The Case of the Missing Padlock

Yesterday morning at 8 a.m. construction started in the apartment across the hall from us — the rent-stabilized one my landlord had successfully evicted an 18-year tenant from the week before, so that his son could move in (remains to be seen). And by construction I mean pulling up floors, knocking out cabinets, and general banging that was so loud and disruptive I couldn’t help but laugh as I complained about it.

A few minutes later I heard my landlord talking in the hall and then banging on our apartment door. At this point Dustin was in the shower and I was in bed eating oatmeal or something, in my pajamas. The night before I found a note he left on our door letting me know I forgot to include the agreed-upon $20 for our monthly gas payment in my rent. Whoops. I had no cash on me so I took down the note and planned to go to the ATM the next day. I’d also read a note he left on our building door saying that SOMEONE had stolen the padlock that he put on the door leading down to the basement. The basement he locks so that no one can go in the backyard. The basement where the circuit breakers are. The basement where we keep a bunch of our belongings because this was always totally acceptable until he put a padlock on the basement and gave the spare key to the elderly lady upstairs, in case we need to, say, escape in a fire or if she needs to let in National Grid to read the gas meters. So I knew he was showing up to either demand $20 or ask us if we knew where the padlock was — neither of which I really felt were worth putting pants and a bra on for. I froze in bed, spoon in midair, but didn’t get up. He banged again and instinctively I shouted, “What?!”

He said, “Meaghan!” and kept knocking. “Hold on!” I said and got out of bed, pissed. I started looking for clothes, or started wandering around the apartment, taking my time, wondering if I really was obligated to open the door, and wondering whether, if I didn’t, he would use his key and walk in to find me pants-less and eight months pregnant, pacing my living room and rolling my eyes. In the middle of my fugue state, Dustin came out of the bathroom in his towel and opened the door in a flourish. I stood watching from the other end of the apartment, in awe and figuring Dustin was going to lose his shit, but by the time he’d opened the door the landlord was gone.

All along the banging and crashing continued. We both left the house, in a hurry to escape the noise and the weird violation of someone lingering around your house, someone who owns the place you live in and has a key to let themselves into it. I spent the day at the library and in the late afternoon and when I came home to grab some food I saw my neighbor, the old lady upstairs, standing on our stoop. When she saw me coming up the block she waited in the doorway, holding her mail. I wanted to dart away, to make her call after me, or at least make her leave me a long note in that perfect old lady cursive that is nearing extinction. We’d recently gotten a note from her full of apologies and attached to an opened envelope, a discount offer from the New York Review of Books, addressed to Dustin. She’d opened it without looking and was so, so sorry. The stationery has a picture of pears and a pear tree on it, just like the one our landlord had chopped down from our backyard the summer before because, he said, it attracted bees.

Anyway I climbed the steps of the stoop giving her a drawn-out, over sincere, “Hiiii.” She didn’t smile. “Now listen,” she said. Her accent is nasally, insistent, deep Brooklyn. I love it, until its ire is directed at me. “Do you know who stole that padlock?” I laughed, and felt caught even though NO, I have no idea who stole the godforsaken padlock off of the basement door.

“No!” I said, breaking eye contact with her for no good reason. Mostly because I couldn’t believe she was confronting me about this. “Well someone took it,” she said, “I’m just asking because you had people over this weekend, and…” I kept walking, shaking my head, but she called after me. “Someone was down in the basement, you know, and they left the front door to it, the one that leads out to the street, wide open.” I knew this already, because I had read the very long note from our landlord posted on the door.

“I know,” I said, “That’s very disturbing.”

“Well,” she said, “I don’t know if he’s going to give me a spare key now or not.”

“He better!” I said and walked away in a bit of a rage.

This morning, 9 a.m., Dustin was brushing his teeth and I was grabbing a towel to get in the shower. The radio was on, so I wasn’t sure whether I heard someone knocking or not, until he did it again, just much louder. Again I froze, again I hid at the other end of the apartment. Dustin finished brushing his teeth at, I like to think, a leisurely pace. Then he swung open the door and my heart skipped a beat.

