Apartment Renter's Guide to Home Security

Renting an apartment is generally seen as a stepping stone to owning your own home or apartment.

Most renters tend to ignore home security because they consider their situation temporary or migrant — burglars know this and that’s why they target rented apartments.

So how do you set up a decent security system in your apartment without breaking the bank?

We’ll show you how.

I love that show, "Forensic Files." Every so often there's the case of a person who was found murdered in their apartment due to some forced entry. Which brings me to the topic of apartment security.

Home Security Tips for Your Apartment

If you live in an apartment, you might think that you don't need to take extra "home security" measures.

After all, home security is just for those who own homes, right? Wrong.

According to the National Crime Prevention Council, apartments are 85 percent more likely to be burglarized than other housing.

This means that you should take the initiative as the tenant.

Now, you may think that just because we are a home security system review site that we would just recommend that you buy a home security system.

While we think a home security system is a good idea, there are things to consider while renting that we'll address at the end of this article.

There are, however, many things that you can (and should) do as a renter to ensure apartment security and secure your valuables.

Get to Know the Neighborhood

If you're moving or considering a move, get to know the neighborhood a little. Walk around the streets at different times of day to see the activity level and types of activities that are happening nearby.

Do you feel safe while walking around?

Go online and look at sites like StreetAdvisor and see what people are saying about your neighborhood.

You can also get crime stats from your local police department, just send a letter, or stop by the station.

Secure Doors and Windows

About 30 percent of all burglars gain access to the property through an unlocked door or window, so make sure to lock all doors and windows before leaving.

Beyond just locking your apartment, the goal of these next steps is to "harden the target" or make your apartment more difficult to enter.

The would-be burglar is likely to bypass your apartment if it requires too much effort. 

The first step when moving into an apartment is to rekey the locks or ensure from the landlord that they have been rekeyed.

This is a basic-level security practice that all apartment managers and landlords should follow and pay for, so don't be afraid to ask for it. If the landlord doesn't offer this service, don't hesitate to pay for it yourself.

It is inexpensive and will give you peace of mind knowing that there are no extra keys to your apartment in the hands of strangers. Be aware that most landlords will expect a copy of your new key.

Take a look at your hinges. If they are on the outside of your apartment, a thief might just bypass the lock or deadbolt altogether and take aim at them.

State Farm recommends installing set screws to secure the hinges.

To do this, you drill a small screw through the middle of the hinge to keep it in place. Check out some of their other suggestions for safer door hinges.

We already mentioned that you should at the very least lock your windows, but beyond that, there are a few things that you should do (especially if your apartment is on the first floor). 

A low-maintenance, low-cost way to beef up the security of your windows is to install a rod on the tracks of your sliding windows or sliding glass doors.

You can simply go to your nearest home improvement store and buy wooden dowels (about 3/8" diameter) to fit into the track.

Paint the dowel to match your window frame and it will be virtually unnoticeable.

Avoid helping the intruder gain cover or hide. Avoid any tall plants or shrubbery near your windows, both inside and outside, if you can help it.

Here’s a complete list of tips for securing apartment doors and windows:

  • I can't begin to tell you how many episodes of "Forensic Files" deal with an intruder getting in through an unlocked door or window-and this includes during the day when the victim was home. Keep them locked!
  • However, we all know that intruders will use force to break through a locked door or window (though if you're home, you'll have time to call 911 and perhaps make an escape through the back of the apartment-a plan you should already have in place since Day 1. If you're on the second floor, have a foldable ladder always ready to make your escape.). Sounds crazy, but it's good for fire escape too.
  • Hopefully your landlord will permit you to replace what's probably a cheaply built door strike-plate with a strong one with two-inch screws, as this will make it very difficult to kick open. Press your landlord to allow deadbolts on all the doors, even if you must pay for them.
  • Make sure the window locks are very difficult to get past, even if you must pay for revisions. Landlords typically won't do things like this; if the lock merely "works," that's usually good enough for them. This includes sliding glass doors.
  • Put Charley bars or anti-slide devices in the tracks of sliding doors.
  • No matter how mesmerizing the night crickets or ruffling leaves are, you must never go to sleep when the windows are unlocked.

Be a Good Neighbor

This doesn't mean bringing casseroles to neighbors every week, but it does help to get to know them.

That way, if either of you sees anything suspicious, you'll know whom to contact.

Most burglaries happen during the day. Because of this, it helps to know your neighbors because even if you're not at home, they might be. If they were to see any unsavory activity at your apartment, they could easily report it.

Similarly, inform a trustworthy neighbor when you'll be away on vacation, so they can keep an eye on your place while you're away.

