Growing up, your mom probably preached, “Better safe than sorry” more often than you wanted to hear it. But now that you’re an adult with an apartment of your own, it might not be a bad idea to listen to her advice.
Safety is something all renters should consider, no matter what kind of neighborhood they live in or whether they live alone or with roommates. And there are some easy and budget-friendly steps they can take to make their apartment as safe as possible.
Here are four ways to beef up the security of your pad.
1. Choose your apartment wisely.
Some rentals are more vulnerable to break-ins than others. If you’re on the ground floor, you may want to think a little more about security.
“It’s easier to peer in and see if anyone is home if your apartment is on the first floor,” says Tim Krebs, corporate communications manager for Protect America, a national home security firm that operates in the D.C. area (1-800-951-5190). “Sliding doors are also a favorite target for burglars, and older ones can often be forced open.”
But being on a higher level doesn’t automatically guarantee safety. Balconies can also provide access points.
“You have to think about the potential ways for someone to get in from the outside,” says Miles Fawcett, president of Urban Alarm, a D.C.-based security company (202-265-2700). “Someone could come down off of the roof. And I’ve seen people go from balcony to balcony.”
2. Get your landlord to help.
If you’re interested in adding an alarm or some other kind of security measure to your apartment, you’ll need to get the green light from your landlord — especially if it’s a high-tech system that takes some wiring. And in some cases, you might even be able to get your landlord to kick in some of the cost.
“For folks who feel that their unit is particularly vulnerable — maybe someplace with a fire escape or that has some way to access it from the outside — they might request that their landlord install an alarm system,” Fawcett says. “I do see landlords and buildings willing to install systems to some extent. It can be a capital expense for them so long as the tenants are willing to pay the monitoring fees.”
3. Install an alarm.
Wireless alarms are ideal for renters, since they don’t require invasive drilling into the walls and can be taken with you if you move.
“Security is more within reach today than it has ever been for such a wide variety of people,” Krebs says. “People still imagine security as a traditional hard-wired system. But there’s so much more flexibility and so much available to homeowners and renters alike.”
Expect to pay anywhere from $400 to more than $1,000 for the alarm and installation. Monthly monitoring fees — the ones that keep you connected to a monitoring station in case the alarms go off — can range from $20 to $50.
Wireless alarms operate via your internet service and can incorporate things like window sensors, panic buttons and duress codes that will alert the monitoring station that you’re in trouble.
“One of the biggest risks of apartment living is someone [following] you in,” Fawcett says. “Having a duress code makes it appear as if the system is disarmed, but it actually sends a panic call. One of the most important uses for alarm systems is other scenarios that don’t involve your typical break-in.”
Krebs also suggests connecting your security system to your smartphone. “With a small apartment, it would take somebody a lot less time to find your valuables than in a larger home,” he says. “You only have a small window of time to react. So why not hedge your bets and have not only the authorities professionally monitor your apartment but also make sure if something were to happen that you’re notified on your smartphone immediately.”
4. Add a security camera.
If you rent in D.C., you can get help purchasing a camera for outside your home. Administered by the D.C. government’s Office of Victim Services and Justice Grants (202-727-5124), the Private Security Camera Incentive Program provides rebates of up to $200 per camera for residents and businesses to purchase and install security camera systems on their property and register them with the Metropolitan Police Department. (There’s a maximum rebate of up to $500 per residential address.) After the cameras are installed, the MPD can request the footage for criminal investigations.
Renters interested in applying must provide documentation from their landlord approving the installation of a camera. The program is only accepting applicants from specific Police Service Areas, but it opens up to all D.C. properties beginning Aug. 1. About $100,000 of the program’s $500,000 budgeted funding has been approved to date.
“The program is designed to work toward making a safer and stronger District,” says Michelle M. Garcia, director of the Office of Victim Services and Justice Grants. “It recognizes that cameras can serve two purposes: as a deterrent to crime and to provide assistance in investigating crimes.”
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