5 Simple Ways to Enhance First-Floor Apartment Safety and Security
The convenience of a first-floor apartment doesn’t have to be overshadowed by security concerns.
Q: I’m moving into a new apartment, and while I’d have preferred to be on a higher floor, the only apartment available in the complex I chose is on the first floor. I live alone, and I’ll admit that I’m a little nervous about the security I’ve always taken for granted on higher floors. How can I improve my first-floor apartment security?
A: It can be a little unsettling to move into a space that feels less than safe. First-floor apartments do have some safety challenges that spaces on upper floors do not: First-floor apartment window security mechanisms may need to be more robust than what’s necessary on upper floors, and first-floor apartment patio privacy is a consideration unique to the ground floor. Are first-floor apartments dangerous? Not inherently, because there are many straightforward measures that residents can take to increase their security. While ground-floor apartment safety does require a few more steps, it can be achieved, and some apartments on higher floors may be more vulnerable because the residents assume they’re protected by the more-challenging access. Do first-floor apartments get robbed more often than those on higher floors? Yes, but the number of robberies doesn’t correlate to the location as much as it does to the safety measures that are in place. There are significant benefits of first-floor apartment living. For instance, first-floor dwellers have easy access to outdoor spaces, fewer stairs to climb with armloads of groceries, stable temperatures due to the insulation of the upper floors, and often lower rent. Residents who use wheelchairs or assistive devices will also find the first floor easier to access and exit in case of an emergency. It’s possible to increase your apartment safety to make it a more secure place to live.
Block the view into the apartment using curtains or blinds.
This step seems simple—so simple that it couldn’t possibly be that helpful—but think about it this way: An unobstructed window lets a potential intruder shop the apartment without even touching the door. If the window provides a full, well-lit view into the space every day and evening, the criminal doesn’t even have to be obvious about casing the joint; a casual stroll past the unit over the course of a week or so will convey everything they need to know. They’ll have a good sense of where everything is, which drawer you often leave ajar (so it’s probably where you keep your wallet and keys), the configuration of the electronics, and what they can easily grab. They’ll also be able to check out the vantage points and know where the spots are that they can’t see, so they’ll know where to hide if someone’s passing by. This frightening scenario is why impeding the view into any home is critical to safety, but especially in an apartment complex where it’s not unreasonable for someone to be walking past the window frequently.
Covering the windows doesn’t have to mean blocking out the sunlight and living in a cave. During the day, sheer curtains and keeping the indoor lights off when nobody is home will screen the view adequately. At night, when the interior lights are on, blinds or a heavier curtain will provide more security. If the area outside the window is particularly high-traffic, consider adding removable window privacy film. This is available in a variety of patterns and will let the light in but prevent anyone from peeping in.
Keep the apartment well-lit inside and out.
Outdoor lighting is critical and should be a consideration when choosing an apartment on any floor. Criminals like shadows and hidden places where they can pop open doors or windows without being noticed. Good lighting takes that opportunity away, as does pruning shrubs and landscaping that provide hiding spots near entryways. It’s important for apartment renters and owners to remember that they’re paying for the maintenance of the property, so it’s well within reason to ask the landlord to replace bulbs that are missing or burned out, to clean up lights that are dingy or full of bugs to increase their brightness, and to keep the landscaping maintained in a way that increases security for all residents.
In apartment buildings with interior stairwells, hallways, and elevators, indoor lighting is just as important as outdoor, if not more so. These spaces are enclosed, so if someone with nefarious intent is tucked into a dark corner, there are fewer escape routes. Also, people often let down their guard more when they’re safely inside their building. Good lighting that illuminates the space and feels bright and clean discourages criminals from lingering and helps residents feel safer. Within the apartment, light glowing behind the blinds or peeking around the edges of the curtains suggests that someone is home, making it far less appealing to intruders.
Install additional security devices on doors and windows.
Apartment dwellers who own their space have a little more freedom in this area than renters do, but if the doors and windows in a rental first-floor apartment don’t already have appropriate security installed, it’s reasonable to ask the landlord to add more or to permit the renter to do so.
Doors are the obvious first access point to an apartment, so they need to be as secure as possible. The door itself should be solid core so that it can’t be easily kicked through, and it should feature sturdy locks set deeply into the door frame. Ask the landlord if the apartment safety locks have been rekeyed since the previous resident moved out, and if not, request that this be done; residents deserve to know who has access to their home. Adding a deadbolt to the door will provide extra security both when the resident is home and away, and because the landlord or property manager usually has keys to access the space, adding a door jammer or door brace can help residents feel more secure when they’re home. A smart lock can also add peace of mind; the resident can then control access by providing temporary codes and will receive a notification when the lock is accessed.
Windows present an additional challenge. As the weakest point in the security envelope, windows can always be broken. If the landlord or property manager is open to adding security bars, they’ll significantly reduce the likelihood that an intrusion will occur, especially in a basement apartment. When bars aren’t possible, window security film adds privacy but also increases the tension of the glass: If someone breaks the glass, the film holds the shards together, forcing the criminal to shove their arm through a wall of broken glass. Pin locks and wedge locks on sliding doors and windows and double-hung windows can make them nearly impossible to open. While windows in a first-floor or basement apartment may seem like easy targets, they’re also highly visible from the street, parking lot, and other apartments, so adding a deterrent that makes a break-in take even a little longer can cause a criminal to give up and find another target.
Store valuables in a hidden place away from windows and doors.
It seems sensible to set keys, wallets, purses, and backpacks down just inside the door—placing important and valuable items near the exit means less scrambling when it’s time to leave. It also unfortunately means it’s easy for an opportunistic thief to push the door in, grab valuables, and disappear before the resident even knows anything has happened. Leaving valuables near windows is practically an invitation to smash the window and take what’s in reach. Certainly it’s not necessary to hide away everything of value in the home, but tucking keys and wallets out of sight in a drawer that’s still accessible can reduce the likelihood of theft without reducing convenience.
In any home, it’s a good practice to store important documents, such as social security cards, passports, insurance documents, banking records, jewelry, and cash and checkbooks in a safe. While most rental apartments don’t have a place to mount or install a permanent safe, the best floor safes can be tucked into closets out of sight, and while technically a criminal could take the whole safe to try to crack later, running down the sidewalk lugging a safe is fairly conspicuous and therefore unlikely. A good floor safe will also offer the benefit of being fire- and water-safe, so important valuables will be protected in the event of a fire or flood.
Invest in a rental-friendly security system.
In the past, home security systems were bulky and required permanent installation and wiring, limiting their use to homes that were owned, not rented. Contemporary systems, utilizing Wi-Fi and Bluetooth with lightweight sensors and cameras, allow renters to DIY a system that works for them. Security companies have realized that there’s a market for systems in rentals and have accordingly adjusted their programs and plans to accommodate renters with features such as transferable equipment, shorter contracts, no-contract plans, and contracts that can transfer to new locations. The equipment is mountable with no damage to the surfaces in the rental, so the security deposit is safe. Some of the best apartment security systems, including Abode, SimpliSafe, and Ring, all offer excellent options for renters at a variety of price points and various levels of monitoring so renters can customize a system that fits their needs. Cove and Frontpoint also offer options that are well-suited to renters. Ranging from simple doorbell cameras that integrate with other smart-home features to full-service, professionally monitored service, these companies can provide different levels of security based on the needs of the resident, and they can work with other safety measures to maximize security for apartments in the basement, on the first floor, and above.