Once your apartment starts to feel like home, the rest of the building often follows. While pulling into the building lot after work or running downstairs to take out the trash, you may feel as relaxed and unguarded as if you’re actually in your own unit. While building parking lots, fitness centers, basements and storage areas are generally safe, you need to be aware that they aren’t really home. Here are some things to think about when you walk outside your apartment door.
In the Parking Lot
As you walk to and away from your car, have what you need in your hands. Keep your car keys readily available when you leave the apartment building and the building keys in hand when you exit the car. Fumbling for keys in a parking lot shows would-be thieves and assailants that you’re distracted — and an easier target. Even if the building parking lot feels like part of your home, it isn’t. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security or ignore your gut instinct. If you’re not comfortable parking in the dark end of the lot, make a few rounds in the lot until you find the spot you’re looking for. If you see someone suspicious in the parking lot or outside the building, don’t get out of the car. Wait until you see a group of tenants heading indoors and walk with them or run an errand and return later. Remember that you can always call security or the police if you just don’t feel safe entering the building. You may be overreacting — but what if this time you aren’t?
Outside the Building Doors
One of the most important times to be vigilant is when you’re walking from the street or the car into your building. In recent months, several high-profile cases of rape and attempted murder have played out in the same way: the assailant enters an apartment building directly behind his victim and forces (or tries to force) his way into her apartment. If you live in a small building, it’s easy enough to identify who does and doesn’t belong in your building. But in large complexes, everyone can look like a stranger. Although good manners dictate that you should hold the door for the people behind you, this is one case in which it’s better to be rude than sorry. If the person behind you seems suspicious or you just don’t feel comfortable, close the door firmly after you. If this makes you uncomfortable, pause at the door and fumble for your keys, letting the stranger behind you open the door with his own keys.
Trips to the Trash Bins and Storage Areas
During a quick trip to the basement storage facility or out to the curb to deposit the trash we don’t usually think about much besides finishing what we need to do and quickly heading back indoors. But even if you’re only outside for a moment, it’s important to be aware of your surroundings. Pay attention to who else is in the nearby area and how close they are to you or the building doors. This is Apartment Safety 101: even if you’re only running out for a minute, don’t leave the building door propped open. Cast a quick glance behind you as you approach the door to unlock it to make sure no one else is following too closely.
Apartment Safety Screening: Your Door
Most of the time, there’s not much to worry about. You leave the apartment, you lock the door. You come back to the apartment, you unlock the door. Simple. But what if you come back and the door isn’t locked anymore? What if it’s slightly ajar? If you don’t have roommates or family members who might have come home in your absence, it can be hard to know whether you’ve simply been absent-minded or whether someone has actually entered your apartment. If you’re pretty sure the apartment door isn’t how you left it, call the police or building security immediately. If you think you may be to blame, it’s still not worth it to enter the unit alone. Ask a neighbor or friend to enter the apartment with you, making ample noise beforehand to scare off an intruder.
At the Fitness Center or Pool
The fitness center and pool are public spaces where it’s easier to feel safe. What would a potential thief or rapist be doing on the treadmill? He’s probably just the new guy from the fourth floor, but take basic precautions just in case. It may be tempting to use the fitness center and pool during early morning or late night hours when fewer people are around. However, female tenants may want to avoid times when an unfamiliar man is using the facility. Yes, he’s probably harmless, but if you can wait for a time when a few others are around, the chances of anything happening to you are much smaller.
Keeping Kids Secure
If you live in a nice building or know most of your neighbors, you may be comfortable letting your kids walk around the building unsupervised. But, while it may be perfectly safe for an 8-year-old to walk up two flights to visit a friend, two 8-year-olds exploring the basement storage facility may not be. Set guidelines with your kids about where they are allowed to go and where they’re not. Have them check in with you at regular intervals if they plan to play outside the apartment for long. Keep an eye on children when they are in or around the pool, even if a lifeguard is on duty. It’s the lifeguard’s job to make sure your child stays safe in the water, but he or she can’t be expected to intervene if a stranger starts talking to your kid. Make sure that you or a trusted adult is available to keep an eye on younger children in pools and other recreational areas.
It can be hard to walk the fine line between being alert and being paranoid about the dangers that might lurk in your building. It helps to stay realistic about the potential of danger. For the most part, our buildings and the areas that surround them are safe. Apartment crime is rare, but it does happen. A little vigilance on your part is probably not necessary, but on the off chance that something does happen, you’ll be better prepared to handle it.