Austin Lane returned home to an unlocked door and unanswered questions.
Lane, 19, said he still hasn’t received compensation – or an apology – after a worker contracted by Gainesville Place Apartments stole about $1,400 in property on Jan. 4.
He said Neil A. Dortly, 42, arrived with a cleaning crew that was supposed to prepare the room for an incoming tenant.
Instead, Dortly unlocked a room near the entrance and stole a safe, hoverboard and speaker, along with shoes and jewelry, said Lane, a 19-year-old Santa Fe College business management freshman.
Lane said he wants to know why the apartment complex did not run a background check on the employees before they were contracted.
“He’s been to prison before,” Lane said. “He has a record.”
Police arrested Dortly Jan. 6 after they searched his home and found Lane’s Xbox 360 gaming system. Authorities also found video games that belonged to Lane’s roommate, according to a police report.
Two days before the arrest, Dortly allegedly pawned the roommate’s Nintendo 3Ds to the Game Stop on Archer Road, according to the report.
Dortly is scheduled to visit court on May 10 and May 24 at 2 p.m. for two charges of burglary, three for larceny and one for dealing in stolen property, according to Alachua County court records.
Since 1991, Dortly has been found guilty of more than 20 infractions, including charges for grand theft auto, petit theft, attempted burglary, felony battery, dealing in stolen property and trespassing, according to court records.
“This isolated incident was already reported and addressed previously and we are not inclined to make any further comments,” Michael Rosenblatt of The Collier Companies wrote in an email.
Lane said he hoped to have his lock changed after the incident, but that Gainesville Place wanted to charge him.
“Just the fact that they didn’t even do a background check on this guy or anything, and they gave him full access to my room – or anybody’s room as fact – is terrible,” Lane said.
Bogin, Munns & Munns attorney Philip Kabler said he is unsure whether any statutes require apartments to run a background check on prospective maintenance staff or contracted workers.
Though companies may not be required to use background checks, many do so anyway, Kabler said.
“The landlords that I work with have just done it as a good practice,” he said.
Kabler said investors can visit the North Central Florida Apartment Association (formerly known as the Gainesville Apartment Association) or the Gainesville-Alachua County Association of Realtors for insight on how to protect a business and its residents.
Students, he said, can contact Student Legal Services at the University of Florida or Santa Fe College.
“Sometimes things happen not because of the landlord, but in spite of the landlord’s efforts,” Kabler said.
Skylar Shuminar said she lost $500 and her peace of mind in December.
After running errands on Dec. 14, Skylar returned to her apartment at the Woodlands of Gainesville and realized her bedroom door was locked.
Skylar, a 21-year-old UF health education and behavior student, said she called police after first confirming that no maintenance workers were in the apartment.
An operator told her to leave the home in case someone was still in the house – something Skylar said she never considered.
She then walked outside and noticed someone had pushed the screen out of her second-story window.
“My heart just dropped,” she said.
Her neighbor, 18-year-old Lorne J. Singletary, became a suspect after Skylar told police that Singletary avoided her when she returned home.
Police arrested Singletary and his friend, 18-year-old Nahja White, after he reportedly told authorities that Nahja stole from Skylar and her two roommates while he served as a lookout.
Skylar said she learned Nahja and another neighbor had been in the apartment when she returned.
After the initial burglary, they re-entered the apartment to give back a stolen laptop. As Skylar entered her apartment, Nahja and the neighbor exited through her window after a call from Singletary, who kept watch, according to the report.
The group was able to enter the apartment using a key left in Nahja’s apartment by a maintenance worker three days earlier.
“He should have been fired on the spot,” Skylar said.
Skylar said the worker probably failed to immediately report the missing key. If he had, the old electronic key would have been deactivated, she said.
According to court records, Singletary received a charge for larceny and was later enrolled in pre-trial diversion, a program that, once completed, helps participants avoid charges or have their charges dismissed.
On April 11, Nahja received three years of probation for charges of grand theft of a dwelling, according to court records.
In fear of retaliation from the neighbors who were arrested, Skylar said she has since moved to a new complex.
She feels betrayed by the Woodlands, which she said still makes her pay rent, and the maintenance worker, who she said never apologized.
The Woodlands of Gainesville could not be reached for comment as of press time.
“Your responsibility is to have your keys on you, and you left them in someone’s apartment,” she said.
Layne Prebor, an attorney for UF’s Student Legal Services, said he does not believe any laws govern who can access a universal key or where they should be kept.
“I wish maybe that was something that was more tightly defined,” he said.
Prebor also said he does not currently know of any laws that would require apartment complexes to run a background check on prospective employees.
Landlord lobbyists, he said, often fight such legislation.
He said required background checks might be seen as burdensome, but that such policies could improve more than just safety.
“To me, it’s almost a good advertising thing too,” he said. “If you could say ‘As a landlord, we would really like to protect our tenants’.”
Florida Statute 83.53, Prebor said, defines certain rights of a landlord, such as the ability to enter an apartment between 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. if the tenant received at least 12 hours notice.
A lease can expand a tenant’s rights, such as giving him or her a 24-hour notification period before an apartment is entered, Prebor said.
Carefully review the lease, he said, and investigate all complaints and crimes associated with the complex before signing.
In all burglary cases, it is easier for police to find stolen property when the owner recorded serial numbers, Gainesville Police Department spokesman Officer Ben Tobias wrote in an email.
He said human nature makes it impossible to prevent all landlords or employees from abusing their access to universal keys.
However, Tobias said, keeping a watchful eye can make apartments safer for everyone.
“I would say that the whole idea of ‘if it looks suspicious…call us’ would apply to either landlords or tenants,” he said.