Apartment Security for Renters
Sarah Wynn thought she was safe. The 27-year-old lived in a rental apartment in a bustling, low-crime section of Chicago. She was careful to keep her doors locked at night and her eyes open for suspicious activity in the neighborhood. It wasn't enough. After leaving for work one morning, a thief walked right into Wynn's apartment and snagged her laptop, jewelry, perfume and her roommate's camera. "I didn't think to lock the door behind me because my roommate was still there asleep," she says. "It's absolutely crazy to me that I got robbed while someone was in the apartment."
Apartments are prime targets for burglaries, whether someone is at home or not. They are 85 percent more likely to get burgled than single-family homes, according to the National Crime Prevention Council. But to avoid being a victim, there are some steps you can take to make your rental apartment more secure.
Know your neighborhood
When it comes to crime, the best offense is a good defense, says Tracey Hawkins, owner of Safety and Security Source, a home security store and consultation center in Kansas City, Mo.
"You should always know the crime rate in your neighborhood," she says. "You need to be aware of patterns of home invasion, theft, and grand larceny so that you can prepare accordingly."
While websites like NeighborhoodScout and EveryBlock provide updated information on local crime, Hawkins says that people who live in rental apartments should also stay in close touch with their neighbors and landlord, who can tip them off to suspicious activity.
Maintaining a watchful eye isn't always enough. In addition to staying informed, renters also should take proactive steps to ensure that their apartment is burglar-proof.
"That means asking for a fresh lock every time you move into a new apartment and placing dowels in sliding glass doors or windows to prevent them from being opened," says Melina Martinez, director of sales and marketing for Simplisafe apartment security systems. "If possible, invest in a security system."
While rental apartment dwellers typically aren't allowed to install a permanent security system in their place, they can invest in a portable alarms like those offered through Simplisafe or LaserShield Systems, as well as magnetic contact alarms that attach to doors and windows.
"If the alarm calls the police, too, that's great, but it's not necessary," adds Hawkins. "The beneficial part is the alarm. Criminals only need about five minutes, so they're probably going to be out by the time the police arrive. An alarm alerts witnesses who might be in the immediate area. That's what robbers are scared of."
Think like a criminal
"If you're a burglar and you're scoping out an apartment building and see that nobody has been in one place for a week, that's where you're going to go," says Martinez. "When they're out of town, people leave really obvious signs that basically invite burglars in."
Tenants heading out of town should enlist a friend to grab their mail and consider leaving an energy-efficient light on while they're away. Single people living alone should also consider adding at least one other name to the mailbox, particularly single women.
"It's so you don't advertise the fact that you're alone and you're more vulnerable," says Martinez. "If you want to beef up your security, you have to think like the criminals do."
Wynn is striving to do exactly that now. Since the incident, she's extra cautious about keeping her door locked. She also made sure that the landlord replaced the lock on the outside door leading into the building.
"There's never a time now when our doors or windows are unlocked, and we're always paid up on renter's insurance," Wynn says. "It's sad that we had to get robbed to be aware that this could happen to us, but now we're so much more careful."