other words, what bingo said.
posted by TedW at 9:03 PM on June 2, 2004

I second what bingo says, though - err - I'm a guy, and even besides that I was pretty sure I knew who it was and wasn't feeling particularly threatened, just annoyed.

A hidden cam is much better and generally safer. And change the locks ASAP!
posted by loquacious at 9:07 PM on June 2, 2004

Not to freak you out even more, but if you let him come in again, it may be the time he decides to be brave and stay to wait for you to return. If the police won't help, the private detective sounds like a good idea. Don't try and play detective yourself.

And wouldn't you need to give keys for the new locks to the landlord anyhow? Wouldn't keep him out for long if he or someone with access to his keys, is doing it.
posted by picea at 9:13 PM on June 2, 2004

The people who have hinted at it haven't been effusive enough. No one was in your apartment and you're getting worked up over nothing. A strange odor could have a million explanations. A sense or a gut feeling is a manifestation of normal paranoia that we all get from time to time-- you don't have ESP to warn or even suggest about anyone's recent presence.
posted by Mayor Curley at 9:14 PM on June 2, 2004

If you leave a note, you should also leave cookies and milk. Might as well say, "I'm not really bothered enough!"
posted by Mo Nickels at 9:56 PM on June 2, 2004

I've had a similar thing happen - I caught two strangers having sex in my bed in an apartment - not cool.

Anyway, your situation, if a situation does even exist, is going to cause you to have problems unless you find out conclusively that there is a person that has been in the apartment and that you know who that person is. If you simply keep them from re-entering, you'll always be a little nervous and anytime something weird happens in the future (like the power going out late at night, or a noise) will make you worry. Thus, you have to set up a secret system that will allow them to enter and will catch them in the process.

From what you wrote, sounds like somebody is using your place as there place to entertain special guests (perhaps prostitutes). Here is what you need to do:

1. Inform the police. They won't take action at this point, but at least you're setting up a record of events and complaints.

2. Set up a very secret camera system that will record them and upload the images to a secure location. DO NOT LET THE INTRUDER KNOW THAT YOU MIGHT BE FILMING THEM - THIS COULD MAKE THEM DANGEROUS.

3. Go away for the weekend as usual and check your security files just before returning home. Eventually you'll catch them in the act, tell the police, and sleep soundly forever after.
posted by crazy finger at 10:14 PM on June 2, 2004

I have to add that I think Mayor Curley's explanation is worth serious consideration.

But, while there are possible explanations that do not involve an intruder, that does not mean that there has not been an intruder (another reason to use a concealed cam).

As far as the danger of finding them waiting goes, I think that crazy finger has a good suggestion re making sure that you can check the images from somewhere else (like work).

Sorry, loquacious.
posted by bingo at 10:27 PM on June 2, 2004

The landlord comes into our apartment all the time letting us know. The way we could tell was he'd lock the deadbolt, which we never do.

He even broke into the apartment once. That is, I noticed that the door frame was cracked from top to bottom, and had been repaired. Who else would break into the apartment and then fix it?
posted by kirkaracha at 10:54 PM on June 2, 2004

I take back the leave-a-note suggestion. Don't do it.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:59 PM on June 2, 2004

If you had a dog this kind of stuff wouldn't happen.

. . . Actually, nevermind. If the problem is strange smells wafting around your house and on your fabrics, the problem would be much, much worse.
posted by dgaicun at 11:07 PM on June 2, 2004

If you haven't talked to the housekeeper explicitly, I think it would be a good idea to do so. For example, it is possible that she occasionally uses a scented product when cleaning that might be responsible for the smell. Even if she hadn't been in the apartment around the time of the first incident, it could be that something - the level of humidity, a momentary draft wafting the scent - made the smell, unnoticed earlier, suddenly obvious. Also, of course, because we are accustomed to them, we sometimes don't notice even very obvious fragrances in our environments until we leave for some period of time, and then return. But she could clear up this question right away, probably.

Ruling that out, another question would be, did she notice the scent on your sheets when she made the bed? That would at least give you a bit more information. Finally, of course, you can ask her (in the most reassuring way) if there is any possiblity than anyone has access to her keys. Also, if there is any chance of an intruder lurking around your place, since she is also entering the apartment on a regular basis, this is something that she needs to be aware of for her own safety...

