Beware of who you “buzz in to a building, it can have some very severe consequences for you or those around you”

Photo by PoPville flickr user Clif Burns

“Dear PoPville,

Neighbors, I wanted to report a break in at the Adams Court Condominiums on August 28th around 1:30 in the afternoon in Columbia Heights just a block from the metro.

The burglars, whose pictures are attached, were buzzed into the building by a fellow resident (not the owner of the unit that was burglarized) most likely saying they were delivering a package. In roughly 10 minutes they broke into my apartment after picking the lock (cops and the locksmith said they were pros) and ransacked the place, stealing several thousand dollars worth of small electronics and jewelry among other things and then walking calmly back into the activity of the city carrying the items in bags that also belonged to me.

Thank you for sharing! I hope this serves as a lesson to people in condo buildings everywhere to be more aware of who they just “buzz in” to a building, it can have some very severe consequences for you or those around you.

The cops told me there was a string of them happening around Columbia Heights of late. I really want people to be aware of this, especially those in buildings with a buzzer system.”

51 Comment

  • phl2dc

    Can you please post the pictures mentioned? I’m also a little confused by the text – is this all the same message, or are there two separate messages here?

    • +1. I’m confused.

    • I’m assuming PoP doesn’t want to post the photos because of possible libel (?) issues, but usually in this case he provides a link if the photos are posted somewhere else.
      If they aren’t posted somewhere else, maybe he can add an “Ed. Note” explaining why they’re not posted here.

  • OP, so sorry to hear about your experience. I hope your post will encourage apartment/condo residents to be MUCH more wary about buzzing strangers into their building (and also about letting people walk in behind them).

    • phl2dc

      I always find it so awkward when I arrive at my building’s doors at the same time as someone I don’t recognize. Do people really tell the person behind them, “I’m sorry but I can’t let you in?”

      • Yes, just say “please use your own fob.” And yes, I pull the door shut and I’ve had people on the other side of the door stand there screaming at me through the glass. The people who live there and have their own access to the building do not behave in this way.

        • Wasn’t this an episode of Seinfeld.

          • Yes, and the person Jerry shut the door on ended up living right down the hall from him.

            It kinda emphasizes how not neighborly people who live in apartment buildings are.

          • Also when Elaine got kicked out of her apartment for buzzing in a jewel thief and a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Seinfeld mirrors life so often.

        • phl2dc

          Hm, cool. I was just wondering how many people did this, since I have a concierge and sometimes security so I haven’t been as on top of it.

        • You’d be surprised how awful some people can be when they feel they’ve been slighted. One of my neighbors sent a building-wide email to cuss me out because a friend who was walking my dog shut the door in her face. My friend doesnt live here…he doesn’t know you!

      • Yes. One time was a little funny, a neighbor I know saw me coming and was holding the elevator while a newer resident who didn’t recognize me blocked the door saying he can’t let me in (my keys were hiding somewhere on the bottom of a full bag). He felt badly at first, but I appreciated him being firm.
        In general, the people who live there or are otherwise supposed to be there don’t mind (including delivery people and visitors). If someone slides in right after me I at least try to ask them who they’re visiting, the unit number, etc. Unfortunately our lobby is unattended, so we’re really dependent on people being vigilant.

        • phl2dc

          “Unfortunately our lobby is unattended, so we’re really dependent on people being vigilant.”

          Ah yes. My building has a concierge 24/7, so I see it as a little less of a problem.

      • I did this to another person in my condo building and now we’re best buds 🙂

      • justinbc

        I’m surprised how many people are saying yes, given how generally nonconfrontational people are want to be. I think if you’re one of those people who doesn’t like awkward moments with others you could help yourself out by asking building management to post clearly written signs by the entrance that you can point at as backup for when you shut the door in people’s faces.

      • I do not let them in. Just not worth it and too easy for them to get in through some other means if they’re supposed to be there.

      • Better awkward than ransacked. Or worse.
        I’m amazed that people who live in a city are so fearful of offending possible criminals.

    • I find it most awkward when someone is bumbling with the callbox next to the door and I come in and open it with my fob.

      They often go, “Oh, great!” And sneak in right behind me even though I made no invitational effort.

      Thankfully, we have a front desk person who is usually there to serve as a second line of defense. Still, it’s awkward.

      • phl2dc

        I find it awkward as hell when I’m the one at the call box and someone comes in with their key… They always hold the door for me, so I feel silly refusing to enter and just standing there.

