“What can I do to get them to admit guilt and/or to compensate for my anxiety and the invasion of privacy?”

break-in
Photo by PoPville flickr user Jamelle Bouie

“Dear PoPville,

Last night I thought my house had been broken into when I saw a knocked over bookshelf and open window. Without checking much else, I left the apartment to call the police. I also called the apartment manager, who said that no one had been in the apartment that day.

As it turns out, none of our valuables had been stolen, and there were no signs of anyone entering or exiting the open window, just some grubby handprints from someone opening the window from inside. Curiously, the door had been locked with both locks, as maintenance usually does – I only lock one.

The police told me they were sure it was the apartment maintenance who had opened my window, knocked over my books (putting some in nice little piles in another part of the room), peed in my toilet while leaving the seat up and leaving a pube in my bathroom, turned my heater up, and left with the door locked in a different way.

When I called the rental company this morning they refused to admit it could possibly be a member of their staff. Either someone entered my apartment off their logs, or as the police put it, “this is the most gentle break in ever”. What can I do to get them to admit guilt and/or to compensate for my anxiety and the invasion of privacy?”

67 Comment

  • Disturbing. This would be very unsettling to me. Can you name the location or property management company? I haven’t come across this issue myself, thankfully, but I’ve heard rumors that our maintenance person and contractors come and go as they please in our apartments, while not leaving notes as required. The maintenance dude for our building, however, knows that I’m teleworking randomly and coming and going at random times, so that might dissuade him from any silly business if he was so inclined.
    .
    I don’t have any advice, but I might consider moving if it wasn’t too much trouble. At night or anytime you’re home (if you’re nervous about maintenance guys entering your apartment while you’re home), I might advise you getting a Masterlock pole thing that you prop up against your doorknob (works best when rubber bottom is against a hard floor). I bought two of these for myself and a neighbor when we had a threatening maintenance guy a few years ago. It gave us a measure of security- it buys you a little time if someone tries to get in while you are there. Good luck.

    • I want to add to my comment based on what I’ve read here: I would also alert your neighbors and compare notes with them (we have a regularly scheduled get-together in my building, which I organize, to do just this- compare notes!). If you go the route of installing a nanny cam, let the maintenance and management know. Just knowing the camera is there will be a deterrent!
      .
      Our lease in my building specifies that maintenance should always leave a note when they are there and give us at least 24 or 48 hours notice (that might be a DC law, actually) UNLESS there is an emergency. What happens in practice is a different story. Our maintenance guy once gave my neighbor a dehumidifier to borrow to help with a flooded floor. Months later, he dropped by her apartment while she was at work and picked it up. Never told her- she just realized it was gone a little later. She was apathetic- I was livid!

  • Install a nanny-cam. At least then if it happens again, you’ll have proof.

  • Not that I don’t feel for you and your situation, I do! Is it possible that someone came in your window, did weird stuff and then left through the window? Maybe even locking the top lock to give them extra time to get out if you came home? Just saying it’s possible it was not the building staff. Anyway, the best thing you can do for yourself if get a security camera. This way if it were to happen again you have video of the person. Also, lock all your windows and put wood dowels in them that fit but aren’t tight in case you need to escape a fire.

    • I second the dowels- even if it was not a break in I would always have them on first floor apts. I took out the bars on my windows because I thought they were a fire hazard and went with dowels instead.

      If you really do believe it was maintenance I would print a flyer and put it under the doors of the other tenants, Maybe something similar has happened and it could be helpful if there is more then one account.
      Also if you want piece of mind that maintenance is not continuing to enter your apt you could so either a nanny cam or simply when you leave use a small piece of scotch tape ( cut one corner at an angle so you know is the same one) and at ankle level put it across the door and wall. No one will see it but if its off when you come home you know someone opened the door.

      This is how i got caught sneaking out the basement entrance of my house when i was 15……

  • Prove the guilt? Put in a nanny cam? Change the locks and fix the window they climbed in?