Good luck, ambrosia! I can't add much more to the suggestions above, except to say that if the front door is definitely the only possible point of entry, it might be worthwhile to put an incredibly loud alarm on it that you can set when you are home alone so that you at least have some level of confidence that somebody isn't going to just be walking in on you...
posted by taz at 1:30 AM on June 3, 2004

Just one other small note: I don't know if this is the least bit helpful, but I also have a mystery scent that visits my apartment from time to time - a very nice women's fragrance, that has me completely puzzled. I will suddenly smell it, in a very localized area, and then after a minute or two it seems to disappear. I have smelled this scent in the winter, for example, when all the doors and windows are very snugly closed. And we don't have air vents or any sort of shared heating setup. We have the top floor apartment, there are no other apartments left or right of us, and the apartment below us is vacant. The only two places that I can imagine it coming from is from under the front door (from apartments further below), or through the oven vent; either of which would be quite unlikely for logistical reasons, plus I don't ever smell other people's cooking smells, for example, that are very obvious as soon as I walk out of my apartment and down to the next landing. So, I refer to this phenomenon as my "lady ghost". Seriously, though, it's an ongoing mystery, but in this case not an alarming one.

This is just to say that, while you absolutely must take every possible precaution, it is possible that it is really only just a scent entering your apartment somehow, and nothing more. I'm not mentioning it to minimize the situation or accuse you of over-reacting at all, but I also don't want you to feel terrorized and invaded if it really is just a strange "scent anomaly". Perhaps you could also ask other residents of the building, especially your closest neighbors, if they have experienced anything like this?
posted by taz at 2:03 AM on June 3, 2004

Not to be flippant, taz, but your unusual scent sounds exactly like a hundred "haunting" stories I've collected; does it, perchance, get a little chilly in the room when you smell it?

For Ambrosia, in spite of my airy-fairy suggestion to taz- I don't think you have an unreasonable fear here. First, rule out the unexpected, but possible: the new fabric refreshers, especially Febreeze, smell like men's cologne to me, and they interact kind of strangely with the environment. You get the scent initially when you spray them, then it quickly fades. It can return- really strongly- even days later, if the temperature/humidity creeps up, or if you shake or move an item that's been sprayed. Hit the store and get a small bottle, and spray a patch to find out if the scent is familiar, or just ask your housekeeper if she's been using it (and ask her not to, or to switch to another brand, since the current scent has negative connotations attached now.)

If it's not something like Febreeze, I would suggest contacting the police (to make an initial report, to start the paper trail,) to get a camera of some sort to watch while you're away (you might consider this one, as it can record at night as well as in daylight,) and to get a dog. If you haven't washed the sheets yet, pack them up in a brown paper bag and label it with the date. If the camera catches someone in your apartment, those sheets might have evidence on them. If you don't have the resources to set up a webcam, go low tech- run a thread across the inside of your door, or set a drinking glass in the opening path of the door, and document, document, document. I suggest taking pictures of your measures, it can only help.

Other things you might want to do- if there is someone entering your apartment, and it's not the landlord/housekeeper, they have to know you're not home somehow. Consider getting timers for your lamps, so that they turn on and off at appropriate times during your absence. If you have an answering machine or voice mail, get a male friend to record a new message for both/either to give the impression that you're not living there alone (anymore.) Don't just change the locks on your doors, also change (or get) locks for your windows (even if you feel that your windows are inaccessible- somebody who wants to get in and doesn't care how is going to be more resourceful than you.) And, since I'm spending your money anyway- get a copy of "The Gift of Fear" by Gavin de Becker. If you're afraid, you're afraid for a reason- obviously something has changed in your environment to trigger that response, and I have to say that that book helped me put my fear into perspective.

Good luck.
posted by headspace at 6:43 AM on June 3, 2004

Having a qualified friend wait in your apartment with a taser is one way to prove that someone has entered. You could then duct tape the flopping intruder and call the po-lice. Just a thought. and The Gift of Fear is a good read to boot.

There has to be someway to mace people automatically who enter uninvited.

I was broken into once, and I could immediately smell the bad cologne of my crackhead neighbor. It is almost nine years later, and I am finally replacing the Sigma guitar that he stole.

Of course, there's a long list of things that can be taken from you that are much more important than a guitar, so please contact the police and take all other sane precautions, including filling your bed with rat traps after you leave.
posted by mecran01 at 7:08 AM on June 3, 2004

This seems like an AskMe where we would REALLY REALLY REALLY like a followup once this is resolved. Primarily, because we're generally the type of people who would send a search party for you, ambrosia , if we haven't heard from you in a few days. I'm just saying, is all.
posted by ColdChef at 7:12 AM on June 3, 2004 [1 favorite]

Speaking of mystery scents, taz's comment reminded me that I, too, have a mystery scent problem (though it's no longer a mystery).

