The 5 Best Tips for Better Apartment Security
Moving into your first apartment can offer wonderful independence and privacy, but it means you’ll have less control over the security of your new space. Luckily, there are good options to enhance security for apartment dwellers.
Q: My new apartment is awesome on the inside, and I’m excited to be living on my own for the first time. I’m also a little nervous. The area seems nice—but I’m uncertain about how to make sure I’m safe. How can I maximize the security of my new home?
A: Congratulations! Moving into your first apartment is a big step; independence is great, plus you don’t have to clean up after other people or wait for someone to get out of the shower when you’re running late for work. Living alone does come with some drawbacks, however, especially for a first-time apartment renter who is nervous about safety. You’re not alone in your concern: Many first-time renters skip the search for “all apartments near me” and instead search for “safe apartments near me.” Luckily, there are several ways to secure your apartment so you can feel safe on your own, enjoy the solitude, and get a good (and peaceful) night’s sleep.
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Assess your neighborhood and building.
First-time renters will ideally cruise around their prospective neighborhood before signing a lease to get an idea of the surrounding area. They’ll check on things like lighting, common gathering spots, and the general feel of the neighborhood. But sometimes that’s not possible, especially if they are moving to an unfamiliar location. But there’s still a lot to be learned by doing a careful assessment of the building even after the move-in date. A stroll around the neighborhood during the day and after dark quickly reveals whether there are lots of people around and whether the area is clean and well maintained. It’s a good idea for renters to get a sense of the area early on so they can make good decisions about when they come and go, as well as the steps they might need to take to increase personal safety.
New renters should also give the building itself a good examination. See whether the building has a security system, since visible signs of security can deter criminals while indicating that the landlord or property manager takes safety seriously. If the building has common hallways or areas, renters should take note of how well lit these areas are. They should check the parking area, front step and entryway, laundry room, trash disposal area, and any hallways or staircases. Renters should also look at the landscaping—if it is overgrown, it can provide a hiding place for intruders. After the inspection, renters should bring any concerns to their landlord to ask for repairs or improvements. Good lighting and well-kept greenery go a long way toward making the building safer for everyone who lives in it.
Another consideration for renters is to make sure they are safe while inside in case of an emergency. They should identify emergency exits and make sure they work so that the renter knows they can get out quickly if disaster strikes. Additionally, renters will want to check for the presence of smoke detectors, sprinklers, and carbon monoxide detectors. These elements should be tested routinely to ensure they’re in good working order, so it’s a good idea for renters to ask their landlord how frequently this occurs. Some apartment buildings will post the date of the last maintenance right on the devices or near a common area.
Get to know your neighbors.
Renters generally don’t have a formal Neighborhood Watch program, but they do have neighbors who pay attention to what’s going on in the neighborhood. New tenants to the area should work on getting to know their neighbors so they are familiar and known by name. That way, if a thief tries to make off with a renter’s Amazon package or someone is messing around with their car, it’s more likely that neighbors will notice and step in to help or call the police. In addition, it’s good for renters to have some neighbors that they can call on if they need help, whether it’s for a cup of sugar to bake brownies or a safe space to go if they are worried that they’re unsafe.
There are many ways that new tenants can get to know their neighbors. Unless they live in a single apartment rather than a complex, they can strike up a conversation at the mailbox, say hi to neighbors while walking their dog, ask a neighbor for great restaurant recommendations, and so on. Once the new resident is known to a couple of people, it’s likely they’ll introduce them to other neighbors. If those options seem too forward or unnerving, a new renter can try turning to social media—some larger complexes have their own social media networks, and groups on larger social media sites such as Nextdoor and Facebook likely have area-specific pages.
Assess your apartment’s door, locks, and windows.
Once a renter has officially moved into their new apartment, they’ll be in a position to control their security in a way that’s a little more concrete, and they can build a sanctuary that feels safe. The first step is to make the doors, locks, and windows as strong and safe as possible. As a renter, this can be tricky, because it’s unlikely that the landlord will replace the door and make it inconsistent with all the others in the building. But after inspecting the door, if the renter sees dents, splintered wood, or a lot of rust or pulling around the hinges, it’s a good idea to ask for a repair or replacement immediately. If the door isn’t structurally sound, the locks won’t be able to secure it, and it won’t be possible to achieve the proper apartment security level.
