Dear PoPville – Dealing with an Awkward Situation

Photo by PoPville flickr user Christopher Michael Poole

Dear PoPville,

As I’ve written in the last few months, my building has been broken into, packages stolen, etc. We reinforced with a magnetic lock on the front door, a locked mail room door… all of which solved our stolen package problem.

But: we realized this week that a guy (maybe more?) has/have been following residents into the building, pretending to live in our building. He/they then watch tv and hang out in our basement lounge.

So, clearly we have a problem of challenging people who walk in the door. In what I consider atypical DC fashion, I’ve made it a point to get to know quite a few of my neighbors and approach this in a friendly fashion, but challenging people who try to follow me in is always uncomfortable – especially if that person is black as I don’t want to appear like I’m targeting someone because he’s black.

Gets to deeper questions and discomforts on race for me – something I think many people of all ethnic backgrounds in Washington feel as demographics have continued to change.

How have other people/buildings approached situations like this? People get pissed off if someone comes out and won’t let someone who’s waiting get in (somewhat understandably – no one wants to be seen as a thief or interloper – but that’s clearly a problem).

67 Comment

  • I don’t see what the big deal is. Just say “I’m sorry but we’ve have problems with unauthorized people coming in.” Don’t let white guilt get in the way.

  • People should understand (but they don’t), that they have no expectation to be allowed in a building by a resident if he or she isn’t recognized. WIth certain exceptions like a little old lady who needs to get in out of the rain, if you don’t recognize them, don’t let ’em in. building I’ve been cursed out by white entitled jerks when I’ve shut my building door in their faces because I didn’t recognize them. It is unpleasant, but it has to be done, race card or no.

    • +1

      I’d get some signs printed up to post on the front door that reinforce this message.

    • Brilliant idea. Post a sign in the window that says every person trying to gain access to the building must be buzzed up. Residents will not hold the door for people trying to enter the building behind them. That way, the next time you see someone, just point to the sign and say “sorry building policy” we have one in my building as well.

  • I think any resident would understand. I am Asian. Does your issue only relate to black/african american persons? Do you feel equally guilty for hispanics, asians and whites? Just curious.

  • I figure by the time I get home from work and re-check this conversation, there will be close to 100 comments. Interesting subject though, and already thoroughly agree with the first comment.

  • I totally understand the discomfort. I’ve always lived in big (and relatively un-social) buildings where I recognize by sight maybe 5-10% of my neighbors and hate feeling like I’m potentially slamming the door in the face of someone who legitimately lives in the building who I simply don’t recognize. I think Anon 2:33’s advice is sound. You will probably piss some people off, which creates its own discomfort, but as for the racial angle, I think your conscience can be clear as long as you’re equally applying this strategy (ie, saying “I’m sorry…” to anyone you don’t recognize, regardless of their race.)

  • Stranger danger is real and people of all races and genders steal. Make sure you protect your property and your neighbors by NOT holding the door for anyone unless you recognize that they live in the building.

  • I think you’re looking at this situation entirely the wrong way…

    What if the person is visiting a friend? how are you going to verify their trustworthiness?
    You’re not a cop.

    I have a row house in DC and I simply don’t get deliveries there because I know someone can steal them off my doorstep at any time, your situation is no different because you don’t have a doorman. Anyone can also move into the building and be profiled incorrectly leading to a whole host of problems. Get the package delivered at work, the post office, or get a P/O box and call it a day.

    You have no authority to stop someone from entering the building and could face a legal battle if you do, all you can do is take away the incentive for the negative elements from hanging out and stealing things. By being a door cop you also potentially expose yourself to a dangerous situation, just ask George Zimmerman.

    Race has nothing to do with the matter. Just street smarts.

    • I totally disagree. You have every right to ask see their key/fob before letting them follow you in. It’s a safety thing. In the last few months, my condo building has had 2 burglaries. Surveillance cameras has shown that they’ve followed in behind a resident. It’s uncomfortable to ask, but you need to do it. We have a sign in the elevator reminding residents about not letting in non-residents. When someone followed in behind me, even though I did not think she was a threat, I asked if she lived here.. When she replied, “no,” I apologized and told her that I couldn’t let her in and she’d have to buzz the person She was visiting. Uncomfortable, but it keeps thieves out.