Seems that the condos have "stacked" utility closets — the utility closets for each condo are located exactly above the utility closet for the condo below... and a small flange which lets the the fire sprinkler piping into the unit opens directly from one floor to the next... so I was always getting wiffs of stuff that I couldn't place until I discovered the flange.

*crosses fingers*

Here's hoping that your mystery scent is from something so benign.

posted by silusGROK at 7:47 AM on June 3, 2004 [1 favorite]

If you end up getting the iSight, be aware of the system requirements. I tried to hook mine up to a blue and white G3 I wasn't using and it would not work. I ended up getting a standalone network camera instead. Also, if you do set up a webcam, make sure that the files go somewhere off-site, so that if someone decides to steal the camera and computer, you will still know who.
posted by milovoo at 7:56 AM on June 3, 2004

No, headspace - it doesn't get cold... If my mystery scent really is a lady ghost, then she's just the laziest ghost ever. Not that there's anything wrong with that. :)
posted by taz at 8:10 AM on June 3, 2004

After reading all the comments, my thoughts:

- No to the note. May provoke someone to get revenge on your property or worse, you. Bad idea all around.
- I wouldn't tell either of them -- landlord or housekeeper -- about the problem. That is, if your goal is to catch the perp.
- I think the fake key to the landlord (which, if questioned, could innocently be later explained as "I had a bunch of keys made, *that's* where my office key went!") is a good idea, at least as a trial.
- Definitely try those tips about lipstick under the knob, etc.
- Webcam definitely, do the email notification thing or the offsite photo storage. The last thing you want is someone catching on to your webcam monitoring, and sticking around to confront you about it while you're alone.
- Get yourself a keychain mace spray. Get training on it, learn to use it properly and safely.

Good luck, be careful, be safe. Do let us know how it turns out, please.
posted by jerseygirl at 8:11 AM on June 3, 2004

Could your housekeeper be bringing a boyfriend? She made the bed; the next day it smelled. It obviously has something to do with her. Maybe it's her cologne.
posted by callmejay at 8:49 AM on June 3, 2004

I had the same thought, callmejay -- could be it's the housekeeper's Old-Spice-wearin' teenage son, who sat on the as-yet-unmade bed and watched TV, or helped his mom put the sheets on. Or, of course, it could be a crazy stalker guy. It seems like a conversation with the housekeeper could at least eliminate some possibilities.
posted by MrMoonPie at 9:26 AM on June 3, 2004

I would definitely put a large piece of duct tape over my door when I left in the morning. That stuff is impossible to peel and put back without rumpling it.
posted by agregoli at 10:00 AM on June 3, 2004

Also, do landlords legally have to have keys? I would imagine so, but it doesn't seem right - couldn't you have them with you, or somehow have it so that if he needed to gain entry, he would have to contact you first?
posted by agregoli at 10:01 AM on June 3, 2004

Wow- I'm a little unsettled about how many other people report having similar experiences. I will be talking to the housekeeper, and if that benign explanation solves it, that would really be my ideal outcome, but I'd still have to wonder about the first episode.

In the meantime, my boyfriend will be staying over at my place with me much more frequently over the next few weeks. If my landlord weren't so fervently anti-dog, I'd borrow my boyfriend's dog- a 110 pound shepherd/rottweiler mix- he's a marshmallow of a dog but pretty intimidating looking at first glance.

I've learned to trust my instincts in these types of situations- I'm not going to second-guess myself when my gut is telling me that something is *wrong*- but at the same time, I really don't want to be taken over by fear. I am hoping that changing the locks and conversations with both the landlord and the housekeeper will put a stop to it, but I'm actively looking into the webcam setup for an objective confirmation of whether or not changing the locks ended it.

And if anything comes of it, I will keep you all posted! And if nothing comes of it, I'll just have to keep showing up here, so that nobody sends out a search party. (Hey, now I have a good excuse to spend time on MeFi...)
posted by ambrosia at 10:12 AM on June 3, 2004

Ambrosia, one thing that bothers me about your story is that you can still smell the cologne. I can't speak as to how long cologne lingers, but... I wouldn't think it would be all that long. Is your parking space visible from your window? Does your car have some sort of distinctive sound that would be noticeable when you come home?

Actually, don't discount the sound of your car. I can tell which of every one of my neighbors is coming or going, whether I am in the house or in the backyard, just by the sound of their car. And these are regular cars/SUV's, nothing out of the ordinary.

