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How many people have had a chance to copy your apartment key?

Posted by Rona Fischman August 19, 2011 02:05 PM

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In the 1980s, I lived in a building with three units above a store. The front door, leading to the stairway, had a good, sturdy deadbolt lock. Our apartment had a flimsy, hollow-core door. Being young, and not owning much, I wasnít thinking much about security.

At some point about four months after we moved in, there was a guy wandering the hall outside our apartment. I asked if I could help him. He said he was looking for his sister. He was a different race than anyone else who lived there. But, being young, and not owning much, I wasnít thinking much about security.

About two weeks later, our apartment was burglarized. Being young, and not owning much, I didnít lose all that much. They got some jewelry and the boom box and a leather jacket. Someone in my office said that they went Christmas shopping.

The police came and took a report. They mentioned something I hadnít thought of. It is very common for apartments to get burglarized by people who have a key:a former tenant, a former tenantís boyfriend, a former tenantís girlfriend, a former tenantís boyfriendís new girlfriend, a former tenantís cleaning lady, a former tenantís cleaning ladyís teenage childÖ you get the picture. It is easy to get a key copied.

The policeman told me that I can demand that the landlord change the locks and that tenants should demand this more often. Now that the horse was gone -- well, my feeble collection of jewelry and my boom box and leather jacket were gone Ė the landlord changed the locks.

About a month later, our doorbell rang. A good Samaritan rang it. He had just confronted a guy at our door, trying and failing to use a key in the outside door lock. The key-holder fled. The good Samaritan got his plate number. I called the police with the information. As far as I know, this thief was never caught.

Tenants, do you know when the last time the lock was changed on your apartment? Do you have any idea how many people might have a key? Even if you are young and donít own much, you should find out.

I tell my buyer-clients to change the locks in their house for the same reason; there could be copies circulating.

The policeman said it was a tenantís right to have a secure key. I havenít been able to find a finite statute that says so. Does anyone know if this is a landlord obligation or was the policeman just wanting tenants to have the right?

We change the locks when our tenants change because we donít want them to go through what we did. Even though they are young and donít own that much.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
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Scott Van Voorhis is a freelance writer who specializes in real estate and business issues.

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