Privacy and Safety in Single Room Occupancies and Roommate Situations
This was written by a woman who I am honored to know and deeply admire. I am sharing in hopes to find solutions for her and other women going through similar situations. A couple of years ago she was in a homeless situation. Instead of wallowing in it, she got a room after living with relatives, she not only got her GED, she’s almost finished with a two year community college and preparing to go on to a four year college and then get her graduate degree. She is a woman with a plan.
I live in a single room occupancy apartment with three other renters (room mate situation). We have six month leases that the landlord extends. When I moved in (I’m a full time student), he said there were only students and professionals living there. There are two women, including myself and two men in this first floor apartment. One of the male room mates rarely leaves the house, he is up all night and part of the morning until 6 a.m. , there are no sounds like tv, music, video games, (yes, he could have his headphones on) phone conversation coming from his room when you pass by, he rarely cooks or talks with anyone in the apartment. He doesn’t work and receives Social Security Disability for a mental disorder. This he told to me and another room mate.
When he first moved in he told me that he had been in the room next to his (a woman’s room, which was vacant at the time) through a closet door connected between their rooms. I later found out there is no such door and saw for myself there is no entrance. He also told me that his mother had kicked him out (he’s 32 years old), because he had some sort of raging fit and when he came out of it he had destroyed his room. He called his father a monster and glared at me and became defensive when I asked him about how he gets along with his sister. He is a computer information technology major, supposedly going to school but said he only took one class last semester and that was an online class in Astronomy. He is heavily into fantasy, gaming, etc. He seems to strongly dislike most women who move into the apartment, especially if they touch his shower caddy or leave anything on it. He has emailed all the room mates however and the landlord when a roll of his toilet paper was used up. He could not believe that an entire roll would be gone and wanted to know where it might be.
He is creepy, sinister and repulsive, literally slithering along the apartment walls. He makes no noise, no sounds suddenly showing up, you can’t hear him. He slowly closes doors turning the knobs so you can’t hear him. He leaves his bedroom door slightly ajar so you won’t hear it click when he closes it. One day I walked into one of the bathrooms and he was standing there in the dark. Yes, after jumping out of my skin, I backed out leaving him alone in the dark. Another time I was unlocking my bedroom door and he was only a couple feet away from me in a dark hallway. He was turning on the hall light. He said “I thought you might need some help”. One day at the bus stop something told me to turn around and there he was. He never spoke, or made one sound. Twice I have opened my bedroom door which is pretty much in the kitchen. He was standing near my door, just standing there.
I have found two keyloggers on my computer. The last one in December of 2013. I don’t use the house free wifi, I have my own wireless hotspot. And yes, I know a hacker can get through any passcodes, firewalls, run a Reaver brute force attack and get free scripts to hack your computer for free online. I’ve spent the last few month researching online and reading how it’s become a national past time. The first time this happened, my web cam light came on. I not only disabled my web cam, I removed the program and covered the lens. After wiping the hard drive again, and finding in the matter of a couple of weeks another keylogger on my computer (last month), I really became suspicious. By this time, I had told my landlord about the first keylogger found on my lap top, I had told my college counselor about this strange room mate, my friends and my boyfriend (who wants to talk to him).
Recently something was off about my room, I had a strange feeling some one was in there. I noticed a few minor things like a pen turned upside down (I could have done that, doubt it but could have), stickies where I hadn’t left them. My boyfriend installed a motion sensor alarm a few weeks ago. I wiped my computer again, reloading only minimal software, changed my passwords using upper, lower case, alpha numeric, and symbols no less than 16 digits on my wifi. I did not however, lock down my computer. I’ve stayed off the internet for two weeks. I went to the police to file a report, but of course they could do nothing, I called and spoke to someone at the FBI, filed a report online and went to see a computer and security expert.
This past Saturday, I went out only a few minutes to go to the store. This time, something told me not to leave the motion sensor alarm on chime, but set it to alarm. When I came back in the house, he ran out of his room said “oh, hi it’s you, I’m just cooking a pizza”. He was nervous and shaky and I just knew something was wrong. When I walked in my room to disarm the alarm it had already been triggered. No one else was in the apartment. I checked upstairs and talked to the couple there, who didn’t hear anything. They have a huge loud air conditioner in there room. I called the police and they told me I should move out and also added that where I was living was illegal housing. The kind officer who told me he was really busy that night, told me I had the option to tell the landlord to put a dead bolt lock on the door or tell him I was going to report him. Later I found out that no matter how cheap the door is if someone wants to get in they have to tear up the door to do it.