      • We all live in buildings. It is very rude to sneak in, even if it is easy. I am a big guy and when I see people fobbing into my building I pull out my fob to signal that I live there also. If I need to get buzzed in, I keep my distance and don’t approach until the door is closed.

      • When this happens and it involves someone I don’t recognize, I usually wait some distance away from the entrance to see if they get in the building. We live in a building that only contains 6 apartments and no security. It’s just too dangerous to chance it.

  • Emmaleigh504

    It makes it so much worse when they use your bags to carry the stuff out. It’s like salt in the wound.

  • People who buzz people in randomly don’t have any common sense. I’ve always felt safer in buildings where you didn’t have the ability to buzz anyone in – where you had a buzzer and an intercom, but had to go downstairs and let people in.

  • A thread was started on the Columbia Heights listserv with the photos:

  • I know this isn’t possible in a big building, but when someone asks to buzz them in to deliver a package, I usually ask who they’re delivering to. I know most of my neighbors (small building), but we also have a tenant registry, so I can do a quick check to see if that person actually live here. There’s been a few times when the person has who’s buzzed me hasn’t answered and just walked away…and I assume that’s someone up to no good trying to access the building.
    We’ve had packages stolen recently and it’s been an eye opener. Definitely makes me more concerned to screen people even if I come across as rude.

    • I’m on the condo board of my building and I can tell you FedEx, UPS and USPS all have access codes for your building and do not need to be buzzed in. If they are calling, they either need a signature for a delivery specifically to you, they are too lazy to bring the access code for the building, or someone in management (of the delivery company) isn’t doing their job. It’s very frustrating when I get calls from residents saying their packages aren’t being delivered or they are getting calls from UPS/FedEx to be let in because I KNOW they have the access codes.

      • “I can tell you FedEx, UPS and USPS all have access codes for your building and do not need to be buzzed in.” Not necessarily true; I suspect this varies by building. I know at my old building, USPS had a key but the others did not have keys or access codes.

        • Yeah, my building USPS can get in but Fedex, UPS etc will leave a “package could not be delivered” note if they can’t get buzzed in.

  • Maybe they are let in my someone who themselves were buzzed in legitimately. I know I have been places to visit a friend and I get buzzed in and someone is behind me. I have no idea whether they live there or not or whether the tennants are typical strict or lax. I will be more vigilant about this in the future n

  • I think relying on thieves being denied access to the common area of a building is probably not the best way to avoid this kind of theft. In 10+ years of living in DC I’ve never had problems getting into the common area of a building, whether there’s a doorman or not, and I doubt people are going to start becoming Seinfeld-esque jerks about not letting people in anytime soon. Apartments are pretty safe theft-wise (the very rare lock-picking pro notwithstanding), and if you want extra security, I’d recommend having a high-quality deadbolt installed (with a 2-sided key) and/or a basic alarm system (Simplisafe sells a cheap self-install model with no monthly fee) rather than relying on everyone in your building being hyper-vigilant.

    • This is the best solution. It pays to be vigilant about letting people in a building, but it’s not 100% foolproof and someone trying to gain access usually can. A solid lock and an alarm system is a good way to good. Also having good contents insurance.

    • HaileUnlikely

      Agreed. Not sure of reason for deadbolt keyed on both side unless you have a big window on your door, but anyway, deadbolts vary vastly in quality. Virtually all deadbolts sold in hardware stores, Target, Walmart, etc are very easy for somebody with even a tiny little bit of skill and experience to pick. Unfortunately you’ll have to spend actual money if you want a deadbolt that does more than deter a teenager from kicking in the door. In a large building you can count on people finding a way into the common area – it is a virtual certainty.

      • Where do you recommend getting deadbolts from, if the ones sold by Home Depot et al. are insufficient?

        • Medeco makes solid locks. There’s others as well, you’ll pay $200 for it but that’s fairy little considering the cost of theft.

