Apartment safety check: What to know before you rent

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The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that burglaries are more common in rental properties with 10 or more units than in single-family homes, but the reasons for that are unclear. When people live in close proximity, as they do in apartments, there may be more opportunities for thieves to take advantage of carelessness. But by being mindful of your own actions and assessing the safety of an apartment before you even move in, you can reduce your likelihood of becoming a victim.

  • Do your homework. Internet sites like Neighborhood Scout can help you find the neighborhoods with the highest and lowest crime rates in any city. If you’re moving to a new town or city, talk to the locals or a community liaison from the police department to get the inside scoop on where the safest areas are.
  • Consider the property layout. Where is the apartment complex laundry room, and is it secure? Where would you collect your mail? Where would you park, and how far would you have to walk from your car to the apartment? Where are the dumpsters? These are questions any rental agent should be happy to answer.
  • Check out the premises. Visit the complex at night to see if it’s well-lit. Look around to see if the buildings and common areas are well maintained. If you see trash, crumbling sidewalks and graffiti, that could mean the property owner isn’t concerned with tenants’ overall well-being.
  • Think like a thief. A motivated thief can find many ways to get into your apartment. Make sure the apartment has at least two locks, and ask the rental agent if the locks will be changed when you move in. A keyed entry system or locked entry stairwell is also a great way to deter thieves. If the apartment has a balcony, make sure the doors lock. Be especially cautious around the holidays, because the holidays can bring a higher risk of break-ins and theft.

Other safety considerations

Even if your apartment seems to have a low risk of crime, fire is always a threat to safety, because it can quickly travel from one unit to another. When touring your apartment, make note of the following:

Are there working smoke detectors in hallways and inside each dwelling? Don’t be afraid to test a smoke detector inside the apartment you’re looking at. Large complexes should also have fire extinguishers displayed in common areas. Check for documentation that the extinguishers have been regularly serviced.

Check the windows for ease of opening and secure locks. Windows that don’t open are a safety hazard and could prevent escape in case of a fire.

Once you’ve found the right apartment, it’s important to get to know some of your neighbors. When neighbors know one another they’re more likely to look out for each other and report any worrisome activity. No matter where you live, being proactive about you own safety is of utmost importance. If you witness illegal or unsafe behavior in your apartment complex call the authorities. And never settle for an apartment where the safety is questionable just to save a few dollars. Your health and well-being is worth more than a few extra dollars each month.

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