After my son had a break-in at this house, he and his roommates went on high alert to make their home more secure. They suspected a former roommate (or her friends), which added extra considerations to their security quest. But they didn’t own the house, and they had limited funds to invest.
This situation isn’t unique. Today, more people are living in shared housing arrangements than ever before. In 2017, nearly 79 million adults lived in a shared household—that’s almost 32% of all adults in America. Compare that to 1995, when 55 million adults were living in shared households.
Roommate life is definitely having a moment.
Whether you’re living with roommates for fun or necessity, you have specific security needs when you share your home with others. You may want to protect your room, limit access to certain cupboards or drawers, or add the extra protection of a home security system.
Whatever your roommate-security goals are, we’ve got tips and solutions to help you up the safety quotient in your current living situation.
Start Roommate Safety Before You Move In
It doesn’t matter if you’re the one moving in or the one looking for a roommate—safety starts before you sign the lease.
Conduct a Background Check
If you’re taking applications for a new roommate, make background checks part of the process. And you don’t have to sweat the cost if you include it as part of an application fee.
On the flip side, if you’re looking at moving into someone’s home, you should know that you’re not moving in with a closeted serial killer. Ask the person advertising for a roommate if they’ll let you run a background check on them. This one you’re going to have to pay for, but it’s worth it to avoid moving in with someone shady.
Get Some References
Ideally, you’ll get both a background check and some references. But if you can’t get a background check, references are the next best thing. If you’re the one renting out a room, ask for references from previous landlords, roommates, or even their employer. You want to know that this person is reliable, respectful, and is going to make those rent payments on time.
If you’re looking to move into a roommate situation, ask for references from the people already living in the home. If you can get in touch with someone else who’s lived in the home before, that’s the best kind of reference. That person can give you a realistic picture of what it’s like to live with those folks—and let you know some of the quirks and pet peeves up front.
Best of all, references help you know that you can trust the people you’re going to share a home with.
Safety Tips for Living With Roommates
Security priorities can vary depending on who you’re living with and what you’re trying to protect. If your primary goal is to keep your personal stuff safe, then you want to look for security solutions that focus on your room and belongings. If the entire household wants to protect the property, then look at home security options for rentersthat are affordable and easy to install.
Tips for Protecting Your Personal Property and Space
Set boundaries. Meet with your roommates and agree on ground rules for respecting personal property and space. Agree on communal areas and how to treat private spaces. Think about things like letting friends into a roommate’s room when the roommate isn’t home and other scenarios that may come up.
Log your valuables. Make a list of your belongings, especially if you have anything of high value. Take photos, catalog serial numbers, and record the retail value. This will make it easier to file a report if theft occurs.
Put a lock on your door. Because you’re renting, you want a lock that you can install easily, without causing damage. And if you install an electronic lock, you don’t have to worry about another key.
“I had a roommate once who would take my clothes. She even stole my underwear. Put a lock that needs a key on your bedroom door. Keep all your private property and valuables locked inside your room.”
—Linda, Former Roommate
*Note: Make sure you can’t get locked in your room—that could be a fire safety hazard.
Install a door sensor. Look for a door sensor with an app, so you’ll get an alert every time your door is opened.
Add sensors to drawers, cupboards, or closets. Get a notification if someone tries to snag your last package of ramen or dips into your wardrobe for a night out on the town.
Use a security camera. There are many good security cameras available for under $50. Get one with motion detection and an app that sends you clips of what’s happening in your room in real time.
Use a personal safe. There are plenty of small safesout there that won’t take up a lot of real estate in your bedroom. If you’re worried about adding a lock to your door, a safe is a good alternative to protect jewelry, electronics, and other valuables.
Get renters insurance. This may already be a requirement of your lease, but if it’s not, you should get it anyway. Renters insurance can help cover the cost of replacing lost valuables, whether it’s a roommate or a stranger that swipes something. And it’s affordable—usually around $20 per month.
Tips for Securing Your Home When You Live with Roommates
Lock exterior doors. Make sure everyone locks the door when they leave the house. The last person up at night should check that all the doors and windows are locked before turning in. House rules like this can be agreed upon when you set boundaries with your roommates (see above).
Upgrade the deadbolt.Smart locks, like the August Smart Lock, are perfect for renters because it fits over your existing deadbolt. It’s easy to install, and it has an app that every roommate can access.
Go for DIY home security. There are a number of simple, unobtrusive home security options that you can install on your own to make your house or apartment more secure. My son and his roommates used Blink security cameras and the Blink app as an ad hoc DIY system after their break-in. But you can go more in depth with something like the new Wyze Sense system that combines security cameras and motion sensors. The great thing about both Blink and Wyze is that you can self-monitor them without a monthly subscription. So you’ll only have to buy the equipment (and it’s just $20 for the Wyze starter kit).
“Make sure everyone knows Blink is on a motion sensor. We saw way too many fights between our old roommate and her boyfriend on the cameras. Other than that, I liked that we could all be logged into the app at the same time, so if something happened, not just one of us was notified—we all were.”
Plan for people moving out. Make sure you get all keys, security codes, and other access information from a roommate before they walk out the door for good. If you use electronic locks or shared security apps, go in and change all the codes, usernames, and passwords.
Tell Us Your Roommate Security Stories
If you’ve ever lived with a roommate, you’ve probably had some kind of security breach—whether it’s a sweater borrowed without permission or something worse. In the comments, tell us about your roommate security story and what you did to resolve the issue.
Rebecca is the lead safety reporter and in-house expert for SafeWise.com. She has been a journalist and blogger for over 25 years, with a focus on home and community safety for the past six. Rebecca spends dozens of hours every month testing and evaluating security products and strategies. Her safety expertise is sought after by publications, broadcast journalists, non-profit organizations, podcasts, and more. You can find her work and contributions in places like TechCrunch, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, HGTV, MSN, and an ever-growing library of radio and TV clips. Learn more