It’s the end of the day, it’s getting a little dark and you’re heading up your block contemplating what to order for dinner only to discover someone right outside your building’s door who you don’t recognize. Or worse, this random stranger is already in the foyer of your building, just loitering and blocked by the locked second door. All the sudden your synapses are firing and your fight or flight response kicks in. What do you do?

Do you awkwardly sidle around the person and attempt to get into the building without letting them follow you? Or do you immediately demand they state their name, purpose and destination? Or do you simply unlock the door and say nothing if they follow you in?

Upper West Side Street at Night

(Source: Charlie Styr via Flickr Creative Commons)

This is a scenario that has transpired many times for many New York apartment dwellers, causing everything from anxiety and agita to social faux pas and inter-neighbor aggression and at times even to break-ins and muggings.

What do you do?

In these situations, being honest and direct is the best strategy. Asking “Are you visiting someone in the building?” is a good start. You can follow up with specific questions like, “Who?” “What unit do they live in?” “Have you tried buzzing up?”

The person should be able to supply the first and last name of the building resident they intend to visit as well as the unit number. If they cannot, you have reason to be skeptical.

Regardless, your response should be to ask them to wait outside until their friend can buzz them in or arrives. It doesn’t have to be brusque. A simple “Oh, I’m sure they’ll buzz you up soon, but it’s building policy not to let guests in unannounced. Do you mind waiting outside?” will do. If that’s met with aggression, restate what you said before and let yourself into the building.

Brooklyn Street at Night

(Source: Steve Pisano via Flickr Creative Commons)

This approach may seem overly cautious, but there is hardly a scenario that warrants you letting a stranger into your building. If they are visiting a friend, the friend can easily let them in. The same goes for people making deliveries. If the buzzers on your building’s intercom are not properly marked, it is not your responsibility to help the person figure out how to get in. It’s 2015, people, we all have cell phones. The person can call the resident they’re visiting and ask them what buzzer to push.

The possible downsides of letting someone into the building far outweigh the inconvenience of the person waiting an additional two minutes to be buzzed in properly. Letting in a stranger puts the whole building at risk, not just you, so why take that chance? On top of that, many buildings have policies stating that all guests must be buzzed in by the residents they’re visiting. Even if that’s not the case in your building, it’s a good practice to adopt.

And lastly, if this is the policy you always adopt regardless of the scenario, you’ll avoid the turmoil and uncertainty of what to do in the moment. As a blanket rule, just don’t let strangers into your building.