How Renters Can Protect Against Crime
Putting sturdy locks on your doors to keep burglars out can be a problem because the landlord may not want renters to modify the property.
Here's what tenants can do to convince a landlord to improve security:
Demand what your were promised.
Landlords often talk up how safe their property is by pointing out security systems - either systems already in place or that are coming soon. If these don't work or haven't been installed yet after you move in, your landlord's failure to provide the promised doorman, rekey the locks or fix the broken door lock may be grounds for legal action. Send them a letter asking for these if not installed in a timely manner.
Check the law.
In many cities and states, landlords must provide a minimum of safety equipment, such as peepholes, deadbolts, window locks and safety glass. Find out if such laws apply to your property by getting a copy of your local housing code at city hall, or investigate on the Internet or at the library. Statewide requirements in housing laws are available in law and public libraries.
Think like a criminal.
Analyze the building's entrances, lighting and windows and think like a criminal on the prowl to determine how difficult it is to get in. If it's easy, then simple steps such as installing locks and lights, and trimming bushes would increase your landlord's duty to take these steps. If there has been more crime in the neighborhood, then the landlord is bound to take more effective steps than if it were a safer neighborhood.
Meet with your landlord, or get help.
Point out laws that apply, promised security measures and how the building is vulnerable to intruders. Make specific requests in writing and follow up in writing. If this doesn't work, file a complaint with the agency in charge of enforcing any state or local ordinance that may be violated.
Break the lease and move.
If security is so bad that you don't feel safe because a criminal has already hit the property, you may have grounds for breaking the lease or rental agreement and moving out, without liability for future rent. However, you must first give the landlord reasonable time to provide protection.
Fix the problem and sue for costs.
If you're frustrated and just want to install the lock or peephole yourself, then do it and sue the landlord in small claims court for reimbursement. If your rental agreement has a "no alterations without consent" clause, you may risk eviction for violating it and fixing the problem yourself. But if you've done something that is clearly required of the landlord, it may be difficult to get a judge to evict you for doing the landlord's job.
Get renter's insurance.
The landlord's insurance doesn't cover a tenant's losses from fire or theft, so get this relatively cheap insurance if you have expensive belongings.
Use common sense.
Lastly, use common sense when entering and exiting your apartment. Don't go in alone late at night, travel with a buddy, and use a cab instead of going into a dark and dangerous parking lot. Don't open your door to strangers and don't let people you don't know into the building.
Aaron Crowe has lived in five rentals in the San Francisco Bay Area. Reach him at www.AaronCrowe.net