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“Is this ethical and legal?”

by Prince Of Petworth April 14, 2016 at 2:00 pm 41 Comments

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Photo by PoPville flickr user Erin

“My small condo building is formulating rules and bylaws. Some of the owners want to require that we each tell each other about guests, visitors, etc and provide a list of people with keys to our respective units:

“The Association shall be notified of any person(s) intending to enter your unit with a key and without your presence …”

Is this ethical and legal?”

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  • ANC

    I can’t speak to the legality of it, but I think it’s ethical. Knowing who has access to the building is a safety issue. As long as they provide reasonable accommodation for reporting to the association, especially on short notice, I don’t see it as a problem.

  • We had to provide a list of people with keys to the building/unit (cleaning crew, dog walker, etc) but nothing else. If people were staying more than two weeks, you were suppose to declare them (to avoid “subletters”).

  • banananonymous

    Yea, I think the “with a key” statement is pretty important here. Its not asking you to keep a log of guests its asking you to let them know if you give anyone a key to access the building without you there. Good security.

    • FridayGirl

      +1. Frankly, I would hope all buildings would keep a record of who has copies of keys aside from the tenants. I couldn’t imagine there would be much of an issue created by this unless someone was given a key that shouldn’t have been.

    • Yeah, I think it’s useful, especially as someone who a) lives in the first apartment in my small building and b) has had my home broken into before. It’s not in my buildings by-laws or anything to have such a policy, but when I’ve given a key to a visiting guest, I’ve usually given my fellow condo dwellers a heads up if they see someone coming in/out, and I would hope that they’d do the same if they shared their keys.

  • Ward One Resident

    Huh…I’ve lived in my building (condo) for 17 years and have never been asked this nor as a member of my condo board has it ever crossed my mind to ask anyone else.

  • jcindc

    Our large condo building also had this requirement. Even if the person had a key, the door person wouldn’t let them in unless they were on the list.

  • I think you’ve already highlighted the important part… people entering with a key. That is unless you just left out the part about visitors in the quotation.

  • CoHi

    I don’t think this is unethical or illegal, but I do think it asks too much. I have no problem with being asked to let my neighbors know if my regular dog walker or house cleaner or significant other has a key, or even the name of my friend who holds a spare key in case I lock myself out. However, sometimes when a friend comes to town, I lend them an extra set of keys to let themselves in and out, and it seems silly to me to have to put them on a list in my small building. If someone sees them, they’ll just say, “Hi, I’m CoHi’s friend.” My building is 6 units, and everyone knows each other, so that would be enough. Then again, in bigger buildings I’ve lived in, you were supposed to put people on the access list. I usually did, but they never checked anyway.

  • ***

    I feel like the subtext of this is to avoid people putting their unit on Air BnB or purchasing a condo for the sole purpose of renting it out on Air BnB to make some side income.

    • JoDa

      There are easier ways to go about that. Minimum 1-year initial lease terms are common, and solve that problem swiftly and completely.

      • textdoc

        So the owner-landlord would need to supply a copy of the lease to the condo association, showing a 12-month lease?
        If this were an apartment building rather than a condo building, it doesn’t seem like a 12-month lease would stop someone from illegally subletting a unit.

        • JoDa

          Yes. In condo buildings you almost always have to provide the lease to the Association/management company. If the lease says no subleasing without permission, apartment or condo, an illegal sublet would be grounds for eviction, and condo associations usually reserve the right to evict tenants for violations of house rules, bylaws, or their lease. If an owner doesn’t abide by the rules, there are several options to correct (depending on rules/bylaws), from fines to revocation of access to amenities to legal action (my particular association has a number of grounds upon which we could collect rent from the tenant to cover fees and fines).
          There’s usually an addendum that gets added into the lease giving the association many of these rights, on top of the bylaws. In some buildings, they go really far and require you to use a certain lease template, or require board approval of tenants.
          I’m not particularly comfortable with *this* idea. I don’t live in a dorm that belongs to someone else who has a lot of rights to make rules or know things about my behavior/life. I am a 1/14.7th (gotta love par value) owner of my building (in its entirety), and shouldn’t feel like my guests are a “nuisance” or “threat” I have to warn everyone about. My actual criminal neighbors a few doors down don’t have to give me a list of all their friends who come around, and that would be a lot more fruitful than the name of my in-building neighbor’s dog walker, I’m sure. Plus, I’m just not sure a “list” does any good, unless there are electronic fobs that can be tracked (and then just tie them to a unit), and evidence of what time an incident happened, and…you get the idea. If it’s a regular key, and you don’t know who came into the building that day, and you only know that the crime happened sometime between 9 AM and 6 PM, then how does a list really help (please don’t suggest that MPD is actually going to interview everyone on that list…or if you were going to, think about the events of the last 18 months or so for a minute, and whether you’d want to be questioned because a friend asked you to check on their house while away and someone else in their building got robbed…)? Seems like a couple security cameras and actually saying hello to people in your building would work much better than this, with the bonus of not treating the owners like children in need of oversight in their own home.

