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In recent years, cities across the country have been experiencing a sort of “boom” in regard to the construction of apartment buildings and other multi-family communities. It’s not hard to see why. When you consider stagnant or even falling wages, increased inflation, higher taxes, rising housing costs and so on, it doesn’t take much to see that homeownership simply isn’t what it used to be. As a result, people are turning to rentals in droves.

Now, before I continue, please understand that I’m not writing this to dissuade anyone from renting. Instead, I’m writing this to empower individuals with the truth of the rental situation. I don’t want anyone to fall victim to a false sense of security. If knowledge is power, then I would like to empower you with the actual information that can help keep you safe. With that in mind, I hope you consider the following.

It is true that apartments provide a certain level of convenience and savings for some. Many communities offer things like free trash, free water, no landscaping, free or low-cost repairs, the occasional upgrade or the occasional free carpet cleaning. It’s no wonder the young, busy or single often choose this option. Unfortunately, a cost that too few consider is actually the cost that NO ONE should ignore.

Even if your community offers the infrequent drive-by from a private security company, you need to understand that crime is simply a reality in many rental communities. An example might be how some statistics show that apartments are 85% more likely to be broken into than houses. The elevated crime risk is often why many communities will highlight various “security” measures that they provide as a major selling point. Unfortunately, these measures are often just not enough.

So what can you do to protect yourself? That is a great question. The sad truth is that many renters feel helpless because they are living on someone else’s property. However, nothing could be further from the truth! Here are some things to consider if you currently live in or plan to live in a multi-family building.

NOTE: Links provided herein are to product suggestions to help get you started in your research.

Do Your Research First

Before you commit to living in a multi-family community, do your research. Find out about the crime in the area. See if there are murders, abductions, burglaries and so on. Knowing the various risks in the area provides you the information necessary to either secure your rental personally or to pass on the rental altogether. I would recommend doing this a few different ways. The first would be to talk to the property manager about their security. Second, talk to a current tenant if you happen upon one. And third, use the internet. Some popular sites that can help you do this are as follows:

  • spotcrime.com
  • apartmentratings.com
  • crimemapping.com
  • crimereports.com

Aim High

Living on the first or second floor may provide a certain amount of convenience for you but it provides the same convenience for criminals as well. You can reduce your risk substantially by simply choosing to reside on the third level (or higher if possible). Remember that criminals are usually looking for an easy target. Scaling walls and/or carrying your stuff down numerous flights of stairs is not exactly “easy” and it exposes criminals to the potential of running into more people. This is not something most criminals want. If a third level (or higher) is not available, shoot for a unit that is not on the first floor.

The Lighting

Visit the property after the sun goes down. What does the lighting look like? Are there dark spots for criminals to hide and move around? Is there adequate lighting over the doors, walkways and in the parking lot? If not, you might want to reconsider. Know that BRIGHT lighting is a strong deterrent for criminal activity.

Many assume that no lighting is the danger. However, I want to convey the idea that dim lighting is actually the problem. This is because dim lighting provides enough light for criminals to work, while at the same time, making concealment easier to achieve. You are looking for BRIGHT lighting. You want well-lit areas with clear visibility – even in the hallways. If this is currently not the case, you may talk to management to see if they have plans for improving the lighting situation. Understand that management may not be aware that the lighting is an issue and will likely appreciate the tip on how they can improve their property.

The Parking Lot

Parking lots and parking garages are a lot riskier than most give them credit for. This is because victims are often distracted, have their hands full and so on. On the other hand, parking lots and parking garages provide would-be assailants plenty of hiding spots. Additionally, potential victims are at a distinct disadvantage because they are either sitting down or about to sit down when they open the door to their car.

PAY ATTENTION! Situational awareness is key. Don’t have your face in your phone and don’t have your earbuds in. Be wary of strangers asking to help you and do NOT feel guilty for assuming someone might be dangerous. This is your life! It’s like I tell my daughter, “those who say it won’t happen to them are just begging for “it” to happen.

