I was robbed! New Yorkers' tales of apartment thefts

By Kelly Kreth  |
January 27, 2014 - 1:15PM

While we all sometimes feel we're being robbed by New York City's high real estate prices, real thefts--robbery, larceny and burglary--are down 60-80% from the early 90s, according to the NYPD’s CompStat report. 

The risk of burglary is lowest if you live in a doorman building. Apartment insurance broker Jeff Schneider of Gotham Brokerage says he rarely gets claims from apartments in doorman buildings, and insurers even give a small discount for having a doorman or security guard. Thefts that do occur in "attended" buildings tend to be crimes of opportunity committed by workers or delivery people who can access the building, he says.

Schneider says most burglary claims come from walk-up buildings versus elevator buildings without doormen. 

I've lived in the city 15 years now--mainly in walk-up apartments--and thankfully my own worst story of an apartment-related theft consists of a bottle of hard-to-acquire soda and a bag of steak bones stolen by my late former super

But not everyone can say the same. Below, some real life tales:

An inside job

“My Malaysian roommate was a so-called ‘best friend’ from college. She never had a job and explained her parents would pay the entire rent. So I quickly figured out she would use my half of the rent, along with that of our other roommate, as her ‘spending money.' Whatever, it's NYC--I'd have to pay rent anywhere else too, so I didn't let it bother me, even when she denied that she used my portion for her nightlife and shopping excursions.

After two and a half years of living together, her student visa ran out and she had to leave the U.S. She got on a plane back to her home country...with more than just her luggage. A few weeks after she left, I learned that the majority of my jewelry was gone! Custom-made rings from family members, at least three items from Tiffany's, and several other favorite silver and gold pieces all went missing. Of course, because she was my friend, I was in denial about her taking it--until I found a notice on our front door, followed by a phone call from management, stating that rent hadn't been paid in over two years.” – Gloria S., East Harlem

It could have been worse

“I was robbed three years ago and in a small way it was a funny story. I was living in Jackson Heights, Queens in a first-floor apartment in a very nice pre-war building. It was a summer day and I had ridden my bike to work in Long Island City. I had just returned home at 7 p.m, sweaty and tired, and was unable to open my apartment door.

I called the super and after he got the door open, I could see that something was wrong. I had left a laundry basket in the living room to remind me to do laundry when I got home, and it was overturned. There were also handprints all over a hallway wall; lastly, my air conditioner (a window unit) had been pushed in and my bedroom ransacked.

I had been robbed!

I called the police and tried to figure out exactly what happened and what was taken.

Now the funny part: I collect unusual things, skeletons and other oddities. ... I've appeared in Ripley's Believe It Or Not as well as several appearances on the TV show "Oddities."

Once police arrived, they took a look around and realized what had probably happened. The burglar had come in through the bedroom window, ransacked the bedroom looking for money and jewelry, then come down the hall and, not expecting to run face-to-face into a human skeleton, had been startled and fallen down. There on the ground he was face-to-face with another human skull and a shrunken head, and he scrambled against the wall leaving the hand prints. Eager to get out ASAP he tripped over the laundry basket and headed out the front door, leaving his burglary tools behind, only taking some heart medicine and a small amount of money.

In other words, my scary collection had scared him off!

The next day I installed a security system.”  - Mike D., Jackson Heights

Through the fire escape

"I was living in a walk-up building in Washington Heights, and while I was away for Thanksgiving, burglars entered through the fire escape leading to my window. Although I was away, one of my friends found an ID of mine (which I kept inside my nightstand) on the street a couple of blocks north of where I live. He called me to tell me about it. I then realized someone had broken into my apartment and I had my friend call the police.

The burglars stole some valuable watches, and small objects like a Swiss Army knife and small boxes which they thought had money in them; they had things with sentimental value to me. Though I filed a report, I'm not hopeful they'll find them. My building did not have a security camera. In addition, the forensics team did not find any valuable prints. The police told me to keep my eyes open in pawn shops but said that burglaries like this happen often in the Heights. After that I got a gate for the fire escape and kept it closed for the remainder of my time in the apartment." - Jack S, Washington Heights

While we slept

“My second-floor Brooklyn apartment was robbed about two years ago while my family and I were sleeping. The perp came in through the bathroom window, which is directly above a garage (there's no doorman either). He stole a laptop and wallet from the kitchen and left through the front door. The police tracked a credit card that was stolen to a nearby gas station but were never able to identify a suspect or make an arrest. My family installed a security system afterward and the building installed motion detector lights on the ledge outside the window. We don't leave computers out in open sight overnight anymore--and I started carrying pepper spray. I guess I just learned you can never be too careful!" Sarah C., Bay Ridge, Brooklyn

The dog stole my homework

"I was a first-year student at Cardozo Law School in Greenwich Village. I was living in university-owned housing on East 11th Street between Fifth Avenue and University. It was the day before my contracts final, which was my last final of that year. I was studying in my apartment, when I went down the hallway to talk to a friend of mine. I left my door unlocked, and when I came back 10 minutes later my laptop was gone.  All of my notes were on the computer, and I had to gather other people's notes to take with me to the open book exam. 

Other people in the building heard someone trying to open their doors from the outside, and several people saw someone open their doors then leave when he realized people were in the apartment. I saw a man I did not recognize in the hallway 15 minutes before, but I did not think anything of it.

I did not care if the person who took my computer was caught; I just wanted my laptop back, which never happened.

The funny part about this is that I have been a criminal defense lawyer for the last seven and a half years and have defended quite a few people charged with burglary."  –Gary K., Prospect Heights

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Everything you need to know about renter's insurance

Dear Ms. Demeanor: Buzzing up a potential burglar just to be polite

So your nanny has sticky fingers. So long -- or so what?

Valuables lesson: Where NOT to hide your stuff from a burglar

Crime and scaffolding


Kelly Kreth

Contributing writer

Contributing writer Kelly Kreth has been a freelance journalist, essayist, and columnist for more than two decades. Her real estate articles have appeared in The Real Deal, Luxury Listings, Our Town, and amNewYork. A long-time New York City renter who loves a good deal, Kreth currently lives in a coveted rent-stabilized apartment in a luxury building on the Upper East Side.

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