  • Sorry you got scared, but my advice is to get over it. If you don’t want maintenance people entering your apartment, then you shouldn’t have an apartment. If they had broken something this would be a different story.

    • this is so unhelpful. they have a legitimate complaint here and it doesn’t deserve an I’m a “sorry you got scared” flippant remark. Maintenance should not have free range to enter an apartment at will – most good places will provide notification in advance unless an emergency. It may be that this was a weird break in where it was just someone high on drugs who did weird stuff around the place. But they have a legitimate complaint here and it’s not “maybe you shouldn’t live in an apartment” which is a ridiculous statement.

      • +1! Unhelpful and rude.

      • I’m not trying to help them. The answer to their question of what they can get from their management is nothing- they’re obviously not going to get any kind of compensation (lol), and if the management already said it wasn’t maintenance they’re going to stick with the lie. The only thing the poster can do is get over it, be happy that nothing was broken, and accept the fact that people are going to enter your apartment if you live in a building that has maintenance.

        And, like the police already told them, idea that someone broke in (considering these details) is absurd.

        • Maybe talk to the neighbors to see if anything like that has happened to them–if the apt. management isn’t responsive, getting more info/sharing info like that with neighbors can be helpful if this were to become an ongoing issue, perhaps one that the neighbors should be aware of as well. If anyone from the apartment management/maintence enters the apartment, it is the respectful thing for them to do, to leave a note saying they entered the apartment and why they entered the apartment. They need a good reason to do so.

        • HaileUnlikely

          I agree with you that the request for compensation is silly, but if somebody who has access to building management’s keys is entering units without authorization from the tenant nor from management, this is a totally different kind of problem and could be something very serious.

      • I will try to be helpful, and answer the specific questions asked:
        .
        “What can I do to get them to admit guilt[?]” Nothing. Have you ever been able to force someone to admit something they don’t want to?
        .
        What can I do to . . . compensate for my anxiety and the invasion of privacy?” Nothing. If they maintain they didn’t do anything, they certainly aren’t going to compensate you for it. And even if they did admit it, they wouldn’t give you any compensation – maybe discipline the worker, but that’s it. (And in my opinion, that’s enough.)

    • Hey well, you receive an F in the ability to empathize.

    • Obviously a clueless man who never worried about his safety.
      This is actually a big fear of a lot of women in apartment buildings.

      • Maybe you didn’t read his response carefully… the answer is obviously to not live in an apartment building. It’s probably also a good idea to not be a woman. Just be a man who lives in a castle. Problem solved. You’re welcome.

  • also, you should ALWAYS lock both locks.

  • Tsar of Truxton

    “leaving a pube in my bathroom” I am sorry this happened. It certainly seems odd, but this detail cracked me up.

  • It seems like the uneasiness of not knowing who was in your place is worse than the actual damage done. I’d say preventing it from happening again might be best: install a basic nannycam!

  • Oh that would creep me out so much! It’s great that nothing was stolen/damaged but also the “wtf just happened?!” would give me a lot of anxiety and it sounds like it is doing just that to you. It’s probably a good thing that you contacted the rental company so that they know unauthorized entry is most certainly not OK with you but I’m afraid the others are right that there isn’t much else you can do other than that (although nanny cam sounds like a good idea). My advice is to focus on yourself to do what it takes to get your anxiety down and find some inner peace/comfort. I’m sure the icky feeling of not knowing who was in your home is going to be a tough one to shed. Best of luck, OP!

  • I’ve been meaning to get an alarmed doorstop (about $11 on Amazon) to use when staying in hotel rooms. Before you hopefully figure out what happened, could something like that be useful? Hopefully an alarm would deter anyone from further entering your apartment and also wake you up.

  • Compensate you for anxiety…that was a quick leap to compensation. As others suggested, without proof this is difficult. Get a nannycam or something, but don’t be so fast to demand compensation if you had a brief period of anxiety (considering this just happened).

