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Two bracelets disappeared from my apartment. Do I blame the building staff?

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Q. Recently, I noticed two of my gold bracelets were missing. I don't wear them often and don't always put them away after I wear them. I don't want to make false accusations, but I've torn my apartment apart from top to bottom and still can't find them. The super and the exterminator, who comes once a month, have access to my home. What should I do? Am I out of luck?

A. Without concrete evidence of theft, it's a bad idea to point fingers, our experts say. 

“I always tell clients that you cannot make accusations about issues like theft unless you have proof, and not the circumstantial kind," says Sam Himmelstein, a tenants' rights lawyer with Himmelstein, McConnell, Gribben, Donoghue & Joseph. "There are so many other possibilities--you lost [the bracelets], misplaced them, or a guest took off with them."

First, consult your insurance policy. Typically, apartment insurance offers basic coverage for jewelry, but you can also purchase additional coverage, either for specific pieces or on a “blanket” basis, says Jeff Schneider, president of insurance firm Gotham Brokerage. “The additional jewelry insurance covers against both theft and mysterious disappearance or misplacement,” he adds. “This allows you to avoid making an accusation of theft which might not be accurate.”

And while it may be tempting to blame the exterminator, says Gil Bloom, president of Standard Pest Management, most reputable pest control firms conduct pre-employment criminal background checks, and disclose employee felony records as part of the license application process. Standard Pest’s contracts, for example, state that building personnel must accompany exterminators into the apartment if the resident is not at home--likely a deterrent for both the exterminator and the super.

“For the most part, the exterminator is going to be the first suspect if they have been in the apartment, so knowing they are going to be a prime suspect may be a bit of a deterrence if one were to be tempted,” Bloom says.

If you’re concerned about thieving building staff, invest in a “nanny cam," Himmelstein suggests, and bait the room with a cheap piece of jewelry. Surveillance technology is relatively inexpensive and sophisticated these days; some cameras can be operated remotely from a smartphone. Be sure to install the camera in an area where a visitor would not have a reasonable expectation of privacy--in other words, don’t put it in the bathroom--so you don’t run afoul of federal privacy laws.

With footage in hand, you can back up any allegation. “If you catch the super or exterminator pocketing it or rummaging through your drawers or desk, then obviously you need to report this to building management and/or the police,” Himmelstein says.

And next time? Lock up valuables in a drawer or small safe, Himmelstein recommends.


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