      • Even if you stop to question everyone, there’s no way to ensure that everyone else will. Often times people who get an idea of things to steal are guests of others that live in the building at one point or another.

        It only takes one person to slip in. If they find profit, they come back and tell others about the opportunity.

        Invest in a doorman or cameras for a slightly better feeling of safety, otherwise, expect “the city” to “operate like a city”….

        Stopping people as they enter will only put your own safety at risk because they’ll already know where you live, and you also have a good chance of offending anyone you stop regardless unless it’s a small building where you can meet everyone.

        • epric002

          do you know how building entry ways work? you don’t have to stop and question anyone, you just don’t have to let people in that you don’t personally know live there. why is this so hard? instead of people being proactive about not allowing strangers entry, your first solution is to hire a doorman or install security cameras? *scratching my head in confusion*

        • justinbc

          Sorry Jack, but I think you’re just wrong on this one. Each tenant should do what they’re comfortable with in securing their own living space. If that means asking to see a key fob before holding a door open then so be it. This requires very little effort.

    • epric002

      completely disagree. you absolutely have the authority to *not* hold the door open and welcome in anyone who walks by. no resident is being asked to verify anyone’s trustworthiness. the smart solution is that everyone swipes/unlocks the door on their own. at work these are called “tailgaters”, and you’re not supposed to let anyone tailgate on your entry. the tailgaters are doing more than just stealing packages, they’re loitering in a private building, which enables all sorts of other problems. completely agree with the other posters who suggest getting the building mgmt to put up signs so everyone has to enable their own entry.

    • If they tell me they are visiting a friend I tell them to call their friend on the call box or cell to come get them.

      Sounds like you’re street smarts are little off, pal.

      • Too bad all the people in your building won’t read this single thread on POP. *sigh*

        All I’m saying is “be real” about the situation. Your efforts alone are not enough to ensure the safety of the building and it’s residents. It doesn’t hurt, and actually helps to be a bit more practical and concrete in preventing negative incidents.

        • epric002

          “practical and concrete” would be having building management involved in reminding residents to not let strangers tailgate on entry, and providing signage of the same.

          • Maybe, but I’m skeptical of how effective that would be. We have signs around my building, and tenants let people tailgate all the time. Some people just don’t care, some aren’t paying close attention, some assume the person looks legit, and some are just too uncomfortable to shut the door in someone’s face. Frequent reminders from management never hurt, but I just don’t think it will have the same effect (especially in a big building) as security cameras or a doorman (which a management company won’t likely spring for unless it’s a higher-end or luxury building).

        • Don’t be so sure of that Jack5:

          “Too bad all the people in your building won’t read this single thread on POP. ”

          I’m one of them.

    • I disagree with your perspective completely. If they’re visiting a friend then the friend can let them in. You don’t have to verify their trustworthiness, you just have to verify whether they live there or not (as best you can). You’re under no obligation to hold or open the door for someone you don’t recognize, and I think you’d be well within your right to ask for them to show you a building key or something like that if they’re following you in. If there was no one around they would have to get their key out anyway so they should be happy to do so even if there are people around.

    • Jack5 What if the person who gets let in isn’t there to steal a package but to sexually assault the next person who tries to come out of their apartment?

      • I wasn’t saying that people should let others tailgate… Sure it’s important to not let people follow you in. I was saying though – that that alone isn’t enough to prevent negative incidents from happening in the building, and that confronting someone and asking them if they belong in the building is not a good tactic for personal safety and security. It’s better to avoid that kind of confrontation and worry about the security of your own unit and possessions.

        • I agree with Jack5 on this one. It’s true that the communal interest is important. But imagine this situation: A 300 pound 6’6” man with a face tatoo and a shirt that says “I kill puppies” is waiting by the doorway to your building. You have two options, quietly let him follow you in or stop him and say he can’t come in. You, being the good neighbor say “sir the building requires all guests to use the call box.” What is there to stop that huge, almost a giant (this is my hypothetical) from entering the building anyways and kicking your butt in the process? Nothing. Of course it makes sense to dissuade others from following behind you, but in the absence of a door man or other people around, you would be the one starting the confrontation with a stranger, which is always a bad idea. I feel that 100 percent of the responsibility for stopping strangers from entering the building belongs to the management company. They are generally wealthy as all hell and too cheap to pay for a doorman/ security guard.

