“A word of warning from the Village idiot: don’t forget to lock your door even if you are in your house”

Photo by PoPville flickr user Kevin Wolf

“Dear PoPville,

I live in a row house on 11th Street (not exactly a dark alleyway). On Monday night, I was reading in bed when I became convinced someone was walking in our house and climbing the steps towards our bedrooms. I woke my husband up telling him that. We took a look around the house and did not notice anything except that we have forgotten to bolt the front door (we came home in the middle of the storm). I went back to sleep, feeling like a complete idiot and mortified to have deprived my better half of much needed sleep.

Two days later, he asked me if I had seen his rain jacket. We started joking that it must have been the ghost. And then we realized his sneakers had also disappeared and stopped laughing altogether.

Luckily (and unusually), we had nothing of value lying around like keys, wallet, phone… but it was pretty scary in retrospect. This was one mistake, on a Monday night. We were home and I happened to be awake, but we got hit.

Don’t forget to bolt your door.”

65 Comment

  • justinbc

    I always lock my door as soon as I come in the house. Anytime I go out / in I lock it immediately so that I don’t forget. This kinda seems like city living 101, along with “don’t leave your laptop in your car”.

    • Yeah, but people frequently DO leave stuff visible in cars. Doesn’t hurt to have a little reminder.

    • I have friends who don’t even lock their doors when they’re there during the day. Like what do you think this is!?

      • justinbc

        Tell them just pretend their home is like a public bathroom. You wouldn’t want anyone walking in on you doing your business in either, so make sure they’re locked up tight.

        • I like this as a way to educate the hapless urban dweller. I can see the public service campaign on the Metro bus: Don’t get caught with your pants down. Lock the front door like you lock the john door.

        • They just act like I’m too overzealous when I mention it. Like I’m lame…

    • Me too! Both the doorknob lock and the deadbolt. I used to get so irritated by my old roommate because she would routinely forget to do it, which is not cool when my stuff is there too! (Note: New roommate qualification checklist, “do you lock your doors?!”)

    • We learned the car lesson the hard way our first week living in DC. Luckily, it was just a Garmin that was out in the open and not a laptop. The cop who took our report looked at us like we were crazy and told us to never leave anything visible in the car again.

    • I reflexively lock my door every time I walk through it, which means I tend to lock my boyfriend out on the patio at least once or twice every time he decides to grill something. I still think it’s better to have the reflex than not.

  • Terrifying. Glad you’re okay.

  • I always lock my door and double check but one of my roommates is the definition of an airhead and on numerous occasions has left the key in the front door. I’ve come home to find the key in the door and my roommate locked in their room on the phone. I’ve pointed it out several times and it gets better but after while the key is in the door again

    • I’ve had this issue. Roomie would drink on the patio then leave both security and regular door unlocked. After the 4th time, I asked him to leave. I don’t know how you put up with it.

      • I would totally have done the same thing. It’s one thing to leave dishes in the sink, it’s another thing to endanger someone’s property and physical safety.

    • Ugh- that it one annoying thing about roommates. Not every has common sense or shares the same outlook on risk. This post is a good reminder. Even the most safety conscious will forget to lock the door sometimes. I did it once and my stomach dropped when I got up in the morning and realized I had showered and slept all while my door was totally unlocked. Scary feeling. Glad OP is alright.

    • My roommate does this too, all the time. But it would be a big hassle to get rid of him, ’cause we’re married and have these kids and stuff.

    • I have had several people in my apartment building do this. I’m always amazed the couple of times that people have given me dirty looks when I knocked on their door to let them know they left the keys in the door. So much for being neighborly!

      • I have been one of those people who has left keys in the door. (Two kids living in a NYC walk up will leave a Mama frazzled). My neighbors were great and would knock to let me know. I am greatful for people like you.

      • Your neighbors suck. Mine have been grateful b/c shit happens.

    • It is easy to leave your keys in the door when you’re coming home with groceries that you need to put away quickly, kids or dogs. There’s a million ways to get distracted as you’re getting in.

      • I’ve done 2 of the 3 for many years, and I’ve never left my keys in the door. It only takes a second to be careful and make sure keys are in hand or pocket.

        • I think it’s less about being careful (because people make mistakes even when they’re trying to be careful) and more about forming habits. If something’s automatic, there’s little chance you’ll deviate. If your habit is key in-> unlock door->key out then you will pretty much never leave your keys in the door, whether you’re paying attention or not.

