How to Secure your Stuff in and Around Your Apartment

November 19th, 2007 by

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.

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9 Responses to “How to Secure your Stuff in and Around Your Apartment”

  1. Guest Says:

    I lived in an apartment in Lexington, KY – a college town – near the campus (arent; those the BEST areas??? lol) and right before Memorial Day weekend- during which time I was to be out of town on a 3-day weekend trip, I installed a simple alarm system. The kind that have little magnet sensors on the doors and windows – and they radio back to a central unit with a keypad – the whole thing probably cost me about $120.

    When I returned on Monday – my door had been jimmied open with a crowbar or large screwdriver, but by the time the would-be burglers got in, the alarm went off and probably nearly scared them to death.

    It’s a creepy feeling to walk around your apartment – not knowing if someone is still in there… slowly looking to be sure all of your stuff is still there. I got lucky – they got nothing from me. But had I not installed that alarm system, I have no doubt that they would have cleaned me out!

  2. Anonymous Says:

    Crime information regarding your property is available but it may be difficult to actually find on line. Residents have a difficult time know what crime is occurring on their property. It’s even more difficult to know what crime is happening in the neighborhood nearby.

    Property managers should keep their tenants informed by holding meetings and discussing crime prevention. Property managers should also keep up with crime around their property. Apartments are “target rich” which attracts the criminal element.

    If a tenant or a potential resident could have access to crime data, would that be an important service to offer?

    Patrick Murphy
    LPT Security Consulting
    Houston, Texas

  3. Guest Says:

    I’m sure safe deposit box rental would be the ultimate in safe guarding your most value possessions and/or documents. However, the downside is that you have to worry about paying the rental fees. And for those who may be living on a budget, that may not be the best scenario. I would suggest investing money into buying a top quality portable safe or lockable file cabinet. A lot of these heavy duty portable storage devices can be great, as they can stay fire resistant for a number of hours and they have some pretty decent locking devices on them. I, myself, invested in a small, two-drawer, lockable file cabinet that I use for storing my important papers, checks, my big glass jar of coins, etc. And before I leave, I always make sure to lock it and hide the key in a place I can remember. Although my apt. has controlled access and the neighborhood is fairly decent, it never hurts to take extra precautions to safeguard your stuff no matter where you are. As much as I respect the portable storage units, I highly recommend the purchase of a locking file cabinet as file cabinets are harder to move, as opposed to portable units that could be carried outside of your apartment and broken open.

  4. Guest Says:

    I live in a 12 unit building. On a Thursday morning between 9 and 11 half of those unit where broken into. There are two locked front doors and every apartment has 2 deadbolt locks, all easily broken with a crobar. They grabbed everything that was insight. Someone came home at noon and called the cops. I believe people were even in some of the units that did not get broken into.

  5. Guest Says:

    JUST ROBBED.

    Yesterday me & my girlfriend’s apartment was robbed. The thief(ves) took everything in sight: 5 pairs of new Jordans sneakers, 2 DVD players, laptop, digital camera, chef’s knife set, Rolex watch, diamond tennis bracelet, Playstation 2, digital camcorder, full DJ set, 2 jewelry boxes, portable DVD player, 3 cell phones, 2 bottles of liquor (yeah, we couldn’t believe it either)….the list goes on. The losses totaled about $9,000.

    We filed a report with local police and property management. The police officer said a detective would be in touch, but it could be anywhere from 24 hours to 3-4 months. We don’t ever expect to hear from the detective, and we don’t expect the management company to pay anything toward our stolen items since our renter’s insurance expired.

    Right now we are staying with a friend because we do not feel safe in that apartment. Most of our belongings (or what’s left of them) are still there. This was an unfortunate situation to come home to yesterday afternoon, but we are trying to make it. Any advice or insight on how to best deal with this situation would be much appreciated.

  6. Guest Says:

    I was recently burglarized and learned a few lessons (and was reminded of a few security ideas I had been ignoring and putting off until later).

    I had a firesafe to protect important documents, a few important belongings, and some cash; it was moderately well-hidden in my bedroom closet. Well, they trashed my bedroom and closet more than any other part of the apt. and found just about everything valuable, including the firesafe, which they simply took with them. The police said that the bedroom and its closet are the most common places for people to hide valuables – so consider using another room/closet. I think the only thing that might have resisted theft was a much more expensive firesafe bolted into the cement of the closet floor – and even then, a crowbar might defeat that.

    In response to the burglary, I’ve focused more on alarm systems, to chase them away, or at least make them work faster (grab the big expensive stuff, rather than going through every drawer). I got a motion-sensor alarm at MicroCenter for $30 which faces my entry door when I’m gone. Fry’s has a GE brand kit which includes a combination door wedge/alarm; it’s great, because it will both wedge the door so it won’t open further *and* it will sound a loud alarm. I bought two – one to leave at the back door and one for the front when I’m home and to take with me when I travel (for hotel rooms).

    There are small, inexpensive magnetic sensors that can go on any door or window to sound an alarm if they’re opened (the GE kit includes one; another kit has 3 for $10); one of these on each window and sliding door provides more deterrent.

    The guy above who installed the alarm system just before being burglarized was very lucky (though he should have called the police before going through the apartment); if I’d spent $50 on a few precautions, I probably wouldn’t have had several $1000s stolen and now this nagging paranoid feeling. I’m looking at some $100-200 systems that will make me feel a lot safer, but my stuff is still gone.

    (P.S. Buy a cheap external hard drive and back up your personal photos, important records, etc. from your computer, then hide the drive somewhere bland, like the bottom one in a stack of boxes in your utility closet. I lost years worth of digital photos and other irreplaceable stuff (of no value to anyone else) because my backup drive was next to the computer, so it got stolen with it. That might be a good place for a firesafe, too – in an old box under some boring junk.)

  7. Cass Says:

    My apartment was burglarized a month ago. I felt violated and mad. I just returned to my apartment from a trip on a Sunday and three days later my apartment was broken into while I was at work. They kicked or prided open the front door. They took a Flat ScreenTV, jewelry, money, two laptops, WII console and the WII games. All 9 of them and they even took a pair of basketball shoe’s for goodness sake. People are sick. I still live in the apartment, but when I get to my apartment after work, I have this uncomfortable feeling that someone has been there or has broken into my apartment again. Of course I will never feel comfortable being there again. Its good thing I have renters insurance. But knowing that my things will be replaced will never erase the feeling that someone has entered myhome and took things that I have worked hard for.

  8. Mary Says:

    Misty Creek Apartments Greensboro North Carolina near all the schools here. I wouldn’t say it is mostly students but the problems in just leaving your apartment – people walk in like it is theirs and I live alone – take what they want – food, etc., tamper with items including puncturing, slashing, damaging your property and then wait til you leave and do it all over again. Most people look like they don’t work at all. They also use the personal high tech offensive equipment which they set up all over the place so it hits you in the face, eyes, throat, and ears. This is equipment sold in the UK which treats humans like cockroaches repelling them with high db or any other type of firing device to run people off. If you look out your window to check the weather, they fire a long range laser at you. These people are PSYCHO SERIOUS and dangerous. No wonder people are crazy all over the country. GET A JOB and QUIT STEALING AND HURTING PEOPLE.

  9. Jimmay Says:

    Great article. Thank you for the tips, I appreciate it.

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