That night I found out some very important things. One, I cut a piece of stiff plastic and opened my locked bedroom door with that plastic, three times. When I SHOWED my room mate (guy) next to me, he said “oh yeah, you should tell the landlord”. The next day I talked to the computer , security person again telling him what happened. He said forget your computer for now, your safety and security is at issue here. I also spoke with a lawyer, who said the same thing about a dead bolt and suggested I not clean my computer until I’m sure he cannot get in and to insist that no one else have a copy of the key except the landlord. By this time, I had already texted the landlord telling him that I wanted a dead bolt lock put on the door and that I could get in with a piece of plastic. He’s away for a week and agreed to install one upon his return.
After a couple of days, what I think might have happened is this:
Strange room mate has had access to everyone’s room, we all have the same type of privacy lock and he knows everyone’s schedule or when the apartment will be completely empty. However I’m the only person in the house who leaves their laptop in the room. Not only that I foolishly have left passwords in my desk drawer. I’ve already beat up on myself about that as well as not protecting myself better in this apartment. (I lock my door to take a shower) Strange room mate if he has been in my room, has not had to do any really hard work here. He could simply enters my room, sits at my desk if he chooses, logs on to my computer and installs his $39.99 Blazing Tools - Perfect Keylogger which only Vipre Rescue Disk found (twice) in the registry. Or he can do it remotely if he chooses. He has all my information and has been smart enough to not commit any crime, or get himself caught. He knows all of our schedules. His keylogger has let him know my bus schedules, what time I’m leaving, and my destination. Easy freakin’ Peasy!! Yet, he risked coming into my room again, I believe for some reason.
A police captain at our area police station suggested I get a security cam, because it would be proof that he was in my room. See I have to respect the law, I’m supposed to invest my student bucks into trying to catch this strange, suspicious person while wondering if he’s got surveillance devices all over the house, wondering what he’s doing up all times of the night , silently in his room. Occasionally you can hear the clicking of what sounds like DVD/CD cases. [It’s close quarters here] Has he hacked/cracked into the computers of everyone who uses the house wifi, how many people is he watching through their webcams in this house, in this neighborhood? What’s he doing with all this information? Other questions come to mind, why would my landlord put nothing more than privacy locks on the bedroom doors, he does no background checking on individuals living here. If I could move, I would have been gone a long time ago. Probably after that bathroom incident. I have no solid proof that he has done any of the things that I suspect he has and the landlord has said the same, it’s not just me that I am concerned about.
There are two other women in this building besides me, plus four women who have rented the room next to his over the past year. Are we or have we been slaves, that he trades on the internet to his hacker/cracker buddies? For me this is just not a matter of invasion of privacy, or harrasment it is one of the toughest challenges of my lifetime. I am in college to become a Domestic Violence Counselor. There are many women out here who’s boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands track their every move. There are women in shelters or single room occupancy situations who need to be knowledgeable and not foolish as I have been. When I called several Domestic Violence hotlines, they really could not help me. One woman admitted she didn’t know what to say. What is shocking to me is that we live in a connected, technological society where our information is pretty much free for the taking and yet we are not armed with the information we need to protect ourselves, or at least to not make it so easy for those that do harm to us, while remaining in the shadows.
Oh, by the way I’ve developed remarkable patience during all of this. I’ve been asked “do you have a password”, “do you have antivirus software”, “did he take anything” (would you believe me if he had)? I’ve been told “we can’t help you, we don’t have any codes for your complaint I can’t put it into the system”. And the answer to it all “move”. It reminds me of the early days before rape and domestic violence laws had changed. Women were not taken seriously. It used to be when a woman was beat, “what’d you say to provoke him”, or “is that how you were dressed”? True, we’re worried more about the Government spying on our email than our next door neighbor or the person in the room next to us reading all of our communication, watching us, following us and trading us online like slaves. What’s wrong with this whole picture? Well right now there’s only identity theft laws after the damage has been done, nothing has caught the eye of the public as far as harm to women caused by hacking or unsafe living conditions in single room occupancy dwellings.
After reading this, if you have something to say, to add, advice, information to share, a similar situation, something we should know, or a comment, let me hear from you. I’m not done yet!
~To Be Continued~