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My building's new key fob system keeps locking me out. What do I do?

Your rights as a tenant include 24/7 access to your apartment. 

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Question:

My landlord installed a new key fob system in the building a year ago, and it hasn't worked consistently. If the internet goes out, which it does often, and when it rains, the system also goes down, and we have no way to get in. We've told him we need a backup, but he refuses to provide one. What can we do?

Answer:

Among your rights as a tenant is access to your apartment at all times, our experts say, and your building's new security system is depriving you of that, so you certainly have the right to take action. 

"When you lease an apartment, you get the right to exclusive possession and quiet enjoyment of that apartment," says Sam Himmelstein, a lawyer who represents residential and commercial tenants and tenant associations (and FYI, a Brick sponsor). "If you're being deprived of the ability to get into your own apartment, your lease is being breached." 

As for what you can do to remedy the situation, there are a few different steps you can take. First, it may be worthwhile to call 311 or contact the city's department of Housing Preservation and Development

"This is an unsafe situation for an owner of the home, and it violates your rights, so there’s no reason that you should not complain and have your complaint addressed properly," says Deanna Kory, a broker with Corcoran

Indeed, this situation could be dangerous for elderly tenants or those with small children who can't get in or out of the building, and should be addressed as soon as possible. If your landlord is being uncooperative, you might try taking another route. 

"You could try to find out what the key fob system is and get in touch with the manufacturer," says William Gribben, a partner at HMGDJ Law. "Find out from a mechanical point of view what can be done. If nobody can get into the building, there needs to be a back-up system when the key fob doesn't work. Either the building management could leave a door open with a security guard posted there, or have an old-fashioned lock on the door." 

Other options are to have management provide an alternate entrance, like a side door or access through the garage. But since your landlord has already refused to help with this matter, you and your neighbors may need to band together and take him to housing court. 

"This is something tenants could organize about. If the landlord starts to hear from a large group, it will be much more effective," Himmelstein says. "You could also bring an HP action against the landlord in housing court, and get a court order that says the landlord has to provide 24/7 access to the building." 

Generally, you'll have your day in court within seven to 10 days of filing an HP proceeding, so this may be the most expedient way to address the problem. 


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