  • This would totally creep me out. Especially since it sounds like the maintenance guy probably did it outside of work related duties (they even acknowledged it could have been ‘off their log’). Even if this guy did it with no nefarious intent, say he had a real bathroom emergency, let himself in, and then opened the window to let the stank out, it would still bother me knowing that people were coming and going without my knowledge.

    Their is probably nothing you can do to get compensated but if this were me I would make a very serious case to the property management that they needed to make sure their staff knew they can’t just access people’s apartments for any reason. And If you can swing the cost consider a cheap camera. So if it happens again you have the peace of mind of knowing WTF happened and proof for the property mgt and/or police.

    • Agree with camera – I have a small camera I got on Amazon for about 40 bucks. It sends alerts to my phone when it hears a noise/when there is movement (I don’t get recordings but almost always have my phone next to me – I can take remote photos through the App or just screenshot if I ever saw anyone). There are more expensive ones that will save recordings when movement/noise is detected but I don’t know how much/how well they work. It’s given me piece of mind to be able to check in on my apartment when I’m at work or even when traveling half way across the world.

  • As a single woman who lives alone, I totally hear you – I would go ape shit if someone entered my apartment without my consent.

    I’m therefore going to go in a completely different direction than other posters — I thought it was illegal for anyone from maintenance or the management company to enter your apartment without informing you? Therefore (and if you are of means) I would threaten to get the pube tested for DNA. If its them, and you have evidence it was someone in their employ, you could then sue them.

    • I think there are several problems with your suggestions. First, the lease most likely includes a provision allowing maintenance personnel to come into the apartment under certain circumstances or possibly even whenever they want, so it seem unlikely that what they have done here is “illegal”. Second, getting the “pube” tested for DNA will give you no useful information unless you then get DNA samples from the various maintenance personnel tested too — good luck with that. Third, all sorts of things in life cause anxiety, but that doesn’t mean you are entitled to compensation — that’s just the way life is.

    • “I would threaten to get the pube tested for DNA. If its them, and you have evidence it was someone in their employ, you could then sue them.”
      .
      Hilarious.
      .
      Wait, you weren’t kidding? First, I’m all for binge-watching reruns of CSI, but talk about killing a fly with a sledge hammer. Second, what good would this do? Say there’s DNA on the hair – what comes next? Call up MPD and the FBI and respectfully request access to their DNA databases? “Why do you need this information, OP?” “Well, I need to ascertain whether someone from my management company entered my apartment, so I can obtain damages for emotional distress.” Good luck with that. Or are you going to follow each employee of the management company around with a pair of tweezers and a plastic baggie, waiting for your opportunity to snatch a piece of hair for a DNA comparison?

  • justinbc

    What is it with contractors ALWAYS pissing and leaving the toilet all the way up? (not to mention never washing hands, another separate gripe) I mean it happens literally 100% of the time we have people do work on our house. I guess I should just be thankful for the times they at least flush.

    • Yes!!! This used to happen in my old building and it was so so so irritating.

      • I personally find it more gross for people to touch the sink faucet handles with “genitalia-fingers” after courtesy rinsing their fingers for 2 seconds, touching hand towels door knobs and light switches. Either way, you’ve got to clean. Unless people touch with toilet paper covering their hands. But not everyone is as weird about these thing as me.
        I do think the general public needs an education on germ manners. Like not sneezing and coughing directly into their hands and then touching things.
        .
        I actually recommend only locking the deadbolt, because keyed intruders will lock up differently. It helped my girlfriend and I know that someone had been in her apartment, even tbough management said that nobody entered.

  • Sounds like you rent with Yarmouth. They never kept track of what their contractors were up to. They one time admitted to me that their copy of the key to my building had been given out to one of their contractors and never returned but they didn’t know who.

