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"Help! We've Been Robbed! Twice!" — Because a Front-Door Key Got Stolen

Jennifer Wu in Building Operations on May 14, 2013

Morningside Heights, Manhattan, New York City

Front Door Key Stolen
May 14, 2013

Our building, in Manhattan's Morningside Heights, is a 21-unit cooperative. Almost everyone knows each other. Aside from one rental unit, all the shareholders have been here for years. The lobby entrance has two locked doors, and I had left our bags presumably safe and secure behind the innermost one. Living on the sixth floor, we'd left our belongings in the lobby countless times as we made multiple trips up the stairs. So we were stunned that this had happened.

Who Ya Gonna Call?

Mike, a co-op board member, immediately e-mailed the rest of the board and our manager about the incident. I called the police and was told to either call 911 or to file a report at any police station.

"911!" I exclaimed. "Surely, this doesn't warrant a 911 call?"

"Call 911 when you require any police assistance, even after the fact," the dispatcher replied.

Restless, Mike and I took a walk around the block to see if our bags had been abandoned nearby. On a whim before we headed out, I walked up the stairs to our roof-door landing.

I got there and stopped short. There was a man lying in the stairwell.

Apparently, our neighbor

didn't realize that the

man had stolen a key.

I ran down the stairs, pushed Mike into our apartment and called 911. The police were on their way. But before they could arrive, we watched helplessly through our peephole as the man quietly made his way past our door and down the stairs. The police finally came, but the guy was long gone. Our bags were on the roof-door landing. The officers suggested that the man had come in with another tenant or had buzzed until someone had let him in.

When we reviewed our lobby's surveillance video the morning after our encounter, we were shocked to discover that the man had let himself into the building with a key. This was even more alarming. The building's locks would have to be changed now.

Curious about where our intruder got his key, our super did some investigating. He found that our neighbor across the hall not only knew the perpetrator, a homeless former convict who had recently served jail time, but had allowed him to room with him until the man began to steal things. Apparently, our neighbor didn't realize that the man had stolen a key. Our management company soon posted a sign (with a photo of the man) warning the residents not to allow him or any strangers into the building.

Six Days to Get Locks Changed

While we waited for the locks to be changed, the key-wielding ex-convict entered again one night and damaged property, broke into a storage closet and our basement and stole supplies from the building. This time, the super called the police. They came and took DNA samples, photos and statements.

Eventually, our locks were changed, albeit some six days later. In retrospect, if I could do everything over, I would have insisted that our locks be changed earlier and that a memo be sent to everyone in the building right away. Going forward, we'll ask the current board to remind residents to keep tabs on their keys, to immediately report if one is lost or stolen and to make sure they never let anyone they don't know into the building. I have no problem telling strangers that I can't admit them unless someone specifically buzzes them in. I only hope the other residents do the same.

Two weeks after the incident, I saw the intruder standing on the corner outside our building, leaning against a lamppost. I would recognize him anywhere. I'd seen him up close, on the surveillance tapes, and in the photo our management company had posted. I watched him standing there for a few minutes until he slowly sauntered off. I realized then that security can never be ignored and will always be an issue. Co-op and condo boards can never stop being vigilant — and making sure that residents are, too.


Illustration by Marcellus Hall. Click on image to enlarge.

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