Lock up your car. More often than not, auto-related crime is a crime of opportunity. Most criminals will simply walk from car to car checking to see if the doors are locked. When they find an unlocked car, they will check it out and take your stuff. Of course, if it’s you they are after, they could simply hide in the backseat. I often recommend just taking a look in the backseat before getting in.

Remove your valuables from the car. Leaving nice things that others might want in your car only invites would-be criminals to check the door or break the window. If you must leave something valuable in the car, you need to hide it.

Some apartment communities offer private garage/storage units. You might consider using this to park your car in. If you do, ensure that there is a garage door opener or that you’re allowed to use a heavy-duty lock of your own. Don’t skimp on the lock either. When it comes to locks, bigger is oftentimes better. Plus, having a private garage or storage unit provides yet another barrier that must be overcome and this will help reduce the chances of something happening to your stuff.  

Laundry Rooms

In the United States, someone is sexually assaulted every two minutes. Statistically speaking, rape and serious sexual assault are far more likely to occur at the hands of someone familiar, and roughly 48% of said assaults happen in or near the home. This presents a particular problem for those living in a multi-family community.

Apartment laundry facilities are often in remote areas of the property, have little to no human presence at various times, and often have lax access controls. When you factor in the idea that it’s very easy for neighbors to keep track of your habits in a multi-family community, the potential for trouble is all too obvious. An example of what I am talking about might be the case of Bradric Givante Fransaw. Back in 2010, serial rapist, Fransaw raped nine women in the laundry rooms of apartment complexes in Killeen and Copperas Cove over about a two month period. It is my opinion that these could have been prevented.

The advice here is simple. While it may be a little inconvenient, try doing your laundry while others are present or have a friend tag along. Furthermore, if the room doesn’t have decent security controls, ask the property manager to install some. Another alternative might be to pay a local laundromat to do your laundry for you.

Use What You Got

Chances are good that you already have some great security measures in place. You just need to use them. Always lock the door whether you are coming inside or leaving your apartment. You would be amazed at the number of people who THINK they are at the right apartment and attempt to just walk in. DON’T PROVIDE THE OPPORTUNITY FOR TROUBLE! There is no reason why you shouldn’t be in this habit. Don’t rely on the handle lock (if installed) either. Get into the habit of using the deadbolt. If you don’t have one, talk to management about getting one installed.

Use your peephole before opening the door. This seems like a very basic step but you would be surprised at how often this doesn’t happen. Even if you’re expecting someone, always look through the peephole to confirm that the person on the other side of the door is someone you want to let it. Don’t open up the door unless you are prepared for a problem.

Close your curtains or blinds. Too often, renters leave their curtains or blinds open whether they are home or not. Understand that this affords people on the outside an opportunity to learn more about your situation and it also allows people to see some of the great stuff you’ve worked so hard to acquire.

Improve Your Security Measures

Just because you’re renting doesn’t mean that you can’t add some additional security measures. Many times, property managers are more than willing to allow security upgrades if it’s coming out of your pocket and you’re willing to sign a waiver. Furthermore, most additional security measures that I’m referring to don’t need management approval. Regardless, a few simple and low-cost measures can go a long way to increase your personal security.

Replace Screws. The first thing I tell ANY home-owner or renter is that they need to replace the screws in the door frame and locks. For just several bucks, you can pick up a small box of 3” screws. Using these longer screws in your door can actually strengthen the strike plate on the lock and better secure the hardware around the door because the additional length allows the screws to be driven into the wall stud. This makes kicking down the door a harder option for anyone. An added bonus is that any attempt to breach the door then becomes a very loud and shaking event. Even your neighbors will know something is wrong if someone attempts to breach the door.

Lock up or hide your valuables. Apartment communities have people entering your unit quite a bit. From maintenance to pest control, you don’t need to let everyone that enters your unit know what you have. If you can get yourself a stud-mounted safe, do it. Don’t leave your valuables out in the open. Whether it is a precious ring, a firearm, loose cash or something else, get into the habit of putting your valuable away. Also, don’t hide them in the master bedroom. Criminals are looking for a quick score and they often feel as though they don’t have the time to search every nook and cranny once they get in. They want to get in and out. Know that the first place criminals are going to look will more than likely be the master bedroom.