Could you and your boyfriend plan a stealth mission? Pack up and leave for the weekend as usual, but then come back on Saturday to check up on the place. Maybe at an unusual hour. Ref to above, park your car way down the street and walk to your building. Obviously, not something you would do alone. Either you or your bf should have a camera handy, in case you encounter someone you don't recognize in the building. And don't be embarrassed to use it.

Another suggestion is to talk to your neighbors. Ask them if they've seen anyone unusual around, and just let them know that you suspect that someone has been in your apt. Let them know that you've talked to the police, and tell them that you'd appreciate them keeping an eye on the place. Obviously, don't let them in on your add'l security measures, beyond the obvious changing of the locks. But neighbors notice and hear a lot more than we realize, so maybe they can be of some help.

OTOH, in general I would make note of any neighbor walking down the hall on the wrong floor when you come home (ex. your apt is on the 2nd floor and you find a 1st floor neighbor coming down the stairs as you are on your way up to your apt.).

Even though you're having the locks changed, now that your landlord knows about it you'll have to give them a key. Think about giving him/her a fake key, or have the locks rekeyed again without telling anyone. Pick a neighbor you trust (maybe not the liaison if she already keeps keys) to let your housekeeper in. You can give them the spare key in the morning, and they can return it to you that night, or better yet leave it on the table and lock the door on their way out.

I hope you find out what this is all about soon. Good luck, and be safe.
posted by vignettist at 3:25 PM on June 3, 2004

There has to be someway to mace people automatically who enter uninvited.

Do not ever do this, unless you find the idea of getting sued by the victim of your booby trap and paying them large amounts of money appealing.
posted by oaf at 4:26 PM on June 3, 2004

So ambrosia posts about strange scents. Hmmm.

Not much to add here, except that the landlord point of view is that he has a responsibility to have access to the premises in case of emergency -- like a plumbing disaster. It's just as illegal for the tenant to bar the landlord access by changing the locks without permission (or furnishing a key) as it would be for the landlord to violate the tenant's right to exclusive enjoyment of the premises through an (unjustified) entry without notice. If you don't give the landlord a key, he can probably force you to give him one. For a multi-unit apartment building, you may be required by lease to rekey to a master key set anyway.

I don't mean to be indelicate, but a quick perusal of the less savory parts of the web suggests that someone engaging in this type of voyeurism -- I don't think it has its own name, though it deserves one -- will very likely also mess with your underthings. If you're putting up tape markers and the like, do so for your laundry hamper and dresser. You may also want to check for ... *cough* ... DNA in places like your bedsheets.

On a less creepy note, a tenant who was in place when we bought our 4-unit was absolutely convinced that the prior landlord had been spying on her from the unit above her. I recently thoroughly renovated it and found no evidence of spyholes. I think this fear is common for apartment dwellers. I know there was a time I ran to the store and left my (third-story walk-up) back door unlocked, and when I returned, it was wide open. Creeped me out for sure. And then there was the female friend who woke up to find a strange man standing in her bedroom door staring at her.

Another technique you may want to consider: marking your stalker. Bankers' dye packs are one thought, but there are theft-deterrent chemicals such as black-light sensitive dyes -- RIT whitener, for example, is invisible in normal light. The trick here would be getting the miscreant to touch something coated in the stuff and then under a black light in the next 24-48 hours. Such a trick was used to smoke out some of my high school pals who were playing a harmless prank extremely disliked by the administration. (They only detected it because right after completing the prank, one of my buds turned to take a drink of water at the adjacent fountain, and his hand turned bright blue. They weren't caught that time, thanks to household bleach. My own AxMe: does anyone know the name of this chemical?) Such dyes are now often found in pepper spray cans.
posted by dhartung at 2:23 AM on June 5, 2004

Hi everyone- I had an interesting chat today with my landlord. It turns out that all of the units in the building were keyed on a master key. In other words, my building has been pretty much wide open to anyone who has ever been given a key to any one of the apartments with the determination to reverse-engineer a master. Not only that, he keeps a spare master key hidden somewhere on the property for his use in case of emergency. He acknowledged that someone may have seen him retrieve that master key from its hiding place, and made a copy.

Now that the locks have been changed on my door, my apartment is off the master key system, but the other units are still on it. I'll be having a chat with the rest of my neighbors, though.
posted by ambrosia at 1:33 PM on June 5, 2004 [1 favorite]

Here's what you do: webcam, hidden or otherwise - but [i]host your files[/i] or even stream it, so you can get at the information from another computer without coming back.
posted by abcde at 1:35 PM on June 5, 2004

damn bbcode instincts.

I really do know HTML, I swear.
posted by abcde at 1:35 PM on June 5, 2004

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