How to Secure your Stuff in and Around Your Apartment
Living in an apartment complex can sometimes give you a false sense of security, as if your apartment is safer because your neighbors live so close by. In some sense, it is safer–it’s easier to find a neighbor to come to your aid in an emergency than it is for people in rural areas. But when it comes to keeping your things safe, living in an apartment can be more risky.
In larger buildings, it’s hard to know everyone. With people moving in and out of the building each month, it’s even harder to recognize who belongs in the building and who doesn’t. Apartments also give would-be thieves plenty of opportunities to enter the building, often by walking right in the front door. Think about the number of times you’ve held the front door of your building for someone who looked like they belonged there. Or all the times that your neighbors have propped a door open during parties. Or when your doorman or security guard simply waves a well-dressed person through the door without asking where they’re headed. Or all the strangers who enter your building each day to do a job–the exterminator, the cable repair guy or the electric company employees, some of whom may actually have access to your apartment when you aren’t around. When you think about it, there may as well not be a lock on the front door at all. That’s why it’s important to keep your own unit secure, even if you have a doorman or security guard downstairs.
Keeping Valuables Safe on a Daily Basis
In a rented apartment, it may not be worthwhile (or even possible) to install any of the security measures more common in owner-occupied homes such as alarm systems, video surveillance, or wall safes. Renters have to come up with different strategies for securing valuable items that don’t get everyday use. Some companies sell safes and other hiding spots designed to look like everyday household items like VHS cassettes and books (with hollow interiors). These little hiding spots are perfect for keeping jewelry and other small items safe in your apartment.
For small things that would be disastrous to lose such as family heirlooms, savings bonds, and other important documents, it may be too risky to leave them at home. Consider renting a safe deposit box at a bank instead. This will also protect your items in case of damage to your apartment.
It just doesn’t make sense to hide larger or more frequently used items such as cameras, iPods and laptops in elaborate hiding places. But, because some people may have access to your space when you aren’t home, (realtors, building maintenance staff, your roommate’s friends) you shouldn’t just leave them lying about. Even someone with no intention of stealing can be tempted by a wad of cash on your dresser or your tiny digital camera in the living room. When you aren’t at home, keep these items out of sight or take them with you.
When You’re Headed Out of Town Apartment dwellers don’t need to worry about the telltale signs of vacationing homeowners like uncut grass and overflowing mailboxes. But, if menus accumulate on your door or your newspapers pile up in the lobby, you may want to ask a trusted neighbor to collect them while you’re gone. Inside the apartment, it’s worth the extra effort to secure your things. You don’t have to spend money to find creative hiding spots. Some people find that focusing on dirty areas does the trick–such as hiding a laptop in a hamper of dirty clothes or a camera at the bottom of the garbage can (between the can and a bag filled with newspaper or some other not-so-dirty contents). Of course, the underwear drawer is one of the most common (and worst) places to hide anything. Make sure to secure all entrances to your apartment by locking up windows and closing the security grates to the fire escape. If your apartment looks out on nearby buildings or if neighbors can see inside your windows, close your blinds.
The interior of your apartment isn’t the only thing you need to think about before you head off on vacation. If you park your car in an indoor lot or have a locked storage space of your own, there’s probably little to worry about. But if you leave anything out in the open that won’t be moved while you’re gone, it can become a target for thieves. If you generally leave your car on the street, ask a friend if you can leave it in his or her driveway during your trip. Bike security is also important to consider. If your bike usually waits for you downstairs, bring it up to your apartment. What about apartment balcony safety? It may seem like someone would have to be crazy to break into your place by means of the balcony, but don’t bet against it. You never know what can happen. “I had an apartment on the fifth floor of a building once,” says Jake, a 32-year-old college instructor in New York. “I never locked that balcony door. Why would I? There was absolutely no way for someone to climb onto it–or so I thought. The one time I got robbed, the only sign of a break-in was that the balcony door was wide open. And I definitely didn’t leave it that way.” It pays to play it safe. Always keep balcony doors locked while you’re away. If you leave things of value outside like a bike or expensive barbecue, lock them to the balcony railing when you go on vacation or bring them inside.
Of course, not even the best-prepared (or most paranoid) renters are 100% safe against apartment theft. But you can improve the odds that if your stuff is stolen, you’ll get it back. Some companies provide a service that will tag or engrave your more expensive items with an ID number, ensuring that if the item is stolen and recovered, it can be identified as yours. You can do this yourself, but you’ll have to make sure your marker can’t be removed and that you don’t damage your item in the process of tagging it.
If your stuff does get stolen, don’t assume that your landlord’s insurance will cover the loss. Landlord insurance generally covers damage to the structure and exterior of a building, not tenants’ belongings inside. However, you can buy renter’s insurance to cover your belongings. Depending on the level of coverage you opt for, it can actually be quite affordable.
Have you ever had an apartment break-in (or narrowly avoided one)? Share your story in our comments section.