Lockboxes-What Do They Mean?

Text and photo by Brian J Pape, AIA

Have you noticed these special padlock-shaped appendages 
locked to railings or tree guards around town?

Have you noticed these special padlock-shaped appendages 
locked to railings or tree guards around town?

One solitary padlock probably means that a realtor has a listing in the nearby building and has permission to allow brokers to show their buyer/renter clients into the subject apartment. The key is inside the casing of the lockbox which is opened with a special code that the listing agent has shared.

Now, what about finding two or more keys? That is a sign that the landlord or residents may be operating an illegal hotel through a rental site, such as Vrbo or Airbnb, and are using these lockboxes to let out-of-towners come in with the special codes.

According to the City website, illegal short-term rentals (less than 30 days) can be dangerous for neighbors, guests and first responders. They can lack proper fire safety systems such as alarms and sprinklers, and may not have enough exits in the event of an emergency.

About Illegal Short-Term Rentals

Sleeping one or more nights in a strange, unfamiliar place increases the possibility of something going wrong and one wouldn’t know what to do or where to find help in an emergency. That is why the building codes require a six-month minimum occupancy for all multi-family dwellings. Alternatively, the full-time occupant/owner must be there in the apartment with short-term guests or get hotel permits.

In your own apartment, you are familiar with safety procedures, equipment and emergency exits. You may even get to know some of your neighbors and can help out in case of a need. But if your neighbors are renting their apartment for short-time visitors who know nothing about your building, the risks to them and you increase dramatically. The building codes are there for your safety and for your neighbors.

You can do something about it if you notice hotel-like activity in your building. By going online to some of these websites, you can enter your street address to see what comes up for availability. If you find a unit in your building advertised for short-term stays, make a copy and contact your building managers or call 311 or the Department of Buildings to alert them to possible illegal activity. You will be doing everyone a favor. They will take it from there.