Renter's Insurance

This isn't necessarily a security measure, but it is a good idea. Not only that, but it can also be a great value. Most renter's insurance policies not only cover burglaries, but also water damage, fire damage, and vandalism.

Apartment-Friendly Alarm System

When considering home security system options for an apartment, you first have to make sure your landlord is on board.

Second, you'll want to make sure you get a system that can move with you.

This is especially important if you are not planning on being in the same apartment forever.

This means looking for a wireless system from a company that allows you to move at no additional cost.

Gone are the days when apartment living had to mean giving up on the safety and security features that used to be associated exclusively with home ownership.

Technology and innovation have made it easy to install a security system in your apartment without commitments or fussing over installation.

The market for household security has shifted dramatically for houses and apartments alike thanks to several groundbreaking companies offering wireless, user-friendly security systems. 

These companies include SimpliSafe, FrontPoint, and Protection 1, all offering new technologies that depart from the traditional model of home security led by ADT.

These new security systems are offering DIY installation and month-to-month billing while operating completely wirelessly.

This security model has major appeal for apartment dwellers:

  • No need to get approval from your landlord or apartment company
  • Bring the devices with you when you move
  • No requirement that you have a landline phone
  • No contract, cancel whenever you want

The New Home Security Companies

The service offered by FrontPoint Security is typical of the new type of security system for apartments: installation is done by you in less than half an hour and consists of setting up a wireless base (like a router) and your sensors at doors and windows.

The system monitors for break-ins as well as carbon monoxide and other hazards and can send you text messages and other kinds of alerts.

SimpliSafe offers a service very similar to FrontPoint at a lower price point with much of the same features. They offer a few plans with more or less monitoring and alert methods, such as an optional smartphone app.

Another security company, Protection 1, has an installation fee (total start-up cost begins at $99) but comes with some premium features like a touchscreen display.

You can also coordinate their systems to work with your thermostat and control home lighting to save energy. Protection 1 also has an optional video camera system.

They work with individual tenants as well as apartment building owners.

Appeal for Apartment Living

These security services have a lot of features that appeal to renters and homeowners.

You can install wireless sensors on things like medicine drawers and liquor cabinets to help monitor a teenager's behavior, for instance.

But the fact that these systems do not require a landline or any sort of invasive installation process makes them especially amenable to apartments.

The population has shifted toward rental housing and toward urban settings in recent years.

More than previous decades, a great variety of people are living in apartments and the demand for all the same amenities as houses has increased greatly.

Thanks to new technologies, homeownership no longer has a monopoly on the safety and security provided by home monitoring and alarm systems.

Barriers like installation costs and burdensome contracts have left apartment renters without the peace of mind of home security systems until now, and finally technology has caught up. 

With so many financial and logistical reasons to be living in urban environments and in apartments in general, it's wonderful that not only is it possible, but it's essentially free and effortless, to obtain the full security of a home security system in your apartment.

Defending Your Doors

There are many things you can do to boost home security, such as adding an alarm system or getting a guard dog, but unless you have working deadbolt locks and actually use them, your home isn't secure.

A common deadbolt is a single cylinder which can lock with a key from the outside and by the turn of a knob on the inside.

"Because the locks or deadbolts are not functioning properly or they are inadequate, the intruder is able to kick in the door," said Lance Cronk, owner of Metro Locksmith.

There were 1.9 million burglaries in the United States in 2013, resulting in $4.5 billion in property loss. Out of all the burglaries, 59% were the result of forced entry.

Residential burglaries accounted for 74% of all burglaries, and a majority occurred during the daytime.

"You should definitely have a deadbolt, and it needs to be a quality one with a hardened steel bolt," said Eric Ball, locksmith. "Typically when someone kicks in a door, it's not the door that breaks, it's the door frame. you should use three inch screws to reinforce the strike plate into the studs of the frame of the house. Even if you have a deadbolt on your door, it won't make a difference if it's not used regularly."

Homeowners should take note that a single cylinder deadbolt can be breached if an entry door has glass panes, because a burglar can break the glass and reach inside to unlatch the deadbolt.

A solution is to simply replace the door. 

Many exterior doors are designed with security in mind, using reinforced glass or small windows far enough away from the lock to prevent a burglar from reaching in. Avoid hiding a key under the doormat and use a secure lock box away from the door. 

New homeowners should always change their locks because there is no way to know who has a key.

There's a bit more to door security than just installing a top-flight deadbolt and keeping it locked at all times.

Many crimes are committed after the criminal enters the front door.