          • JoDa

            And, will add, I DO let my neighbors know if someone they might not recognize will be coming into the building in my absence, to an extent. We are generally neighborly people, and have a building email group that makes this easy to do. So, if my dog sitter (friend or hired) is going to be picking my dog up from my place using my lock box after I’ve departed for a trip because of a scheduling conflict, I shoot off a friendly note saying “hey guys, going away and {X person} will be picking my little dude up the evening of {Y date}. Feel free to say hi if you see {him/her}!” But, like, I don’t give them chapter and verse of who is coming to my Thanksgiving dinner or when my mom is in town visiting or *exactly* when my housekeeping company is coming (that was one email saying “I hired a housekeeping company, so don’t be alarmed if you see people with cleaning supplies/implements coming in and out of my unit”).
            On the flip side, all that communication was my choice (and, perhaps, in larger buildings where you don’t know your neighbors so well, telling them when you will be gone isn’t a *great* idea), and when a neighbor didn’t see my message that a friend was picking my dog up while I vacationed a while back, when she saw him coming into my unit, she did what any reasonable person would and said, to him, “hi, I’m {neighbor}, are you walking {JoDa’s} dog?” And he introduced and explained himself. She actually apologized to me saying she hadn’t seen the message and didn’t mean to make him feel uncomfortable, but it was fine. As I told her “I’m happy you took a friendly approach to figuring out why someone you don’t know would be entering my unit. Since he had keys and good reason to be there, you let it go, and all was well. Thanks for both looking out for me and being nice to him and reasonable about it.” Her response: “he had the door open by the time I saw him, and your dog nearly tackled him in delight on sight while he called him by his name, so I *did* assume that your dog had met him before and vice versa. If I had any lingering suspicions, I do have your phone number and would have called you.”

  • phl2dc

    After a non-resident walked into one of the laundry rooms and set a bunch of fires, my condo building deactivated all key fobs and residents had to go to the management office to get them reactivated.

  • Anon Spock

    Yup and yup. Many bldg have issues with airbnb and illegal rentals, so it makes sense they’d want to how who to expect. As long as reporting can be done easily, I don’t see any issue.

  • CapitalDame

    When you say “inform each other” do you mean that literally? So, if I gave a key to my boyfriend, and we broke up and I got the key back, would I then need to inform everyone when I wanted to give it to someone else? I don’t see a problem if there is a designated list, and you just remove/replace names on it. But to notify everyone seems odd.

    • dcd

      Yes, not to be a pedant, but the devil is in the details. Informing the Association of who has keys to each residence (and to the outer building doors is both reasonable and smart. But I read, “The Association shall be notified of any person(s) intending to enter your unit with a key and without your presence …” to require an owner to let the association know EACH time some non-owner enters the premises. That’s intrusive and ridiculous (and as a practical matter, very difficult to enforce).

      • Anonymous

        If you think it’s intrusive and ridiculous then I think you’re reading it wrong. If someone is staying with you as a guest and you’ve given them a key – let the association know. If you’ve got contractors coming to fix something and you gave them a key – let the association know when they’ll be there. If you have a dog-walker that has a key and comes once a week – let the association know. None of that seems unreasonable to me, and is good security.

  • Luke

    Someone in the bldg should know — not necessarily other neighbors. I have a key at the front desk of my condo, I can tell the bldg to give it to people, but i put their name in the system.