“Dustin!” my landlord said. They exchanged pleasantries, Dustin’s thick with irony, my landlord’s indecipherable. He is not a person I can read, as much as I would love to. He is in a position of power over us, so he doesn’t have to mince words. He says what he wants and we resent him for it and that’s it. We can try to read him all we want but it doesn’t really make a difference, until he does something that I can google and find to be in violation of some housing law. It’s all I have.

“Uhh, a few things,” he says.

“Okay?” Dustin says.

He tells us about the missing padlock. “Yes, I saw that,” Dustin says.

“Do you know who did it?” I tried to hold in my laughter.

“No,” Dustin said, “I do not know who did it.”

“Okay, well, I asked around and no one knows but they said you guys had a, uh, gathering here over the weekend, so maybe one of your guests took it. And went in the basement.”


“No, no,” Dustin started, “We had close family and friends over, no one stole your padlock, and you know what? I’m insulted you would say that.”

At that moment I let out a huge, proud, “HA,” which Dustin said he heard and had to fight to keep a straight face.

This set off our landlord. I could almost hear him waving his hands. “No no no I am not accusing you, I am asking, the neighbors said, so–”

“Okay well, if one our guests shows up and tells us that they stole the padlock from the basement then walked through it and left the front door open, I will certainly let you know.”

Then they debated about whether or not someone from off the street came in through the street-facing window or unlocked basement door, then stole the lock. I stood there thinking, Well maybe one of my friends got drunk enough and thought it would be funny to steal the padlock — the padlock which I might add, our landlord left unlocked over the weekend and just hanging from the door — and here we are defending them and they are off somewhere walking around town with a random padlock in their purse, no key to open it should they ever lock it up.

In fact I am starting to hope that one of my friends, drunk on too much Prosecco and baby blue M&Ms, did it just to spite him.

Before he closed the door, Dustin reached into his wallet and handed our landlord a twenty, for the gas. It’s my bill to pay but I forget every time. Our landlord left and now I’ve spent the day wondering whether we are, as tenants, really supposed to answer the door every time our landlord knocks. Can I stand behind the door and ask him what he wants? Can I pretend I’m not there? Should I put on noise-canceling headphones and play dumb in case he bursts through the door? I know I’m being petty, I know that in case it’s an emergency, I should just throw on pants and answer the door anyway. But there is something about it — banging on the door that leads into our kitchen, just a few feet from our bed — that feels like such a violation, like a parent who won’t let you keep your door closed or a younger sibling who comes rushing into the bathroom while you’re trying to stare at your pores in the mirror.

I want to move to the woods.



16 Comments / Post A Comment

thejacqueline (#799)

By law, your landlord is not supposed to enter your apartment unless you specifically give him the OK too (my landlord is very stringent about laws and makes us tell him in writing, or via text, when we are OK with him entering the apartment when we aren’t there. I’m also located in Brooklyn for reference.)

I’m pretty sure that also means you do not have to open the door when he knocks, because he isn’t supposed to just let himself in if you don’t.

Meaghano (#529)

@thejacqueline Good point! I have confronted him before about coming in here while we are gone without warning us — when I came home to find the toilet seat up (!!!) — and reminded him there was a big fine for that. He freaked out and started giving me warnings (the building thermostat is in our apartment, under lock and key of course, so in winter he is always needing to adjust it).

I suspect he would still burst in out of frustration, but you’re right, I should bring that up to him again.

Aconite (#6,401)

I’m British, so I have no idea what the law in your area says about landlords having to give notice. HOWEVER, just in case it helps: here in the UK, it’s perfectly legal to change the barrel of the lock for the duration of your tenancy and change it back again when you leave. You’re not allowed to take the whole lock off or damage the wall/door, but changing the barrel is a simple 10 minute screwdriver job. This solved my problem of the dick landlord just sailing in and out when he pleased (despite legally having to give 24 hours notice). Maybe check and see if you have an equivalent law?

