When I moved in, I received 2 keys to the front door, 2 keys to the storage unit, and directions to the parking spot for the car I do not have. With that, I felt more than set to move in and happily moved all of my boxes in. After talking to my neighbor, I got basic instructions on utilities, leaving only internet as the last major task to deal with. That belief seems incredibly naive now, and my laundry key, lack of access to my homeowners account, spare modem from comcast, and non-locking mailbox all agree. Let me focus on that last one.
The next day, I went to check my mail. My mailbox is mounted against the wall just outside my front door in a box shared with 3 neighbors. The mailman has a single key that unlocks the entire box to place mail into each of our boxes individually, to which we each have a key. Except me. I quickly discovered that none of my 4 keys opened the mailbox. This was fine as I needed to call the homeowners management company anyways to sort out a few details and get access to the laundry facilities before I ran out of underwear.
I happen to have the number for the management company off of a maintenance door in the carports below my unit and gave them a call. I had a few questions in mind, but it’s the things that one doesn’t know to ask that really become problematic, so I politely asked the woman on the phone what things I needed to do surrounding moving in to get setup.
“…You just… move in.” Having clearly asked a stupid question, I got more specific with my concerns, such as the key for the mailbox.
“You should have received it from the previous owner.” I made a note to check on that, which I was able to quite soon because she clearly could not get off the phone with me soon enough. I emailed my real estate agent Mike* about it, and he confirmed with the seller that there were no other keys available. The property was bank-owned and vacant, so presumably the last owner forgot to send along the mailbox key. That’s understandable, though: I myself forget things all the time, like forwarding mail for previous tenants.
I called the management company again to sort this out since I clearly did not and cannot receive a key from the previous owner.
“You should have received the key from the previous owner.” This I was aware of, because unlike this same woman answering the phone, I was listening when the situation was explained to me. I repeated again that the property was bank-owned and the seller did not have a key.
“Well, we don’t deal with mailboxes. You need to talk to the post office about that.” That I can work with.
Soon after, I gave the local post office a phone call, where a much nicer fellow listened to my question about getting access to my mailbox. Sadly, because it was a wall-mounted mailbox (and not a free-standing mailbox), the post office apparently also was not responsible for access to the mailbox, and I should instead bother the homeowners about it.
With no one taking responsibility for the situation, my real estate agent swooped in and apparently redid both of my phone calls with greater success. He determined that the post office misunderstood my mailbox situation and that it was their responsibility. I could either pay to have the post office come out and replace it or buy a new lock myself, wait for the mailman, and replace the lock when he opened the box to give me access to the back. Being cheap, I tried for the latter.
A few days later, I had successfully purchased a lock and asked my neighbor via sticky note when the mailman came each day. Unfortunately, the window was from 11-4, so I took some time to work from home while I waited for the mailman to come.
I rode home from work just before 11 and saw that the mail truck was just across the street from my complex, so it seemed that I might be able to get done with this quickly. Unfortunately, the route apparently doesn’t come back up my side of the street for awhile as he didn’t arrive within the next hour. I was, however, beset by a number of false alarms as movers when up and down the stairs right the mailbox to get to the unit above mine. The next few hours moved slowly as I split my attention between work and sounds from outside. Sometime after 3, I got sleepy, and without my usual mid-afternoon distraction in the office, I flopped back onto the carpet and probably fell asleep.
I was awoken very soon, though, by some ruffling outside, and like a spirit out of a dream, I checked my front door and saw Eduardo the mailman putting in the mail. I asked him if he would mind if I swapped out the mailbox lock, which he didn’t. I had put a sticky on the front of my mailbox for the previous week instructing the mailman to put my mail on my doorstep instead, so the entire situation was likely anticipated. I apparently looked as confused as I was, despite having read instructions online on how to replace mailbox locks, so stopped for a moment and gave me brief instructions on what to do: I needed a pair of pliers to pull out a clip holding the lock in place, and in the meantime, he would go finish up with mail on the rest of my building.
Sadly, pliers only existed in my condo on a “To Get” list, and when he saw me a few minutes later with a wrench and having made no progress, he expressed his incredulity at my ineffectiveness (in a very positive and amused way) and did it himself while complaining about my lack of tools. Having removed the clip, it should have been easy enough to pull the lock out, but unfortunately, the locking cam (the piece of metal that rotates to actually hold the door locked) wasn’t coming off, and neither was the lock.
Typically, the cam is just held to the lock with a nut, but there was no such nut on this lock. We managed to wiggle the cam enough to get the door to open, but the lock still wouldn’t fit out of the hole in the door. He next suggested that I get a screwdriver and hammer to pop the cam off of the lock. When I mentioned that I didn’t have a hammer, he looked me straight in the eye and said in the kindest manner,
“Brother, how do you own a house but have a hammer?” I fumbled out something about having just moved in, though I still don’t have a hammer. In any case, he then gave me detailed instructions on how to remove the lock from the mailbox and backup directions on getting to the nearby locksmith if I was unsuccessful. And with that, he left to carry on with his job, serving the rest of the community.
Still hammerless, I played around with the lock for awhile longer, trying to use the wrench to wiggle it this and that way. With a bit of work, though, it seemed clear that the problem was that the cam was still in the wrong position to pull the lock out, and if only I could turn the cam, I could probably get the lock out. To turn the cam, I needed to turn the lock, but if I could turn the lock, I could have saved myself this entire adventure and a blog post. Well, time to open the lock like a video game character: the picks come out.
I looked up instructions on how to pick a lock online. If you don’t know how to pick a lock at a high level, please take this opportunity to watch a video online. It’s actually quite simple: put some tension on the lock by twisting it, then push the tumblers into position with something small and pointy.
Well, an hour later and a series of bent paperclips later, the lock was still on my mailbox. Several forces were working against me. First, I didn’t have a tension wrench or something shaped similarly to put tension on the lock while trying to pick it, so I had to fashion one out of a paperclip. These, however, tended to be quite weak. Second, mailbox locks are smaller than conventional locks, giving me less working space than usual. Third, I have never tried picking a lock before and knew little beyond a 2 minute internet video made by a 9 year old.
So this all happened maybe a week or two ago, and I still haven’t figured out my mailbox situation. The door is currently ajar and cannot be locked. The mailman has continued to put mail on my doorstep as instructed, though I’m sure Eduardo shakes his head whenever he comes by and sees that I still haven’t fixed things. I think my next move will be to try to use the wrench I have to twist various parts of the lock into more useful positions, but at this point, I’m not optimistic. I might just have to give up and go to the locksmith to remove the lock for me. The mailbox has already won too many rounds against me for me to salvage any part of this process. Still, I guess I’m just a sucker for the challenge.
* By the way, Mike is awesome. If you’re looking for housing in the area, you should talk to him