  • Shaw

    My condo had similar language added shortly after I bought, and I just ignored it (like everyone else in the 15 unit building). One day the building busybody accosted my housekeeper when she went into my apartment, saying “this unit doesn’t have anyone on the list! If you’re not on the list you’re not allowed to come in!”. He then came up to me yelling and screaming about it when I got home. I told him, I am absolutely not letting you invade my privacy like that – I will have whomever I like in my own home whenever I like, and that I am an adult, so I do not need your permission. I also told him in no uncertain terms that he was damn lucky he didn’t get maced or punched when he came storming up to my housekeeper like that – she may look somewhat dainty, but she most certainly knows how to handle herself.
    He brought the whole thing up at the next condo board meeting, demanding that they “enforce” the policy, at which point I spoke up and said look, our bylaws let us put a lien on a unit for unpaid condo fees, but to “enforce” any of the other rules, ultimately, the only option is to take the owner to court. When I pointed out that each unit’s monthly fee would barely cover a single hour of halfway decent legal representation and that if they wanted to sue me, that was perfectly fine, but it would bankrupt the building over something stupid that they ultimately wouldn’t likely win anyway and leave them all with a huge special assessment, they held an immediate vote to repeal that provision of the bylaws, and that was that.
    Point being, avoid putting unenforceable provisions in your bylaws. Remind the board that there is no way to do anything about someone not putting people on a “key list” other than sue, and that very few buildings have the budget for that. If they put it in anyway, it is completely ethical and proper for you to ignore it.

    • anon

      Aren’t changes in bylaws subject to a vote by condo members? If that were the case, it seems like you were disregarding the wishes of a majority of your neighbors — not just the busybody’s wishes.

      • Shaw

        To be blunt, I don’t particularly care if the majority of my neighbors wish to have a guest list from me. They’re still not getting one. And obviously most of them realized it wasn’t important, because the majority voted to repeal the provision.

        • anon

          Wow. You certainly aren’t very community-minded.

          • Shaw

            Quite to the contrary, I am very community minded. I’m the guy who shoveled out our entire building from Snowzilla, by myself. I’m the guy who salted the walkways to each unit, not just to mine. I’m the guy who always picks up all the trash that blows around after the dumpsters get overfilled by the other residents, and who waters the flowers out front that nobody else tends to, who oils the squeaky front door, who brings in packages and puts them in front of the relevant unit so they don’t get stolen, and who changes all the exterior light bulbs when they burn out.
            However, I am also someone who values my privacy, and that of my neighbors. It is none of my business who they have in their home, and it is none of their business whom I have in mine, for how long, or how frequently, or for what reason. There is no security value created by sharing this information with my neighbors – none – and so there is absolutely no reason for me to give that information out.

    • HaileUnlikely

      Wow. You sound like a major asshole. The possibility of being financially tethered to neighbors like you in a condo is what ultimately led me to decide to buy a house instead.

      • siz

        +1 for real

      • Jeff Bates

        So people who make close to the same income should have the same attitude towards certain things? Should they do the same activites as well?
        Why should people have to tell their neighbors who comes over? It’s none of their business at all.

        • HaileUnlikely

          “Who comes over” and “who has access to the building, which includes common areas not owned exclusively by you” are different.

      • Shaw

        Super classy, Haile! Seriously, though, I’m sorry if my common sense and desire for privacy upsets you, or my building busybody, or anyone else, but that’s not going to change the fact that it is none of anyone else’s business whom I entertain or employ to clean my home or walk my dog, for how long, or how often. You don’t have that information about the neighbors around your house, and you don’t need it. Nobody does. Being in a condo building doesn’t change that.

        • HaileUnlikely

          That isn’t their business per se, but if they cannot go straight from public property to your unit without passing through property in which others in the building also have an ownership stake, that’s different. I contend that it is reasonable for the condo board to want to have knowledge of the universe of persons who have the means to physically enter the common areas of the building without an owner also present. But that isn’t my point. My point is that there exists a process by which the condo board gets to make rules. Not all owners will agree with all of them. Such is life. But telling the condo board “I’m an adult and I don’t like your rules and you can’t afford to take me to court so you can go f* yourself” isn’t exactly neighborly, and your shoveling snow and oiling the door doesn’t change that.

          • textdoc

            +1, especially to the last four sentences.

