The 6 Commandments Of Other People’s Housekeys

by Daisy on 08/28/2014

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A lot of what I do is all about independence; trying to grow my own food and medicine, learning to make, make do, or live without. BUT, I also value interdependence. I believe getting to know your neighbors and making contacts outside your own family unit can add great value to your life.

If I want to have good neighbors, I need to be a good neighbor. I don’t always succeed, either by ignorance, omission, or thoughtlessness, but I want to be a good neighbor, and I think that is a start.

Sometimes in neighborhoods, especially if you’re the stay-at-home type, you become a keeper of the keys, and it’s a big responsibility. Here are a few of the things I have thought about over the years. Most of these are self-evident. Please comment if you have a suggestion or addition.

  1. Never let anyone else use the key or let anyone else into the person’s house unless the owner of the house has specifically requested you do so. Even if they are a relative or a close friend of the homeowner, you never know what might be going on in a relationship between two people. Don’t let anyone pressure you into complying. Tell them it is a rule you can’t break.

  2. Under no circumstance use the key for your own purposes, be it to borrow a cup of sugar or even to retrieve something the neighbor has borrowed from you, without direct permission from the neighbor for each individual instance. Consider the neighbor’s home inviolate under all circumstances.

  3. When you have been asked to use the key by the homeowner, say, to water plants or feed pets, don’t wander around like you’re in a museum or make yourself at home. Put virtual blinders on, do your job, and leave. If an accident happens while you are there (you knock over and break a vase, for example), call them on the spot and tell them what happened. Don’t just clean it up and hope they don’t notice. Then clean it up.

  4. When you leave, secure the house like your neighbor has requested. If you don’t have anything prearranged, leave it locked just like it was when you arrived.

  5. Take as good care of their key as you do your own. Make sure it’s kept in a safe place where no one else can find it and where you won’t lose it.

  6. If the neighbor moves, return the key to him or her, or to the realtor if you don’t see the neighbor before the move. Please don’t hang on to a house key to a house whose residents you no longer have a key-holding arrangement with. Not everyone thinks to have their locks changed when they take over a new property. They deserve to have the safety and respect of a secure house, even if they don’t know someone else has their house key. Do unto others.

Can you think of anything I missed? Any stories about bad key etiquette?

Email commenter Cindy adds the advice: marking the key with an ID that is clear but does not include either the name or the address of the residence insures it won’t be found and used by the wrong person, and if you lose the key that has been entrusted to you, tell the other homeowner/renter immediately. If you should find it later, again, tell the other dweller right away. 

She also suggests printing out this advice and giving it to the key recipient when you hand over your key as a means of clearly communicating your expectations. Good advice, Cindy! Often when giving a key to someone you have to present other written advice anyway, such as instructions for care of the house. A key etiquette sheet can be included without fuss.



{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Jeff Atnip August 29, 2014 at 7:44 am

I like number 3 about the blinders. I would add…however, if you do see something “interesting” in your neighbor’s house, resist the temptation to gossip about it.

Daisy August 29, 2014 at 8:36 am

Jeff–Good point.

Lindsay August 29, 2014 at 1:49 pm

If you have roommates, please let them know if you’ve loaned out your key or made a copy. It was very disconcerting to find strange people in my house while in college. Just courtesy.

Daisy August 29, 2014 at 9:22 pm

Lindsay–I imagine it was disconcerting!

Frances Williams August 30, 2014 at 8:23 am

By all means, don’t plunder! I allowed a family member to house sit and came home to find my mail had been looked through and my dresser drawers rifles through. Disappointing and it made me angry. Then I found some old family photos missing. I took the key back and cried. I felt violated.

Daisy August 30, 2014 at 2:16 pm

Frances Williams–How awful.That was some serious misbehavior.

farmkiti September 1, 2014 at 1:33 am

Frances – if I were you I would have brought charges of theft. Even if they did not stick, that “neighbor” would have had it on their record. They deserved it.

Briana October 13, 2014 at 2:42 pm

What should you do if they lose your house key? We gave a spare key to some family members, and they agreed to look after our place while we are traveling. We will still be gone another couple weeks, but they just informed us they ‘don’t have it’. It seems they are trying to make it sound like we never gave it to them, even though we did. They are the only ones who had a copy.

Daisy October 13, 2014 at 7:08 pm

Briana–That’s a tricky one. Are they saying they’ve not been in yet? How long have you been gone? Did the key have any kind of ID on it? Do they need to get in to check on things?

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