I suspect someone—possibly my landlord or building’s superintendent—has been entering my apartment and going through my things when I’m not home. What should I do?
Your best bet is to invest in a hidden motion-activated camera and try to catch the intruder in the act, says Sam Himmelstein, a lawyer with the firm Himmelstein, McConnell, Gribben, Donoghue & Joseph who represents residential and commercial tenants and tenant associations.
“I think this issue is more widespread than people realize, especially for young women living alone or as roommates,” Himmelstein says.
He cites two cases in which clients discovered, to their horror, that someone was entering their apartments without their consent. In the first, the roommates—three women—installed a motion-activated camera in their rental, trained it on the apartment’s entrance, and captured a video of a man entering their apartment while they were out and rummaging around in their bedrooms.
“They immediately moved out and broke their lease because they didn’t feel safe,” Himmelstein says. “Their landlord was threatening to sue them, until we called his counsel and sent the video of the intruder.”
In another case, a co-op shareholder who was preparing to renovate had similar suspicions about her building superintendent entering her apartment. She, too, installed a camera and went to stay with a friend, and discovered that he was indeed breaking into her home.
“That super was fired within 24 hours after I contacted the board, and a week later he was thrown out of the building,” Himmelstein says.
Breaking and entering is a serious crime, and the law is on your side if you have evidence of this happening in your apartment.
“Over the years, I’ve had many clients who have claimed that their landlord is entering the apartment or somehow surveilling them, tapping their phones, or controlling their internet,” Himmelstein says. “In some of these cases, this was paranoia, but others have had legitimate concerns. I always urge people to get a camera and get evidence, because I can’t take legal action based on speculation.”
If you do capture on camera someone illegally entering your apartment and it turns out to be a building employee, alert management. The intruder should be immediately fired and removed from the building.
One complicating factor: “If it’s a live-in super, it could be difficult getting him out,” Himmelstein says. “In that situation, you can file criminal charges and get an order of protection that says the super has to stay away from the building, which is a way of circumventing what can be lengthy eviction proceedings.”
If you’d rather just get out of the building and away from this disturbing situation, you shouldn’t face any consequences for breaking the lease.
“If the landlord tried to sue, I don’t think any judge in the world would tell someone that they have to stay in that situation,” Himmelstein says.
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Sam Himmelstein, Esq. represents NYC tenants and tenant associations in disputes over evictions, rent increases, rental conversions, rent stabilization law, lease buyouts, and many other issues. He is a partner at Himmelstein, McConnell, Gribben, Donoghue & Joseph in Manhattan. To submit a question for this column, click here. To ask about a legal consultation, email Sam or call (212) 349-3000.