When you hear strange noises in the bowels of your rental, see lights turned on that should be off, kitchen drawers left open that you know you closed, what would you think? Some Ohio State University students' reaction was that the house might be haunted -- and they joked with friends about the ghost in their home. But as computer science and civil engineering students, they also knew that there had to be a more practical explanation than a supernatural one. That's when all eyes turned to a locked door in the basement.
"Behind the locked door there were dings and alarms and stuff," said tenant Mark Hartman in a video produced by The Lantern, the campus newspaper. The 10 roommates living under one lease on the second and third floors of the house pictured above thought that the locked door in the basement led to a utility closet, The Lantern reported.
Some of the tenants called the landlord, who had the door opened. All were shocked to find living quarters there, complete with framed photographs and textbooks, tenant Jimmy Alderman, a fourth-year student in civil engineering, told the student publication.
It all started to make sense. House resident Brett Mugglin said that over the summer he'd encountered a man in the basement who said that he'd wondered when he'd meet the new residents. By "meet" he apparently meant accidentally bump into them -- since he was not suppose to be living there, nor was he paying rent. Mugglin said that the man identified himself as "Jeremy," and said little else.
Jeremy apparently had been using a side door to enter the basement, virtually going undetected by the legitimate tenants, reported ABC News. The property's management immediately changed the locks, but one of the renters there, Mark Hartman, told ABC News that's not enough. While "Jeremy" didn't appear to pose a threat to them, the tenants said, they imagine that he easily could have. Hartman said that he's considering taking legal action against the management, NorthSteppe Realty, one of the larger property managers in Columbus, Ohio.
(AOL Real Estate's call to NorthSteppe was referred to its lawyers at Graff & Associates but was not returned by the time of publication. Neither was our call to the landlord.)
"We've talked to student legal services," Hartman said. "We are hoping for discounted rent for a few months." [See more details about the story in The Lantern's video below.]
As weird as that experience apparently was for the renters who unwittingly shared their home with "Jeremy," AOL reported on a similar situation in Virginia. In that case, a family decided to rent a place in Fairfax at what seemed a remarkably low rate, but were told by their landlady that they couldn't see the basement because she wanted to leave some things in storage there. It turned out that she was storing herself there -- something that it took her tenants weeks to discover.
Of course, tenants need to think of their safety when moving into any rental unit, whether it's a building shared with several other tenants, or a single-family home with just immediate family. Here are some recommendations:
1. Insist on exterior door locks being changed. Don't just take your landlord's word for it that the locks were changed. Either be present as they are being changed, or offer to call a locksmith yourself and be reimbursed for the cost. And never leave your doors unlocked -- either when you're home or away.
2. Install a security system. Although you might not be able to install a permanent system, as AOL Real Estate wrote in "Apartment Security for Renters," you can invest in portable alarms or magnetic door alarms that chime whenever a door is opened or closed. Wi-fi cameras such as Dropcam, are also rather inexpensive with video footage stored in an online cloud.
3. Check every room on your initial walk-through. If there are any hidden areas or locked doors, ask for a quick peek inside -- even if a landlord says he or she is storing their own items there -- for your own peace of mind.
4. Get to know your neighbors. Whether it's a room-share or a multi-unit building, make an effort to meet your neighbors so that you can recognize someone you encounter on the property as a stranger, and can more quickly discern if it's a friend of a neighbor or a trespasser.
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