          • And that’s why the management company puts locks on the doors and only gives keys to residents. That is precisely how they stop strangers from entering the building, and that is almost always enough. In fact, that’s usually about as much as any homeowner does when you think about it. Now if the residents are letting other people in, that’s a little harder for management to control, isn’t it?

    • Maybe I misread, but it sounded like the OP had solved the problem of packages being stolen. However there were still non-residents coming in and using the building’s common spaces without a resident with them. I would be as alarmed as the OP is about this situation– you don’t know these people, or what they might do. And if they did hurt someone or cause damage you have no way of tracking them down once they leave since no one knows their name. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to tell non-residents attempting to follow you into the building to just call whoever they are visiting, or to ask fellow residents to have the same policy.

  • It sounds like your management company should be involved by sending out reminders to tenants about NOT letting non-residents in!! so let yourself in and tell the person behind you, sorry, i don’t know you! close the door. if he/she is a resident, he/she will have gotten the memo from management and totally understand. interlopers will get huffy, but who cares?? they are interlopers!

    • Emmaleigh504

      My building management will contact residents if they see people letting others tailgate on the security camera. They also periodically send out a building reminder. I think it works well, never had packages stolen even when they are left out for weeks.

  • KSB

    Am I the only one who sees an obvious solution in simply introducing yourself? “Hi there, I’m Bob – I don’t believe we’ve met. Are you a new resident?” or something of the like. Even if we’re looking at gloom and doom scenarios and this person turns out to be one of the criminal element, you’ve at least spent a moment chatting with (and getting a good look at) his face. And if you have a new neighbor, then you’ve met a new neighbor.

  • I usually smile, say hello and offer my name then ask, “Do you live here, too?” That sets up commenter #1’s polite statement with ease. Or you get to meet one more new neighbor who will show his card key.

  • I try to avoid this situation by hanging back until the door is clear so I know there’s no one following me in (e.g., dig through my purse, text a friend). Not always possible, but it helps. I’ve been sworn at by someone who said he was a friend of a resident because I didn’t let him in, but I always just say, “I’m sorry, but I don’t know you” and leave it at that.

  • I’m not sure why this has to be a race thing. If someone is following me into the building, I’m usually aware of it and gauge the person’s appearance and demeanor, rather than their race. There are sketchy folks of all races in this city. If I don’t feel comfortable, I’ll tell them “sorry, you’ll have to get buzzed in”. Simple as that.

    • I’ve certainly been called a racist for reacting to situations that I would do the same no matter what the other person’s race was. For eg, one time I was at the ATM and a group of 5 or so teens came and stood not more than a foot behind me during my transaction. I don’t care your age, color, etc., it is not cool to stand so close to someone taking money out of an ATM and my first thought is going to be either you are trying to rob me or are extremely rude. When I turned around, gave them a WTF look and said excuse me, a little space please, they all screamed and pointed “racist! she’s racist! just because we are black doesn’t mean we are going to rob you!” It was very jarring- and embarrassing as then everyone around stopped and thought I actually did something egregious- which I think is what the OP is trying to avoid.

      • I once turned around, startled, while waiting for the bus because someone started yelling loudly behind me. The yeller then accused me of being afraid of black people because of my reaction. Um, I didn’t even see the guy until after I reacted…

  • We had this problem, and we addressed it in two ways. First, we added a sign to the front of the building near the call box that says something to the effect of, Please do not allow entry to anyone that you do not know personally. We can now point at the sign and say that it is against the rules, sorry. Second, we locked the elevators. They do not work (except to get to the first floor) unless you use either a key fob or a unique identification number. I have at times lingered in the hall or done other things to avoid getting in the elevator with someone who I don’t know so as to avoid confrontation on the issue. We haven’t had a problem since installing these two things several years ago.