  • I have been broken into before and it sucks. Unfortunately, all I could do is just move on with my life. You can go the route by getting camera installed and asking if anyone else in your building saw anything. As to get them to possibly compensate you and/or admit to guilt is never going to happen. Unless you have specific evidence it was a maintenance man (I know both locks were locked which is an indication, but not 100% that it was someone who is with maintenance, someone could have taken the keys and they didn’t know it) you aren’t going to get anything from them. Anxiety is natural, but over time it will get easier and you will forget about it. You aren’t always going to get the justice you think you deserve in life.

  • Oh that would creep me out. Years ago when I lived somewhere else, the landlord and maintenance entered after knocking maybe once to look at something. They didn’t notify me they were coming, just showed up. I flipped out. I mean, I didn’t answer because I was getting dressed or something like that. I was very angry and it really made me feel unsafe in my own place.

  • Blithe

    An additional possibility: Since it seems that whoever entered the apartment unlocked the door to enter — were the locks changed when the OP moved in? If not, previous tenants, and whoever had access to their keys might still have access — access possibly made even easier since the OP only locked one lock. (I’m making an assumption, but I’ve lived many places where new tenants may add a new top lock, but leave the old ones, especially the slam locks as is.) Similarly, does anyone other than the OP and the management have access to the OP’s current keys?
    I’m not clear why the police are “sure it was the apartment maintenance who opened (the) window”, although I’m guessing that it’s because they’re clear that only the maintenance staff and the OP could possibly have the current key? In any case, changing both locks could be useful, as could clarifying the management’s key storage policies. (I.e. are tenant keys kept in a locked box with limited access, coded tags and sign out procedures? )

  • – The first thing I would do is have the locks changed. Maybe it’s just some sloppy maintenance guy with bad recordkeeping, but maybe not. Maybe someone else has or had access to the keys or their copies. (This won’t resolve the issue of someone having access to the new keys, but a nannycam as others suggested could address this.)
    – Did the police take a report, or just decide it must have been maintenance and refuse to take the report? If they did the latter, you should insist a report is taken. Based on what management told you, someone entered your apartment without authorization and it would be good to have a record.
    – Is your building maintained by a large company? I would send the police report, with a letter explaining your concerns that someone unauthorized may have access to the property’s keys to company HQ with a cc to the local manager’s office. Or, if there is no large company HQ, send it to the local office. Whatever you do, keep a copy and send the letter in a way that can be verified, like certified mail, return receipt or Fed Ex.
    – I would also post a flyer alerting other tenants.
    – Finally, get renter’s insurance if you don’t already have it.

    • justinbc

      If you’re renting you don’t always have the option to change the locks, in fact it’s probably forbidden. And if the management company is refusing responsibility for the incident then it’s unlikely they’ll allow it either.

      • I agree that you can’t have the locks changed unilaterally, but OP can probably request to have the locks changed by the rental company. You usually have to pay a fee. It’s probably set out somewhere in the lease.

      • Blithe

        Really? I’ve usually had that option — as long as copies of all of the keys are given to the management. I have also been allowed to add top locks, but had to keep the slam lock when there were master keys for multiple apartments.

    • This is all very good advice. Most, but not all, leases should have a requirement that the landlord or their representative (management or maintenance) cannot enter your unit except in cases of emergency, without appropriate (usually 24 hour) notice. There’s also a “quiet enjoyment” clause in a lot of leases as well, meaning that the management is required to deal with issues that interfere with your quiet enjoyment of the apartment you’re paying for. Check your lease and include a copy highlighting any relevant passages with whatever you send to the rental company. If those restrictions on entry exist in your lease, you can advise them that you may consider filing a complaint against them in Landlord-Tenant court. It’s a pain but may be worth it to ensure they’re abiding by the law. Leaving that window open in January was a crappy thing to do in any case, but could have led to an actual robbery, and disaster if you’d had a pet. It’s worth pursuing. I wish you well.