          • shaw

            Well, in case it wasn’t evident in my earlier comment where I said I salted the walkways to each unit, you can, in fact, go directly from the public sidewalk into my front door, and into the front doors of about half of the units. My guests never access a single square inch of “common space” – ever.
            Even if they did, though, I disagree with you that it would be any of the condo board’s business. Quite obviously, if I thought for even a second that my elderly mother posed some type of risk of theft or violence to my neighbors, I’d never have given her a key. Same goes for my housekeeper, my dog walker, or my neighbor who has a set in case I lock myself out. But having such a list does *nothing* but invite unwarranted and invasive scrutiny of my guests if there is a security incident. I’m not willing to subject my friends, family, or employees to that. The police should investigate crime – not the condo association. There is absolutely zero need for the board to have this information, other than security theater and nosiness, neither of which I care to facilitate.
            I abide by all of the other regulations, as they are all reasonable – no loud parties after 10pm, only park in your assigned space, etc. But just because a group of people who live near me get together and decide to do something stupid will not compel me to go along with it. I would also ignore a decision by the condo board that we couldn’t sell our apartments to jews, or that women were only allowed in the building wearing a burqa, or that Christmas trees should not be visible through the windows because they are offensive to some people, or that they had instituted a dress code for residents, or that we had to share our tax returns with all the other residents to prove we aren’t at risk of foreclosure, or that only American-built cars could park in the lot.
            Living in a condo building means agreeing to collaborative rules and regulations that you decide jointly with your neighbors that (theoretically) benefit the whole community and protect the value of our property. I understand and agree with that. However, condo ownership does not, and should not, mean overriding common sense or forfeiting your own right to privacy. When those two things are at odds with a regulation, I am going to go with logic and common sense every single time, without reservation or apology. And yes, if they dislike it, they can go f* themselves and take me to court over it. If they feel like they need to spend tens of thousands of dollars to have a judge tell them what I told them for free, that’s their choice. A basic element of democracy is civil disobedience and disregard of rules and laws that are wrong. That applies to big things like segregated lunch counters and little things like condo boards.

          • HaileUnlikely

            Given that your guests do not need nor get access to common space, I will admit that I find your rationale much more compelling now.
            I still maintain, though, that it would be a reasonable rule in a building where a guest would have to enter through a secured front door and traverse a common hallway. I get why some would disagree with such a rule, but I also get why some would desire it, and I see no reason why either stance is clearly the “right” one, as all unit owners in a building have an ownership stake in common areas. That is neither my situation nor yours, though, so it doesn’t really matter how either of us feels about that.

            Your comparison to segregationist laws is wildly off base, though. Something can be “dumb” and “illegal” and “inconvenient” (as I basically agree now that this was) without being unjust or immoral. You have lots of good points here – I don’t think you do yourself any favors by comparing this to that.

    • siz

      yeesh, i’m glad i’m not in your condo building. obviously whoever yelled at you went about that the wrong way, but there is definitely value in informing the building that you are giving someone a key to enter the building on a regular basis.

      • anon


    • anon

      and this is why i prefer to live in a doorman building-ideally a co-op with better enforcement powers over owners that don’t want to respect building bylaws.
      Shaw is right though–unenforceable rules are pointless. Most buildings have a provision that allows you to fine them. I also used to live in a larger building where we denied fob access to the gym/roof etc. A very effective tactic.

    • AnonJohn

      My first reaction was “This is why I wouldn’t buy a condo”. But I like this Shaw guy. Principles and common sense. Lord knows what it says about me, since this thread is also all pretty reasonable. :)

      Please won’t you be my neighbor?

  • Timebomb

    My small condo building did not have this requirement until a unit was robbed. Then we imposed it. We still used a normal residential key for the front door, so it was extremely unsecure; anyone with half a day alone with a key would be able to access the building forever until the lock was replaced. I don’t live there anymore, but if I did I’d definitely push for some kind of electronic lock or at least a quick-rekey lock that could be periodically changed. In the former case, issued keys would be identity-tracked no matter what. In the latter case, it’d still be good to know how frequently guests/friends were keeping keys and how often it was being duplicated, so we’d know how often rekeying was a good idea (and what the costs were going to be for all involved).

  • On Capital Heels

    I am amazed by the number of folks in this thread (who quite reasonably, in my view) think that the Condo Assocuation should know which non-owners/non-residents have been given a key. A few months ago, there was a thread about an apartment renter who wanted to make unauthorized fobs for whomever she seemed ought to have one — and there seemed to be 100+ posts acting as if those of us who disapproved of her plan were just overreacting, deluded, and unreasonable. Smh!

  • On Capital Heels

    Drats! Typing on my photo always results in typos. I do know how to spell — *Association *deemed etc. Hopefully, you all understand my post.


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