  • “Sorry, I can’t let you in because I don’t recognize you. Hope you understand.” Everyone gets over it, including you.

  • My go-to is to turn around and ask to see the fob or key. It might be a little aggressive, but sometimes feigning confidence is all it takes. Most of the time, people know why I’m turning around and lift up their fob ahead of time. I’ve refused to let in delivery men or maintenance workers as well, as I don’t really know who they are or why they’re really there. I’ve heard one too many stories about PEPCO scams to automatically trust someone in a certain color polo.

  • Emmaleigh504

    Who cares if the random person coming in behind you thinks you are racist? If they live in your building they know the situation and will understand. If they are visiting a person in the building they will probably comment to the person about the racist person who wouldn’t let them tailgate. Then that person can set them straight. It’s not a big deal in my opinion.

    • I don’t know, coming from the perspective a black person who has had the door shut in my face or had the person cross the street to avoid me, I have to say that it stings. It’s not a matter of caring whether that person is a racist or not. To me, it’s more that there’s this lingering sort of feeling of shame, like you did something wrong, even though you know you haven’t. I’m sure most people will dismiss me as being too sensitive, and that’s fine. Just offering my personal experience (and that of many people I know) of someone’s whose been on the other side of that. I know that it’s not possible to introduce yourself and say hello to your neighbors every time, but it’s really nice to do it if the situation permits.

      • Emmaleigh504

        I’m sorry you feel that way. My intention is not to offend but to follow the rules of my building and keep myself safe. And I really don’t care to meet all my neighbors, there are too many and the turn over is high. If their feelings are hurt I just can’t be bothered to care, too many other things to worry about. Besides, the building management goes over the rules when people sign the lease and gives out a copy, everyone should know that letting strangers in is forbidden. (no one needs to call me a big meanie with white privilege, I’m well aware of my situation, thanks.)

        • Your nastiness is uncalled for yet typical.

        • Seriously, there was no need to be so nasty. I always appreciate your comments on here, and I’m surprised that you responded so harshly to me just sharing my perspective.

          • I don’t think it’s nasty. I think it’s the sentiment of a street smart woman.

          • Emmaleigh504

            I was just sharing my experience/situation. Pretty sure you aren’t my neighbor so me not wanting meet all my neighbors (over 100) does not apply to you.

          • There was nothing nasty about Emmleigh’s post IMO. This is an issue of safety, not an issue of making other people feel good about themselves. If it hurts your feelings that someone who doesn’t know you won’t let you into the building then you need to think more about the situation.

          • ” I know that it’s not possible to introduce yourself and say hello to your neighbors every time, but it’s really nice to do it if the situation permits.”

            How is that anything remotely close to me telling you that you need to put your safety on the line or become best friends with all of your neighbors? At least judge me by my actual words.

        • I’ve always lived in larger apartment buildings with a good amount of tenant turnover , so I get that it’s harder and maybe even futile to get to know people compared to a smaller building. But sheesh, it doesn’t take that much energy to make eye contact or smile and say good morning/hello to the neighbors you pass in the hall or lobby. The neighbors of mine that I do recognize and would feel comfortable letting in the building behind me (for instance, if I found my keys quicker than them, or if they had their arms full with carrying stuff), it’s because I’ve greeted them and they’ve reciprocated, so they stick out in my mind. We’re not BFFs, I don’t know their life stories, I don’t even know their names or what apartments most of them live in. Simply saying hi when you happen to pass is a pretty low-maintenance way of at least becoming familiar by sight with some of your neighbors.

  • DC CapHill

    The last time I let someone follow me into the building, they knifed me before even asking for anything, stole my shit and left me for dead. And you think that appearing to be unfriendly or insensitive is your biggest problem? Ummmm, no. You live in a major city, with MAJOR crime. Do not allow ANYONE access to your building, it’s just common sense.

    Post signs, absolutely, and I’d also advise it say something about video surveillance on premises. Whether you have it or not, it’s a good idea as a deterrent and a cover for yourself, when someone asks why you won’t grant them access.

    Always be diligent, to keep yourself and your fellow residents safe and sound.