  1. Open your door and you'll see a metal rectangle along the edge where the deadbolt goes into. This is the strike plate. Replace it with the strongest you can find to make it harder for someone to kick a door open. Search "door reinforcement" for more options.
  2. Check the hinges. If they're on the outside, this is bad news because a burglar or sociopath could dismantle them and gain entry. Consider having the door swing in the other direction and the hinges removed and placed on the inside.
  3. Do you have French doors? Realize that they are easy to kick open, so do your homework to get the best reinforcements installed.
  4. Why do criminals like crow bars? Is it to knock someone on the head? How about pry open a door to get into a house so they could rob it? Make sure your doors and frame have a tight reinforced fit.
  5. For all sliding glass doors and horizontally sliding windows, secure the bottom track with a "Charlie" bar or wooden rod. Or you can screw a tiny device (made for this purpose) onto the track that will stop the door from getting past that point.
  6. Replace all locks with new locks-but maybe not from the local hardware store as these are often simple enough locks for even novice lock pickers to pick. Recommended are the following: Medeco, Abloy Protec, BiLock and Mul-T-Lock. You will get what you pay for: $100 to $300 per lock.
  7. Consider a double cylinder lock for doors near glass that a crook could break through, stick his arm in and turn the lock to open the door. A double cylinder lock requires a key on the inside, which means he won't be able to turn the knob...but you'll need to unlock it every time you want to go outside. Check local laws regarding fire codes.
  8. Immediately get the locks changed of any new place you rent.

Protecting Your Porch from Package Pirates

During the holidays, thieves will actually follow delivery trucks, snatching the packages that the driver leaves at peoples' front doors.

Thieves will also cruise around neighborhoods in search of boxes left at front doors-and steal them.

Do you realize how easy it is for a thief to nonchalantly traipse up to your front stoop, remove the package that's sitting there, and bring it to his nearby parked car without anybody noticing? At night time, this is even easier and less risky.

Professional thieves have been known to allot a few hours solely for the purpose of driving around the city, knowing that sooner or later, they will spot a parcel delivery truck.

They will then follow the truck to see where the driver will make the next package delivery. 

They'll then sit outside in their car to see if anyone at the house notices the delivery or responds to the doorbell. After the driver leaves, and after some time has passed, the thief will conclude that nobody is home and will steal the package.

Sometimes crooks will drive around neighborhoods, not following any trucks, just to see if there are any packages sitting by doors.

The package may contain something worthless to the thief, but often, it contains something he can resell or use himself.

Here are some great tips to help you protect your packages from theft:

  • Make sure to get the tracking number for all deliveries.
  • Require a signature with your delivery, even if that means you may miss the first few attempts.
  • Take that one step further: Require that the delivery person first ask you your name, rather than say, "Are you so-and-so?" There's the case of the delivery person who went to the wrong apartment number in a building and asked the woman who answered, "Are you so-and-so?" She said yes, signed, and took the item-a pricey food processor that was meant for a neighbor.
  • If you can't arrange to be home during the delivery, the service can leave your package at a local shipping center.
  • If that's not an option, ask the service to leave the package somewhere on your property where a roving thief won't spot it.
  • Another option (depending on where you live) is for the delivery to be left at your condo or apartment building's office.
  • A very visible surveillance camera, along with the security company's sign near your door, will likely deter theft.
  • The bottom line is to avoid having packages left at your door, and this includes any packages you yourself leave for someone to pick up.
  • Sending a package? Insure it.
  • See if the delivery service will send an e-mail or text to the recipient right before the package's arrival. UPS offers this option.
  • Try to get your mail as soon as possible after delivery, every day. Prior to leaving town, put your mail on a vacation hold.
  • Never leave checks in your mailbox. Deposit them in a postal collection box.

Pro Tips for New Renters

  • Don't delay in doing a walk-through of the entire premises, including the laundry room (where a crime can occur after a creep spots a vulnerable-looking woman enter the unlocked room).
  • Take note of any portals through which a burglar could make entry. This includes trees and trellises that lead to a window.
  • Take note of where the lit and dark areas are.
  • Make sure no valuables are visible through your windows.
  • A landlord won't pay for a security system. Hang on every doorknob a sensor (available online and fits in your palm) that, when the door is opened, emits a loud beep.
  • Install your own home security system. They are relatively inexpensive and some can be moved to another apartment.
  • Use timed lighting devices to make it appear you're home when you're out.
  • Every time you leave your apartment to get mail, empty rubbish or go to the laundry room, lock your door!

About the Author:

Robert Siciliano is a personal and home security specialist for BestHomeSecurityCompanys.com.