Use a door jammer or barricade. Barricades are amazing tools that are relatively inexpensive. Use these when you’re home alone and don’t plan on going out. These handy tools can make breaching a door very difficult without special tools and it’s an awesome addition if you’ve already replaced the screws in the door. These can buy you the extra time you need or even deter them from moving forward with their plan.

Get training and then arm yourself. Understand that there is no such thing as “total protection”. Practically all of the measures that you can utilize can be overcome if someone is absolutely determined. However, we can’t look at such security measures as worthless. They are actually invaluable because each measure that you put into place is buying you just a little more time to mount a proper counter-offensive.

If someone is trying to enter your home, of course, you can try to call the police. Unfortunately, it can take a very long from the time the call is received to the time officers actually arrive on the scene. Response times vary but average response times start at about four and half minutes and can reach as high as hours (depending on where you live in relation to stations).

Why take the chance? Getting some proper training (self-defense, firearms, non-lethal, etc) and “arming” yourself appropriately might just save your life.

Don’t Forget the Sliding Glass Doors

This one gets its own heading because WAY TOO MANY have a false sense of security about their sliding glass doors. Sure, they are nice but they are also a fairly large security risk. For starters, it’s a big pane of glass and glass is easily broken. Second, the locks that usually come on them are not exactly sturdy and can be easily overcome. Additionally, because of how these doors are built and installed, they are actually fairly easy to knock off their tracks and pull out.

Quite a few are unaware that you can stick a long wooden dowel rod in the void above the door (in the upper track) to make knocking it off the tracks MUCH more difficult. This is a cheap way to add a LOT of security because you can usually pick these up for a couple of dollars at a local hobby store. Second, you can apply some glass protection film to the pane. This makes the proposition of breaking the glass and just walking in less likely. Finally, you can purchase a window bar and that as well. The three measures used simultaneously is a massive upgrade to an existing weak point.

Install Some Tech

Thanks to our technological boom, there are a variety of cost-effective security tools that you can purchase for personal use. These might include cameras, door and window sensors and so on. In fact, many of these tools now come with phone apps that can help you monitor your unit while you are away from home. This is great because if something happens, you can have third-party confirmation and perhaps a video recording to share with law enforcement.

Carry renters insurance

Again, security measures can be overcome if the criminal is determined enough. Or, maybe you got a little rushed and let your guard down and a criminal seized the opportunity. Hopefully, this doesn’t happen while you’re home but let’s say they take something valuable. You are going to want the ability to not only learn the lesson but to also get your stuff back. The sad truth is that more often than not, stolen items will not be found. This doesn’t mean that you have to go without. Renters insurance can afford you the opportunity to replace your valuables shortly after you file the police report.

Tips for Living Alone

Living alone is sometimes necessary but it also comes with its own set of risks. When criminals know that they only have one foe to deal with, they also know their chances of success are much higher. Don’t let on that you live alone if you can help it. There are a few things you can do stop advertising that you do.

For starters, don’t share your life’s details with strangers or neighbors. I know it’s tempting because you want to talk about how horrible your ex is but this could be setting you up for trouble. Don’t tell strangers where you work, where you party or which apartment is yours. Keep your conversations limited in information until you get to know the people you are talking with. Think about it like this; you wouldn’t go to a bar and announce your details to the patrons – why would you do it in the courtyard?

A great tip for women living alone is to only use initials on mailboxes. On a related topic, you shouldn’t throw away your mail in the dumpster. There are plenty of people who sift through trash and they can happen upon your mail. Put your mail in a box and have it shredded. Also, stop posting so much personal stuff on your social media. All you are doing is giving the world the details they need to do you harm. When you’re away from home, leave a light on or better yet, leave the television on. And if push comes to shove, you might consider getting a dog if you live in a pet-friendly community. Dogs are often a deal-breaker for would-be criminals and they provide great companionship.

Make It Happen

Regardless of whether you decide to try out one or even all of the security tips I have provided, understand that it’s often the security measures that we have but don’t use that get us into trouble. Start making a habit of personal security and you can keep yourself safe. And above all else, remain vigilant.

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