  • Lock the basement lounge and tell residents that they will have to start bringing a key to get in. Add the sign to the front door that many people have suggested. And then go about your life. You are not a racist because you are responding to an actual situation that involves someone (or many people) of a different race. Would you feel you were sexist if the basement lounge trespassers were women? No, you’re just dealing with the real world, which doesn’t always involve people who look / talk / act / believe the same as you.

  • Stop overthinking it. Anyone with a friend in the building will be concerned with the friend’s welfare and understand & embrace the security procedures. Just pause and look around before you enter so there is no one ready to pounce and try to sneak in. If caught unaware, tell the person you forgot your own entry key and will their friend please let you both in. Or turn and walk away from the entrance, mumbling something about forgetting your folder or something in the taxi. Remember that the person trying to sneak in with you may very well be intending to do YOU harm!

    • it’s tough in a large building where you don’t know everyone but a moderate approach in a smaller building – 50 units or so and if you know all of your neighbors and which units they’re in – is to simply ask who are you here to see? in which unit? if they can’t give you a quick and straight answer then definitely don’t let them in.

  • I’m always hesitant to let people follow me into the building because I’ve seen Seinfeld, and don’t want to be the Elaine who lets Jehovah’s Witnesses or other door-to-door solicitors into the building. And also the stuff other people pointed out already.

    • One time I let the door close on a lady I didn’t recognize. She wasn’t tailgating me, she far enough away from me that I thought it would be awkward if I just stood there holding the door open for a few minutes until she got there… and I didn’t recognizer her so ultimately decided to let the door close. Well you know what happens next – turns out she’s lives in the building and she catches up with me by the mail boxes. We get into the elevator together, get off the on the same floor, walk in the same direction down the hall, and turns out she lives right next door to me. Awkward. I tried to make eye contact with her to apologize, but she went into her apartment and closed the door before I could say anything. It was just like that Seinfeld episode when Jerry let the front door close on someone who turned out to be his neighbor.

  • I don’t think “challenging” the person or slamming a door in a someone’s face is the answer. To me, “challenging” implies a confrontational and accusatory tone. Slamming a door in someone’s face without a word is rude and does not foster a sense of mutual responsibility amongst tenants. Unless the situation feels threatening, I think saying “hi,” introducing yourself by first name, and explaining the situation is the best way to go. If they are a tenant, they should have no problem pulling out their keys and should be pleased to live in a building with responsible neighbors. If they are a guest and are reasonable they should understand. Either way, you now know two new faces, and you aren’t an asshole. Try being polite and respectful to others before installing a camera or hiring a doorman. It is a lot easier and goes a long way.

  • Does your basement lounge have HBO by chance?

  • I’m a black female whose building has lots of signs asking people not to allowing tailgate into the building but everyone does. I can’t possibly know or recognize all the faces in my building. It seems like the majority of people entering my building appear white middle class, but still I don’t know them and as a female I like to be careful. So what I do when approaching my building with other people, is I slow down and let them walk ahead of me and never pull out my key. If they don’t live in my building they get stuck at the door and have to wait for the concierage to buzz them in. Then I go to the mailboxes and linger so they can’t follow me to the elevator.

    I don’t feel bad about this because if they are visiting a friend, their friend is home and they could easily just call them to come get them. However when I do this with people who live in my building I can see them get visibly annoyed that I can pull out a key to open my mailboxes but not the front door so I can’t win.

  • ELAINE: Hi Tina.

    TINA: Hi Elaine.

    ELAINE: So, I haven’t seen you in a while.

    TINA: Elaine, we have a problem.

    ELAINE: Well, what is it?

    TINA: You’re getting kicked out.

    ELAINE: Kicked out?! Why?!

    TINA: Well, there’s been a number of complaints.

    ELAINE: Yeah? Like what?

    TINA: Well, like last Thanksgiving you buzzed up a jewel thief.

    ELAINE: Ah, I didn’t know who he was!

    TINA: That’s why there’s a buzzer.

    ELAINE: What else?

    TINA: Well, apparently, the week after that, you buzzed up some Jehova’s Witnesses and they couldn’t get them out of the building.

    ELAINE: What else have you got?

    TINA: Well, let’s see. (Takes out a list from her bag)

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