Renters should have the same access to safe, secure, and hazard-free conditions as homeowners. Most landlords and property managers want to provide a safe living environment and work hard to do so, but there’s always a chance something has slipped past notice. You can help them (and yourself) by conducting a safety inspection prior to signing that lease.
To make sure your next rental is as safe and secure as possible, use our safety self-inspection guide below. We recommend focusing on the most common household items—many of which present a threat, while others provide preventative security—so you can enjoy extra security knowing your place is free of hazards.
Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors
Fire and carbon monoxide are threats to both renters and homeowners. All residences are required by law to have smoke alarms installed in certain places. Requirements vary by state, and some have requirements for carbon monoxide detectors as well. Whether or not your state requires the use of a carbon monoxide detector, you should make it a must-have on your safety checklist.
Pay attention to the number and location of smoke alarms and CO detectors when you look at any rental property. In addition, test each device to make sure it is working properly. Ask the landlord when the batteries were last changed, and make a note so you can replace them as needed. When in doubt, ask for all the smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors to have fresh batteries put in.
Doors, Windows, and Locks
Every security inspection should include a thorough examination of all points of entry. You want to verify that your potential new home is as break-in proof as possible.
Check that all doors open and close properly, with no sticking or loose weather-stripping. Ask the property manager what the doors with outside access are made of. You want reinforced steel or solid wood, as those are the best at deterring forced break-ins. If the doors include glass inlays or panels, find out if they are reinforced and shatterproof.
Both front and back doors should have a deadbolt installed. If you don’t see one, inquire about having one installed before you sign the lease. Verify that all locks have been changed since the last renter moved out, and find out if you can upgrade or add additional locks. If your apartment or home has a sliding glass door, check the type of lock included and ask about adding additional security through a bar or loop lock. In addition, plan to add a steel or wooden rod into the sliding door’s tracks for added security.
Windows should close securely, so open and close each window and test their locks before you sign a lease. For extra security, consider adding window pins. These security devices prevent windows from being opened too wide, which can help keep out a burglar. You can also use security film to provide extra protection to windows and glass doors.
In addition to inspecting all entries and locks, look into home security systems designed for renters. New technology is making security more accessible to renters than ever before. Security devices like Canary are small and non-invasive. They use Bluetooth and Wi-Fi to provide security—and because they don’t have to be hardwired into the residence, you can take them with you no matter where you live.
Lights and Outlets
Security and safety go hand in hand with lighting and electrical outlets. You want to check for proper lighting, which helps discourage prowlers and prevent accidents, as well as inspect wall outlets for signs of possible electrical problems that could lead to fires or electrocution.
Test every light in the place, and visit common areas after the sun goes down to see how much lighting is provided in parking structures, walkways, and hallways. Note any delays when flipping the light switch, as flickering or a delayed response may indicate faulty wiring. Ask about motion-sensor lights in common traffic areas, and find out if you can add one outside your front door.
Check all the outlets to make sure they are in proper working order. Verify that there are cover plates securely in place on all outlets. Note any black marks, cracks, or scorching patterns, which are clues that something has gone wrong with the wiring before. Dangling or frayed wires are also red flags of possible wiring trouble. Then verify that big appliances are using the correct outlets to prevent overloading the circuits.
Appliances and Systems
A less obvious area of home safety is the internal systems (like HVAC). Just because you don’t own the home or apartment you live in doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be familiar with how well its systems function.
Ask the landlord when the last professional inspections and maintenance were performed on the furnace, air conditioning, plumbing, and electrical systems. Find out how these systems work in your unit and what types of regular maintenance you need to perform. Generally, furnaces should be inspected and cleaned at least once per year, so ask for reports or invoices to verify that this has been happening.
Test and inspect the stove, refrigerator, and washer, dryer if included. Look for lint and dust buildup, as these can become a major fire risk. If possible, run the dryer to see if exhaust comes out of the vent. If the flow of exhaust is minimal, it could be a blockage of lint that needs to be cleaned out.
Look at pilot lights for gas appliances, and test all burners if the place has a gas stove. If the flames are mostly yellow or orange, there may be a leak in the line or connection. If the location has an electric stove, test all the burners to make sure the heating elements work properly.
Walkways, Stairwells, and Parking
Not all security hazards are inside your house or apartment. Getting to and from your new home can pose risks of falling—or worse, being mugged.
If you live in an apartment complex, all common areas should be well lit and free of debris or other obstacles that present tripping hazards. Stairwells should include solid railings and anti-slip tape on steps to prevent slipping. Find out what the policy is for snow and ice removal, and make sure that it’s sufficient to provide you safe passage by the time you head to work or come home each day.
Find out if there are security cameras installed in the parking area. Make sure all entrances and corners of the parking area are well-lit and free of obstacles that can make it easier for would-be criminals to hide in wait for you or to gain access to the main building. If you will be assigned a parking space, try to get one in a lighted area as close to the apartments as possible.
No matter where you rent, exterior lighting should be bright enough to provide security at all entrances. Make sure they work properly and find out if and who you need to contact to get burned-out bulbs promptly replaced. In addition, landscaping needs to be trimmed and well-maintained. Overgrown bushes and trees can block visibility and provide hiding spots for criminals, so don’t forget to keep a set of clippers handy or the landscaper on speed dial.
Renters deserve to be just as safe as homeowners, and with the right know-how you can help ensure that security for you and your belongings. After conducting your self-inspection, find out about other safety measures like renters insurance and home security for renters. These extra steps leave you prepared to deal with any security or safety issues that might arise.
Written by Rebecca Edwards
Rebecca has honed her safety and security skills as both a single mom and a college director. Being responsible for the well-being of others helped her learn how to minimize risk and create safe environments. Learn more