        • HaileUnlikely

          The house brand ones (e.g., HomeDepot’s “Defiant”) are basically worthless, as are most of the cheap (<$20) and widely available locks by major companies like Kwikset. You could teach a 10-year-old how to pick one, and they could probably master it in a few minutes.
          For most purposes, some of the better ones at HomeDepot, Ace, etc (e.g, commercial locks made by Schlage) are decent, although somebody with a little bit of experience and the right tool can still pick it if they're willing to spend a minute fiddling around. Honestly this is what I have on my house – I don't have enemies trying to hunt me down and don't have much that would appeal to burglars (unless somebody is going to steal my freaking furniture, my iPhone is probably the next most valuable thing I keep at home, and if you want to steal my iPhone, there are more efficient ways of doing that than breaking into my house).
          A locksmith can make one of those (Schlage commercial deadbolt) a lot more difficult to pick by replacing the factory-installed pins with harder-to-pick ones, and would probably charge about $20-$30 to do so. I wouldn't care enough to just go do this right away, but if I were having a lock re-keyed for some reason anyway, I'd have this done then.
          A locksmith can also sell you locks that are way more secure than the above. These will be well over $100, some north of $200, including some that are virtually impossible to pick, and even ones where they keys cannot be duplicated without a special code from the manufacturer. I personally don't have enemies trying to hunt me down or lots of valuable stealable stuff, so I don't need anything like that, but lots of people with lots of valuable stuff go and buy a worthless $12 Defiant deadbolt from HomeDepot and think it'll make it impossible to break in – nope.
          Finally, the best deadbolt in the world isn't going to keep anybody out if the door frame will yield to well-placed kick by a 12-year-old. Almost everybody would be well-served by installing a reinforced strike box and screwing the door hinges into the door and the frame with 3-inch screws.

          • HaileUnlikely

            p.s. Was writing that while Shawz was posting. The Medeco locks are the ones with the keys that you can’t have copied without a special code, etc.

  • My building had a similar problem, although our robbers went to the laundry room to steal all the cash from the laundry card machine. If I don’t recognize the person behind me, I tell them they need to call up and be let in by a resident. Yes, I get dirty looks but I don’t care. If it is a pizza delivery man or someone similar who says the resident isn’t answering, I will walk them to the apartment they say they are delivering to.

  • Sorry to hear this. If these folks went straight to one apartment where they happened to find jewelry and thousands of dollars of electronics (I realize that in this day and age that can be just a MacBook and an iPhone), as opposed to hitting a couple of apartments in the building, maybe the OP was targeted.

    • It does sound like the OP was targeted. Maybe someone saw them moving in, or going in and out and realized when no one would be home. I’ve been targeted for my home being robbed – it is a creepy feeling.

    • I live in the building, and I think it was a crime of opportunity – the OP lives on the ground floor.

      • Yikes, I very recently moved out of a ground floor unit in this building! Without revealing apt numbers, can you say if the unit was on the left or right side? My thoughts are with everyone in the building-this is so scary!

  • We live in an older mixed income building and the key fob issue is a huge one. There are a ton of (mostly) Spanish speaking large, low income families. In most cases they have only one fob and the remaining members of the household (which can include some part time or transitory members) rely on other people to enter/exit the building. Many people, especially the younger (16-25) ones can be super aggressive about following people into the building.
    Other residents would like the problem solve, the problem is that most of these families do not have the extra money around to pay the deposit for the fobs they need. They can be continually reported to building management, but I suspect the owners would like nothing more than to kick out families in favor of market rate tenants.
    So unfortunately for now in our building you’re either a gentrifier who’s actively contributing to the eviction of low income families, or you’re potentially letting in thieves.

    • HaileUnlikely

      In my experience visiting Mrs. Unlikely in her apartment before we were married, it was trivially easy to get somebody to let me in, and I didn’t even actively try. I would be a good building visitor and call her from the call box and wait for her to buzz me in, but residents who I did not know would often hold the door and actively invite me to come in. And this was not exactly what one would call a mixed-income building. In a building with 4-6 units, you might be able to get everybody on board to not let random strangers in. In a building with dozens or hundreds of units, it ain’t gonna happen.

  • I was once standing in the lobby of a building that was part residential, part medical suites. I was early for a doctor’s appointment so I was sitting in the lobby reading the paper. This woman comes to the door on her phone and asks me through the door to open it for her. I said no. She yelled more. I ignored her. Finally she starts telling the person she is talking to that I am the “worst person ever” because I see her and won’t open the door. She finally got buzzed in and just glared at me. Sorry lady, but I don’t let random people into buildings, especially ones I don’t even live in (and thus have no idea who the tenants are).

  • I expect a name and unit number if someone wants me to let them in, including deliveries if I’m not expecting something. I have been the cause of a neighbor having to go to MD and pick up a package, but that driver *would not* tell me who the package was for! And I don’t mean “um, smith, 101” I.e. exactly what displays on the call box. First and last name and unit. But, small building myself, so I do know all the neighbors by name.

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