  • With the cold temps, the window open, and the heater turned up I am going to guess that it was maintenance possibly using your apartment to test for a heating issue called in by another tenant (tenant calls, is having issue, maintenance responds and confirms issue, checks another apartment to see if it’s building-wide or specific to the unit). That could be a reason why management didn’t know as it wasn’t a planned entry.
    .
    What does your lease say? If this is in DC, I don’t believe there are statutes against unannounced entry (someone else may prove that wrong) although notice is recommended, so it would be more about what your lease includes. If it doesn’t specify advance notice, then you can use the nanny cam just to be aware but it’s not going to change anything and you may want to consider moving. If the lease specifies notice, then the nanny cam may help enforce that with management if you catch another unannounced entry.
    .
    And I feel for you as I would hate to come home and find what you did, but I don’t see where compensation would come into the picture unless this is violating your lease and you have concrete proof of what happened.

  • Would paying for a Brazilian wax for each member of the maintenance staff help to assuage your anxiety?

  • From the Tenant’s Survival Guide put together by Georgetown Law:

    “Right of entry” means that the landlord may come into a
    tenant’s apartment to inspect for damages, make repairs,
    and show the apartment to persons interested in living in
    the building. However, the landlord can request entry only
    at reasonable times and for a good business reason. A
    tenant has a right to privacy and can object to excessive
    or unreasonable visits. For more information, contact the
    Rental Accommodations and Conversion Division (RACD)
    of the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory
    Affairs, at (202) 442-4477.

  • To OP – Any chance this was EJF? I had a similar experience with them.

    • Or Nest. Ditto on similar experience of someone coming in and moving things around without notifying me, followed by denial, denial, denial. After I brought up the relevant law they still denied they had come in but agreed to change the locks (“If you didn’t come in, who did?” I’d said.) They still come in without notice a couple times a year, having learned nothing about respecting the law or their tenants.

      • Nest is awful. I took their Yelp and Google reviews with a grain of salt before signing the lease and should have steered clear. They’re the company for you if you like sending multiple dead-end emails to flaky property managers who don’t respond to legitimate concerns, lie, and make empty promises. Don’t be fooled by their “boutique” website. Looking forward to the end of my lease.

  • Demanding compensation for anxiety makes it look like you just want money. You should be demanding a safe place to live and reasonable notice when maintenance enters your apartment.

    • Particularly when IT HAD JUST HAPPENED. Weeks or months of difficulty coping afterwards, I get. But hours at the point when OP wrote this originally? Please.

  • In terms of legality in DC (outside of a lease), this was on the Georgetown Law site (notice use of “should” versus “must”):
    .
    10. Can my landlord enter my apartment, or let repairmen in, when I’m not there?
    To repair the property a landlord may enter at any time if it is an emergency. Otherwise the landlord should give reasonable notice. Reasonable notice is considered to be 24 hours.
    .
    And this in a WaPo piece about things tenants should know:

    8. Can my landlord enter my apartment — or let repairmen in — when I’m not there?
    Housing laws do not address a landlord’s ability to enter an apartment or let repairmen in without prior notification. If you want to establish the ground rules for your tenancy, DCRA suggests you form an agreement with your landlord before you move in.

  • OP, I’m not sure anyone has covered this, but you should have at least one deadbolt on your door that can only be opened from the inside. Nothing is more important than your personal safety — and you really want to make sure that no key can open the door from the outside when you are on the inside asleep.

  • Could have also been an honest mistake from a clueless maintenance guy who went into the wrong apt which would explain why management had no record of it. The guy would be unlikely to want to tell the boss this as that is the kind of thing you get fired for. I had an independent contractor walk into a bedroom we were not doing any work after showing him the bathroom to avoid such a mistake and he walked in on a woman in her underwear, I fired him.

  • You should file a report with the police. You should inform your propertly managemet company, both locally and regionally. You should send a certified letter stating that you do not want anyone entering your apartment with you not there, unless there is an emergency. You can also contact the DC Government’s Office of the Tenant Advocate to get some legal perspective on your options.

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