Intruder Alert! How NOT to Deal With Unauthorized Visitors in Your Building

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‘John’ (not his real name, in consideration of his and his neighbors’ privacy) has lived in co-op buildings for over 40 years, and in his particular co-op - a well-tended, 100% sold, mid-size building in Manhattan - for over two decades. This past Memorial Day weekend, John and his neighbors experienced something that should serve as a caution to others, both on how to protect yourself and how to show concern for your neighbors.

John’s building does not have a doorman. In the 20 years he and his spouse have lived there, there have been exactly two incidents where a vagrant has gotten into the building. (As John dryly notes, that's less than the number of solar eclipses visible from the building in the same time period - so, intruders there are less common than major celestial events.)

Early Saturday morning, one of the shareholders found a homeless man sleeping in the building’s elevator. How the gentleman got into the building, and why he chose the elevator to sleep in is unknown, and will remain a mystery. This shareholder, for the good of the community, proceeded to personally eject the man from the premises; That was mistake number one. While the shareholder’s concern for the community is laudable, he put himself at significant personal risk by engaging the intruder directly. The safer, more prudent approach would have been to call the police, or to go to the precinct just around the corner and request help directly.

Daniel Wollman, CEO of New York City-based management firm Gumley Haft, cautions, “If a building has a doorman, a stranger should not be able to enter the building. But if they don’t, and someone should enter, you can try to defuse the situation by talking, but you should not use physical force to have someone removed. You have no idea if the person may have a weapon, or suffer from mental illness. Residents are not in a role to replace security for their building. Calling the police is the correct procedure.”

Fortunately, the intruder in John’s building offered no resistance and left peacefully. After the incident, there was a flurry of messages on the co-op’s BuildingLink internal communication platform as residents shared the news and expressed their concern about the building’s security. That resulted in a second shareholder printing out and posting some of the messages – along with photos of the intruder - in the lobby, elevator, and common areas of the building. 

As it happened, a third shareholder was holding an open house that weekend for the sale of his shares, and had posted notices about the event in the lobby. The email print-outs and photos about the intruder were affixed less than 10 feet from the open house notices. Not a good look, to say the least.

Clearly, while the shareholder who posted the BuildingLink messages and photos wanted to alert their fellow residents about the unsettling incident, John (and many of his neighbors) felt it was an overreaction, giving little or no thought to the chilling effect such information might have on prospective buyers coming to their neighbor’s open house. Fortunately, the co-op’s managing agent had the offending materials removed as soon as they learned of them - and well before the open house began.

While every resident should always be vigilant, diligent, and concerned about security in their building, multifamily living in a co-op, a condo, or an HOA is always about being part of a community and considering how your actions will affect your neighbors. Good intentions aside, plastering common walls with information that could make the community appear unsafe, or less than desirable to outsiders - prospective buyers in particular - helps no one. 

The moral of John’s story is twofold; First and foremost, if a potentially hazardous situation arises in your building, don’t do anything to endanger yourself. Contact your super, your manager, or - if the situation involves an intruder, vandal, or other illicit activity - call the cops. Don’t engage with intruders. At the same time, think hard before taking an action that might cause a problem for your neighbors - like turning an exceedingly rare (if unsettling) occurrence into cause for panic.

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2 Comments

  • Christopher R. Lanni CPP, AMS, CMCA on Friday, May 31, 2024 9:08 AM
    The incident also provides a good opportunity to re-examine what physical security measures are in place, if they are working as intended and if they are appropriate. Even limited video camera coverage should provide some indication of how the unauthorized party accessed the building. If they "piggy-backed" in behind a resident it also provides a good learning opportunity for all residents if presented properly. Finally, and the article doesn't provide these details but, I would ask the question regarding access to the elevators. Often times, access above the lobby level via stairwells and elevators is controlled in some fashion to prevent access to the upper residential floors. These types of events, while unsettling for residents, provide a pause for a building to take a look at security issues and re-evaluate what they and are not doing.
  • Marleen Molly Levi on Sunday, June 2, 2024 11:01 PM
    We had a very similar situation in my Brooklyn-based, 75 unit co-op. The shareholder called the police but also took it upon herself to go to the lobby and then building rear (she had seen the intruder from her unit over the garage roof). She was fortunate the police arrived and were able to remove the intruder/trespasser peacefully (who seemed either under the influence of... or questionable mental status as relayed to me)... We also had an intruder steal packages from our mail area on more than one occasion. We do not have a doorman either but have a good intercom security system and cameras. We also advise residents to be on high security and NOT let anyone into the building you don't know. They have to use a key or ring an intercom bell for building access... but still some people compromise security and once identified, we address with the shareholder. Security is everyone's responsibility but not to endanger oneself... call the police or building superintendent when possible. It is just awful how such violations have increased in the past 2 years. I'm living in my co-op over 30+ years and have always felt safe and secure... but this has been compromised and it is very unsettling. Police have received multiple such incident reports from local residents and in our case, we even have security camera to provide photo but it doesn't result in capture or identification of intruder(s). We just remain vigilant and try to ensure security to the best extent possible. We even installed a new gate to so no can squeeze thru and/or jump over as was done with the old one. It remains a growing crisis... but best we can do is remain vigilant and report such incidences to the police... and help ensure building security.