If the apartment door itself is solid, it’s time to inspect the locks. If there is no deadbolt present, the landlord may install one or allow the renter to install one for themself. It’s likely the landlord won’t want the renter to hold a key to the apartment that the maintenance staff doesn’t have in case they need to access the apartment in an emergency, but a landlord should understand the need for good security for apartments and respect that the renter wants to protect their property as well as their safety. It’s also reasonable to ask the landlord to have the lock rekeyed, especially if the apartment was previously occupied by another tenant who may have failed to return all the keys.
Beyond that, renters can also take several steps to secure the door when they are home. Door jammers, which are bars that fit under the doorknob and press back against the floor to prevent the door from opening, are easy to put in place when the apartment is occupied and remove for times it’s vacant. Door chains or hinged bar locks are also easy to install; they’ll involve drilling into the door and the doorframe, so it’s smart to ask the landlord for permission— or just repair the holes before moving out. These options will allow the tenant to open the door if someone knocks while remaining secure by preventing the door from being pushed in once unlocked.
Finally, a renter should assess the windows. They may not be able to improve the pre-installed locking mechanism, but something as simple as a thick dowel cut to length and placed between the sash and the window frame can prevent the window from being opened. Alternatively, the renter can purchase inexpensive window wedges to place between the sashes, which will have the same effect. If the apartment includes sliding doors, these same tools can prevent it from being opened. Another option is to purchase a sliding door bar lock. The renter should make sure the windows are secure both when they are home and when they are not.
The apartment may have big, sunny windows that let in lots of light, which is uplifting and energizing, but if the light can peek in, so can people. Bright open panes of glass can be great during the day, but it’s worth considering investing in an opaque window covering for when it gets dark; otherwise, the apartment window will be visible to all passersby. Tenants on a lower floor should choose window coverings that hide the apartment from view during the day as well, such as blinds that can be tilted up, several layers of sheers that obscure the view, or a translucent frosted vinyl window decal. For first-floor apartment patio privacy, consider blinds or a sliding curtain that obscures the entire patio door. Intruders want to make sure that they’ll find enough loot to make it worth the risk of breaking in; if they can’t see what’s available in the apartment, they’re more likely to pass it by. An uncovered window on a lower floor is like an invitation.
Invest in a rental-friendly security system.
In the past, home security systems were designed for homeowners, with elaborate hard-wired configurations that required professional installations and lengthy contracts. As more people have chosen to rent long-term, however, security companies realized that renters want monitored security systems, too, and that they have different needs than homeowners, such as flexible contracts that allow the renter to take the system with them when they move with little or no fee (there may be a need for additional equipment based on the new apartment). Also, apartment-friendly security systems provide installation that can be DIY and don’t damage the walls or surfaces in the apartment. Renters should look for a company that provides a system that works for the size of their apartment and their budget that has some flexibility in terms of the cancellation policy and transfer policy.
Some apartment security systems are self-monitored with a smartphone and may be as simple as some door and window sensors and a doorbell camera. Should a door open unexpectedly or a visitor approach the door, the renter will get a notification on the app, and they’ll be able to call for help or dismiss the alert if there’s no problem. Others are more elaborate, and many offer professional monitoring. While professionally monitored systems do usually cost a bit more, they offer a suite of benefits that self-monitored systems do not. The most important of these is that the monitoring company will call for law enforcement help immediately. For renters who live alone, this is an invaluable benefit. Plus, monitored security may help renters save money on renters insurance.
Get renters insurance.
Many renters aren’t aware of how much their possessions are worth. But in the event of a theft or a disaster such as a fire, the cost to replace lost or damaged items may add up to a lot more than expected.
When choosing one of the best renters insurance companies, renters will need to detail everything they have in their apartment and build an approximate valuation. They will pay an annual premium that may be more affordable than they expect. In the event of a claim following a covered event, which can include weather or fire damage, flooding from burst pipes or damaged appliances, vandalism, or theft, the renter will pay a predetermined deductible and the renters insurance company will reimburse them for replacing damaged or lost items up to the policy limits, depending on the type of coverage selected.
Renters insurance will also often cover the cost of temporary housing if the apartment is uninhabitable while any repairs are completed. It also provides renters with liability coverage should they accidentally damage someone else’s property or should someone be injured while in their apartment. It won’t prevent a break-in and guarantee the renter’s safety, but it will help them rest easier knowing that should something happen, they won’t have to fret about the cost of replacing their possessions in addition to the emotional upheaval that naturally occurs following an emergency or disaster.