As a renter, your options for adding security are limited. But you might be surprised at the number of easy security measures you can implement, even in a large apartment building or complex. We’ve put together a guide to help you understand what apartment security issues you should consider before signing a lease, plus things you can do after you move in to give yourself top-notch apartment security.
Before Moving In
1. Research Local Crime
Your realtor says it, and it’s true: it’s all about location. (And we’re talking about more than how close your new apartment is to your favorite taco place.) Before you decide on a place to call home, it’s essential to research the area’s crime rates and talk to residents. Check online sites like SpotCrime to see what’s been happening in the area crime-wise, and talk to neighbors, police, and local business owners to find out more about the neighborhood before you sign on the dotted line.
2. Check the Lighting
Apartment buildings and complexes often have dark, unsecure nooks and crannies, making them perfect for people who want to sneak around (those people are called “shady” for a reason). It’s important to know that you’re safe in those areas. Look at hallways, parking areas, storage rooms, waste management areas, stairwells, laundry rooms, mail rooms, and other common areas for good lighting and security cameras. If possible, bring a friend along and check it out at night for a clearer idea of how well everything is lit and to find out if the area has any motion sensor lights.
3. Note the General Upkeep
Little things like burnt-out light bulbs, peeling paint, or leaky faucets might seem like easily fixable annoyances, but they can also be telltale signs of a less-than-attentive landlord. The last thing you want is to have a major security issue—like a broken lock or window—and have to wait weeks to get it fixed. You can start evaluating the safety of your apartment as soon as you arrive at the building or complex by looking for signs of poor maintenance like broken fences, overgrown landscaping, and peeling paint.
4. Check the Entrances
The first lines of defense in a renter’s security are the entrances, both to your own apartment and to your building or complex. Check all entrances for secure locks and additional safety measures like peepholes, chain locks, key codes, cameras, and remote unlocking. Ask management how often keys and key codes are changed. You don’t want to run the risk of a past tenant having access to your apartment.
5. Check the Windows
If doors are your first line of defense, windows are your second. Check windows for sturdy, easy-to-use locks, especially if you’re on the ground floor. Make sure windows are secure from the outside, and try to think like a burglar: could you get into your apartment through a window? Also keep an eye out for any windows with door locks close by, as intruders can easily smash a window to reach in and open a lock.
6. Consider the Emergency Exits
As important as it is to secure your apartment against theft, security is also about making sure you can get out in case of an emergency. Look for posted fire escape plans, and if you’re close to ground level, check that your windows can open easily. Check for working smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors. Make sure any fire escape ladders are stored correctly so that burglars can’t reach them from the ground.
After Moving In
1. Upgrade Your Door Locks
Hopefully your apartment will already be equipped with a deadbolt, but if not, be sure to install one when you move in. Ask your landlord to change the regular locks on your door as well. You never know how many duplicate keys might be out there, and you want to be sure you’re the only one who has access to your apartment. Installing additional door locks, like chain locks or a door reinforcement lock, are another way to make sure your apartment stays secure while you’re in it.
2. Get a Door Security Bar
Door jammers are great security solutions for apartment dwellers. Most are easy to install and remove, with zero damage to doors. Plus, they don’t have the vulnerabilities of regular locks, like lock bumping, picking, or duplicate keys floating around. For sliding doors on your balcony, patio door jammers are perfect for adding extra protection, and you can also get a jammer for your front door that acts like a heavy-duty doorstop. Many door jammers are portable as well, so you can take them with you when you travel or move for extra peace of mind.
3. Cover Your Windows
It’s creepy to think about, but many intruders “shop around” for good pickings before they decide on a place to burglarize. The best way to keep your place off the top of their list is to hide the goods by covering those windows with blinds. Keep your blinds shut when you aren’t home and anytime after dark. Remember, when your lights are on at night and your blinds are open, it’s like you’re performing on a brightly lit stage in a dark auditorium: your outdoor audience can see everything!
4. Meet Your Neighbors
Mr. Rogers was really on to something when he spent so much time getting to know his neighbors. Knowing your neighbors is like having intelligent security cameras all around your building: when neighbors know each other, they’re more likely to keep an eye out for suspicious activity in the area and warn others if they see anything fishy. Watch for people in your complex who you think you might like to get to know, and strike up conversations with them in common areas.
5. Invest in a Safe
Just because someone might get into your apartment doesn’t mean they should be able to cart off all your stuff. A tough safe is a good deterrent not only for burglars but also for snooping roommates and less-than-trustworthy guests. Store cash, jewelry, firearms, heirlooms, important documents, and other valuables inside, and talk to your landlord about bolting it to a wall or floor for maximum security.
6. Get Renters Insurance
Despite all the safety precautions you might take, unfortunate events still happen, and it’s a good idea to hedge your bets with renters insurance. Unlike your landlord’s insurance that covers only the building you live in, your own renters insurance will cover personal property like furniture, electronics, clothing, and more that could be lost in a burglary or disaster. Expect to pay around $20 a month to protect your stuff and your bank account from an unexpected loss.
7. Install a Security System
Drilling holes in apartments is usually frowned upon, so many renters think their apartment security system can’t extend beyond a pyramid of cans stacked in front of their door. Fortunately, that’s not the case. Wireless alarm systems use adhesive to fix door and window sensors in place, and you can use your smartphone for monitoring. Many security systems for apartments also come with freestanding sirens (no clunky keypad and siren mounted to the wall) to alert you to any problems and scare off intruders. An added bonus: having a security system can get you lower rates on your renters insurance.
SimpliSafe: Our top pick for renters has to be SimpliSafe. Its base package comes with everything you need for a small space for less than $250. The equipment is attractive and easy to install, and the contract-free monitoring plans are very affordable.
Frontpoint: With no contracts and a complimentary moving kit, Frontpoint makes a lot of sense for renters. Equipment is competitively priced, and installation is a breeze. Plus, Frontpoint’s customer service is top-notch.
Cove: Cove is a great system for professional monitoring, and it offers custom packages so you can select only the equipment you need. It’s also contract-free, so you can cancel anytime with no penalty fees.
A security camera can be a surprisingly affordable addition to your apartment security monitoring. You might think that cameras need to be installed as part of a full security system, but there are plenty of standalone cameras that will send a feed directly to your phone so you can monitor your apartment from anywhere. The Nest Cam and many smart video doorbells also have motion detection, night vision, and two-way talk, so you can safely chat with people at the door without ever having to open it.
Moving into a new place is exciting, and knowing your new home is secure makes the experience even sweeter. Real apartment security is about doing the small things that make a big difference. Check out these related resources to learn more about how you can be safer in your new place:
Kasey is a trained Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) member and a freelance writer with expertise in emergency preparedness and security. As the mother of four kids, including two teens, Kasey knows the safety concerns parents face as they raise tech-savvy kids in a connected world, and she loves to research the latest security options for her own family and for SafeWise readers. Learn more