          • HaileUnlikely

            Agreed. My last roommate had previously lived in apartments with automatic locks. My house does not have automatic locks. This guy had a fair amount of difficulty forming a new habit of actually having to lock the door himself. I have never had automatic locks, and OCD runs in my family. I’ve been locking and checking and re-checking and re-checking the locks since I was about 5 years old.

    • justinbc

      My last roommate, before I lived with my partner, was the WORST about leaving the doors unlocked. 95% of the stuff in the house was mine, so I guess he never really cared. I was constantly bitching at him about it, and only saw gradual progress just as I was about to move out. He was also a terrible slob and smelled awful. Total asshat.

      • I thought his lack of stuff helped the carelessness. When all you own are books and clothes, you can probably see locking doors as no big deal. At least my guy didn’t smell. Yuck!

  • Had this happen once but they came in a rear window (that we left open with a screen in it) while we were sleeping. Luckily, they only got a wallet which was found the next day.

  • Get an alarm system. This particular incident would have been over in half a second with nothing missing if you had an alarm, even if you forgot to lock the door. It’s a good backup.

    • _If_ the person had set the alarm, that is.
      One of the points in the crime prevention training session I went to was: “If you have an alarm system, USE IT.” Apparently a surprising number of people don’t regularly use their alarm systems.

      • My alarm system (when unarmed) still beeps three times anytime a door or window is opened. Definitely provides additional peace of mind.

    • I can see how older systems were a hassle with the panel, but we can set our alarm system with our phones. It’s super easy so we remember 99% of the time. You can also have it send automatic notifications so that, for example, if you haven’t set it by 10am in the morning you get a text message. Hugely helpful.

    • PDleftMtP

      Although it scares the living crap out of you if you do forget to lock the door and it blows open in the night. Hypothetically speaking.

  • Ally

    My husband forgot just this past week (looks like he’d actually used the deadbolt but accidentally bolted it outside the lock area so the door was just propped open on the dead bolt. I only discovered it the next morning when my cat was banging the door open and shut (he nearly escaped!). Can happen to the best of us. So, we’e instituting “check the doors” each night when we turn out the lights to go to bed. Could have just as easily been me that did it, so an extra pair of eyes never hurts. Scary as heck what happened to the OP though.

  • I’ve had some very grim stuff come through an unlocked alley-facing sliding glass door gate and an unlocked window. Very grim. I strongly second the warning.

  • I had a similar situation at my 10th/W row house three years ago. I was grilling dinner in the patio and left the front door unlocked as I was expecting guests any minute. A large group of teenage girls was loitering outside and even though my neighbor was monitoring them, they barged into my house stole my purse, and ran down the street. Lesson learned. Keep your door locked.

    • justinbc

      How did they know your door was unlocked?

      • Maybe they were going up to houses, knocking (or ringing the doorbell) and then trying the doorknobs for houses that didn’t answer?
        Or maybe they had previously been walking through the alley and saw the OP grilling out back?

      • Good question. The girls could see me grilling in the patio and they were trying all the doorknobs on the street. Trying doorknobs is super common. I’ve watched people try my doorknob while I sit at my desk window working. It is unnerving.

        • west_egg

          Hopefully you call the police every. Single. Time.

          • While working from home on Tuesday afternoon, I watched a man move from porch to porch, unsuccessfully trying to open my neighbors’ front doors. I live near Rock Creek Park in Mount Pleasant. I called the cops, but who knows if he was ever found or if he was successful in getting into someone’s home. So yes, please lock your door!

  • We had this happen to us, too. And the next day we installed an automatic deadbolt lock. So now, if our hands are too full of kids/groceries/mail/stuff and we (or some lovely but not urban minded family member visiting from the Midwest) forget or neglect to lock it, it will do so itself after about 30 seconds.

    • This seems like the perfect way to get yourself locked out. What do you do if you want to just run outside and check the mail or something like that? Do you take your keys?

      • I live on the second floor of my building, and its a straight-shot to the mailboxes by the enterance … and I STILL take my keys and lock my door every time I go down to get the mail (or to do laundry).

      • My door automatically locks itself when closed. I just take my keys with me, its not really an inconvenience. I’d rather pay for a locksmith than having to replace anything stolen (assuming an intruder grabs something expensive like a laptop, not my old sneakers). That said, one of my neighbors (who I trust) has one a spare key just in case I get locked out or am away and need someone to check on my place.

