Rental Rookie

Rental Rookie: Breaking in is hard to do

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I am one of those unfortunate individuals who always manages to forget her keys. It’s a problem that stems from my college days where I would constantly have to ask for new room cards to get into my dorm room. Although I had a roommate in New York City, we were constantly on different ends of Manhattan or in completely different boroughs so I couldn’t always rely on him being there when I needed him.

As the saying kind of goes, “breaking in” is hard to do. Here’s a rundown of the options:

  • The super: Most supers or maintenance people have an extra key in case of emergencies, whether they want to admit it or not. So, in extreme case of emergencies, you can always call on them. But not too often or they might get annoyed and not come when you really need them—which was why our super was our last resort instead of our first.
  • Locksmith: A friend of mine had to call a locksmith at 2 in the morning after locking herself out of her apartment. That cost over $100 just to get them to open the door, and being left rather low on cash, she opted to wait until she could afford a new lock to replace the broken-in one. Luckily, nothing was stolen from her apartment in the two weeks she left her door unlocked. I always have a locksmith’s number on hand just in case of emergencies, but as they tend to be really expensive, I only intend to use it as an act of desperation.
  • Fire escape: For anyone reading this who thinks you don’t have to worry because you can always go up the fire escape and through your window, climbing up the fire escape is a lot harder than it seems. I know this because my boyfriend’s super changed the main door lock without telling him, and after an hour of us yelling, flashing lights and pounding on the main door, we headed for the fire escape, where we discovered that you have to be rather tall to be able to unhook the ladder from its safety hooks. Luckily for us, the whole neighborhood got into it. The person who owned the bodega on the bottom floor cleared off the wooden table where people fill out their lotto tickets so my boyfriend could stand on it. Then, a random passerby helped by holding it steady as my boyfriend climbed on top of the lotto table, pulled down the ladder, climbed up it and into his kitchen window.
  • Mailbox as dropbox: My roommate and I figured out an easier solution for our apartment. Instead of having to trek to his office at the 34th Penn Station every single time I forgot keys the five times in the first three months I lived there. We decided it was easier if we kept a spare copy in our mailbox. It was easy to keep the small mailbox key in my purse all the time separate from my keys. And it was better than keeping a spare apartment key under the doormat because at least the key was only accessible to me and my roommate (although we didn’t think about the mail carrier breaking in). (And, in any case if we forgot the small mail key and it was early enough in the day, we could always wait for the mail person to deliver our mail and let us get the key.)
  • Key buddy: If you live alone, it also can be helpful to leave an extra key with someone you trust in a different apartment. That way when you get locked out you don’t have to worry about leaving two sets locked at home. Your key buddy can also bring it to you if he or she is especially nice. You can always try leaving a key at work as well; on the other hand, who wants to come back to work after you leave for the day?

Next: How to winterproof your apartment without roasting indoors.

Michelle Castillo moved to Manhattan last fall to attend Columbia University's Journalism School. She has covered arts and entertainment for The Los Angeles Times,, Hollywood Reporter, and, and she currently writes about geek culture for's Techland. Rental Rookie is a twice-monthly column chronicling her first year as a renter in NYC.

See all Rental Rookie columns here. 

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