MissMushkila (#1,044)

@Meaghano We are planning to move this fall because our landlord keeps coming in without giving us notice. He likes to drop those long landlord letters off by LETTING HIMSELF INTO THE APT WHEN WE AREN’T HOME and just setting them on our counter or coffee table to find. I have no idea why; we have a mailbox, he has our emails and phone numbers. Every time we find one we contact him in writing and are like “Please let us know with at least 24 hours notice when you plan on coming in our house.” Every time he is like “oh, yeah, sure…I was just in the neighborhood. I actually meant to let you know I would be stopping by last week.” – Okay, but you didn’t and you never do.

It feels silly, but man it’s disconcerting to come home and find someone has been wandering around my house and probably saw, like, my bras hanging to dry in the laundry room. LET ME KNOW AND I WILL PUT AWAY THE UNDERGARMENTS BEFORE YOUR ARRIVAL.

We remind him of the law, but don’t want to actually push it. I think we would be able to because he will like text us after to say “hey dropped off a letter on your counter” and we have the letter and he admits in writing that he didn’t give us notice. And the letter will be like “By the way, I hired a new maintenance guy! Here is his number.” So it isn’t urgent. But oh god. I have fought landlords before and would do it again, but it has to REALLY be worth it. Civil court battles are not fun.

The law varies from state to state, although it is almost always as thejacqueline has said. I believe, there’s an exception for urgent, necessary maintenance, or some such thing. I guarantee you (based on your description and my general experience with landlords) that if he decides to let himself in, he will be able to come up with some urgent maintenance purpose if you make a legal fuss. “Urgent maintenance” is to landlords coming into your apartment as “you fit the reported description of burglary suspects” is to cops making street stops unsupported by probable cause.

shallowpate (#1,701)

Sorry for getting public service-y, but you can always get your questions answered by NYC’s oldest tenants union, the Metropolitan Council on Housing. Their tenants’ rights hotline is 212-979-0611.

Meaghano (#529)

@shallowpate I love public service-y. Thank you! I will undoubtedly be coming back to this.

wrappedupinbooks (#1,426)

I don’t understand… if he’s not missing anything, why doesn’t he just spend the $3 on a new padlock?

Liz the Lemur (#3,125)

@wrappedupinbooks That implies that this person is sane and understands that sometimes shit happens and leading a witch-hunt is not the way to find the padlock.

Meaghano (#529)

@lemur_niemer lol exactly. Also, if we for some reason DID steal the padlock — which honestly I joke about every time he leaves it unlocked because I see it as this symbol of him and his ridiculousness — in what universe would we admit it to him?!

boogers mcgee (#4,474)

Love the tag on this post – “billfold livejournal”

ThatJenn (#916)

@boogers mcgee The Billfold comments section is definitely my livejournal replacement.

therealjaygatsby (#4,053)

I don’t know anything about laws. I just wanted to say that I loved this.

“Again I froze, again I hid at the other end of the apartment.”

Hits too close to home.

DickensianCat (#971)

Ugh, I’m glad Dustin stood his ground and let your landlord know the absurdity of the accusation.

Our landlord isn’t quite this bad, but his “scolding parent” tendencies are wearing mighty thin lately, and I’m pretty close to telling him as much. A few days ago he told us he was going to comb the entire house (we live in a row house, and he and his wife have the first two floors with me and my husband on the third) “top to bottom, to try to figure out why the electric bill has been so darn high lately.” Subtext, “are you kids sure you’re not harboring a few space heaters and mini fridges up there, or leaving all the lights on all night just for shits and giggles?”

I thought it has been well established that Con Ed rates are ridiculous everywhere lately; and if he’s so sure it’s us running up the bill, why not get a separate meter installed? It’s not his first time bringing it up, so at this point even a slight increase in rent would be preferable to the 3rd degree and being made to feel like irresponsible children.

Oh my god I am mad for you. And YES that’s what it is, it’s infantilizing.

Isn’t it amazing how much a good or bad landlord can make or break a place? I’d almost choose a smaller space that was more decrepit if I had a guarantee of good landlord.

Comments are closed!