      • justinbc

        If it’s like my deadbolt, there is a button you can press to disable this, but it is automatically reset back to “on” whenever you actively lock the deadbolt. It’s how I locked myself out of my house the first day my new doors were put on (they didn’t explain the locking mechanics to me). I still take my keys every time though just to be safe LOL.

      • I’ve got a key code realtor lock box with a spare key. Anybody have any horror stories about these? I figure if someone does manage to pry it loose they still have to get the key out. Seems like enough of a deterent considering breaking a window would be easier.

        • HaileUnlikely

          Anybody who could manage to get the key out of the realtor lockbox without making a big scene could probably pick the lock on your house just as easily unless you have a well-above-average lock.

      • It has a keypad, so you can use a key or type in the code.

  • Ugh that totally happened to me back in college. I lived in a group house with 3 other woman and on the night before graduation we all went out to graduation parties. The next morning I wake up to the police banging on my bedroom door. The cops had stopped a guy walking down the street holding a tv, laptop and pushing a nice bike. He confessed that he stole it from our house and that the door was left unlocked. The cops came knocking when we were all getting ready for graduation, we hadn’t even noticed anything was stolen yet. Who ever came home last didn’t lock the door. Luckily we got it all back.

    Many years later I had a roommmate who never locked the door. He’d go immediately up to his room after coming in but still not lock the door. Didn’t matter how I nagged that dude he still never locked the friggin door. I think it’s a hard lesson you only need to learn once.

  • Remember to lock your windows too. It’s easier to forget than it should be (for me at least).

    • Agreed. There’s a guy in my attached neighboring building (our two buildings make a u around a courtyard) who has left his window WIDE open constantly for the past week now — I am pretty sure he’s not home (assuming he’s not dead). I keep wishing there was a way to tell him or the landlord to close and lock it… not safe when one has been gone for a while…

  • My FIRST WEEK living in DC in a group home where I didn’t get to choose my roommates, one of them was a country bumpkin who left our back door wide open all day. I was the only one who had fully moved in so of course I was the only one who had everything stolen – laptop (just in time to start grad school!), money, and for the first time ever because I had moved my neatly organized jewelry (with heirlooms from my deceased grandparents and an unbeknownst to me $5k gifted necklace – like I’ll ever again have anything that nice in my life). MPD of course did nothing – not even help with pointing out pawn shops or craigslist to troll (I had been in DC a ripe 5 days). Talk about welcome to DC. It’s been seven years and I am still bitter at that idiot who lost only a 5 year old digital camera! Fist shake!!

  • phl2dc

    …That is so creepy.

  • Great reminder! Late last year, I had come home late from work and must have forgotten to lock my door before going upstairs. The next morning, I got up early and headed straight downstairs to bring the garbage out as it was trash day and as I turned the corner to head into the kitchen and out the back, I found this mid-20’s dude passed out between my fridge and stove. He woke just as I came upon him and I started to berate him with questions like, “Who the F’ are you and what the F’ are you doing in my house!”. After a minute or two of Q and A and looking around to make sure he wasn’t armed or had anything of mine, I said, “Look, I just can’t let a dude break into my house and leave. I have to call the cops.” When I called 911 to report the it, the operator asks, “How do you know someone broke-in” to which I said “Cause, he’s standing right in front of me.” “Hold on one moment…”, and about 12 cops showed up in about 90 seconds.
    While you can probably imagine the heart attack I had just rolling up on this guy, it compared nothing to the one when the cops, with guns drawn, asked if there was anyone else in the house? I wasn’t about to be the one to find out for them; luckily for all of us, there wasn’t. The guy wound up getting 6 months probation and community service. Still not quite sure who was more scared, him or I, but I thanked my lucky stars that nothing was taken, everyone came out okay and my wife and kid were away at the time. I check the locks every night now.

    • That happened to me prior to moving to Parkview-Columbia Heights. Rather than question the dude I beat him silly with my sand wedge. I grew up in NE DC near RFK and my mother told me never converse with bums, junkies and trespassers. I did call the cops. I told 911 he had busted in and lunged at me. He got probation as well and some diversion program. He also got a busted eye socket to remind him that he needs to act right.

  • Last night I woke up to my door cracked open from the wind and realized I didnt lock it last night. :0 Luckily I was fine and nothing was missing. I

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