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To Key Or Not To Key

OK, probably you saw that recent article in The New York Times: The No Lock People, about apartment dwellers who think they live in the burbs and leave their doors open. I’ve thought about it, and decided maybe the real question is: Are you a Key Person, because whether or not you lock your door if you leave your key someone can unlock it when you’re not there.

I get it. That’s exactly the point – to have access in case of emergency.  In fact it’s the law.  Under the Multiple Dwelling Law, (Sec. 51-c) tenants are required to leave duplicate keys, and most proprietary leases mandate that owners do the same.   If you’re a tenant, you can be evicted by your landlord if you don’t as one unlucky woman found out the hard way. (See below.)  And technically, key hording owners could be sent packing for breach of their leases, though to my knowledge no board has done so yet.

I never left my key when I was a renter and I don’t now that I’m an owner (though I do leave a copy with a neighbor, just in case). It’s not that I don’t trust the staff, I just don’t want to put that trust to the test, which is why I don’t leave people alone in my apartment to fix stuff when I’m not there (which can be a real hassle), and it’s one of the reasons I don’t have a cleaning lady even though they can be excellent sources of intelligence. (See, Secret Agent.). The only time there was a theft in my building happened when a key was given to an impostor posing as a cleaner.

Maybe I’d feel differently if the keys were kept in one of those Fort Knox style computer contraptions that use secret codes to prevent misuse, and not a plain old metal box with keys tagged with apartment numbers.

But it really doesn’t matter whether or not you leave your key because odds are your building has a Master Key that allows access (at least for the bottom lock) to every apartment, a secret I discovered when I locked myself out going to toss the trash, thankful that I didn’t have to pay a locksmith hundreds of dollars to get back in.  Only I did it again – more than once – on the way to the laundry, and the Master Key was out of the building along with the super, who wore it on his warden-sized key ring, leaving the handyman to open my door, which he did in 2 seconds flat with a credit card, a show of dexterity both convenient and disconcerting.

I’m sure the woman who lived in that fancy building on Wall Street was a lot more upset than me. (See below.) She was the sole tenant on the lease and had directed in writing that her former roommate not be allowed into the apartment. But the building let her in with a Master Key, and she moved out $200,000 worth of antique Chinese furniture, which she said was hers, but the tenant insisted was hers, and the whole thing wound up in court, which only goes to show what a big mess a little key can cause.

So for now, I’m holding onto my key.  But not being one to counsel disobedience, I’m leaving it up to you to decide whether to key or not to key.

For chapter and verse, see:

  • Nyanmekye v. Madison, 17 Misc. 3d 127(A), (App. Tm. 1st Dept 2007) (tenant given one last chance before being evicted for not leaving duplicate key.)
  • Wen Ying Ji v. Rockrose Development Corp., 21 Misc. 3d 1104(A) (Sup. Ct. N.Y. 2008) (discussing landlord’s liability for using Master Key to allow tenant’s former roommate access to apartment without permission.)

To access these cases, click here, then under Search By Citation, enter the case year and number.

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One Response to “To Key Or Not To Key”

  1. escapefromyonkers says:

    i had recent work done in my co-op.
    the work was due to the buildings leaking pipe under my bathtub, their responsibility and it was damaging the downstairs neighbor ceiling.
    i came home 3 separate times in 2 days to find my door ajar and no one inside. i told the super on the first time, and yet it happened twice more.
    i am going to change the lock and no keys going to the building again.
    i would recommend a laptop setup using a free program like yawcam.
    this way if you do have workers in, you can make sure they are not routing through your drawers.
    seems the workers would just leave , not notify the supper and close the door. the latch lock is easily blown open by the wind. i only use deadbolts and security locks , never rely on that little button lock mechanism.

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