Non-permenant home security system for apartment-dwellers

October 26 |

Willie asks:

HOME SECURITY CAT
Photo by WF&DT. Used under Creative Commons license.
I had one of those spooky nights last week — one where I had too many scary thoughts and every noise was a serial killer or a monster coming for me.

Irrational fears aside, it made me realize I haven't taken any security precautions in my flat. I've lived here for a while, but whatever I do still needs to be non-permanent.

What can I do to keep my mind calm and my body safe?

Apartments are weird, right? You're one cubby hole in a whole lot of cubby holes, but that doesn't make you any safer, does it? I mean, it might if you know ALL your neighbors and your building is like one big commune — which can happen — but that never happened in my rental experience.

Our first apartment was a duuump. Bad part of town, next to bad people, and I woke up to cops at the door more than once. I got peace of mind from a little stick-on door alarm like this one.

It also has wireless window alarms. Made me feel good to know it was set when I was there alone, and I felt better about leaving our apartment behind each morning.

What else should Willie know, Homies? What have you learned about keeping your rental safer?

  1. If you ask, many landlords will install a deadbolt lock for a fee. Ours cost $60 but it really, really helped me sleep at night (especially when the door handle literally fell apart a few months later and it took two weeks for the landlord to fix it).

    If you have a door that leads directly to the outside, making sure there's always a working light on at night can also deter people from trying to get in that way.

    2 agree
    • You may also see if your landlord can install one of those one-sided deadbolts. The kind that only lock from the inside. That way, when you're home, you know that no one can get past that one.

      3 agree
    • My last apartment wouldn't, and they said if I made any "modifications" to the door and they had to go in to inspect the filters, etc, they'd break down the door and charge me to replace it. : /

  2. My security system is 75 lbs of wiggling, slobbery, black dog! Black dogs get adopted the least in shelters, I really don't get it! People are scared of them, even when they're giant babies (mine is afraid of the A/C unit and balloons). He loves everyone, but people who don't know him are generally scared of him, win for security, sad for him. I can imagine that anyone who would try to break into our apartment and saw/heard him would think twice.

    10 agree
    • This! I have a 60 pound pitbull that is a big goofy mass of love. She also barks when people come in unannounced and while she usually just wants to play with them, that bark has some weight behind it.

      That aside, I have a teensy and adorable orange tabby who will totally claw an intruders eyes out. Or a friend. Anyone, really. He's the devil.

      9 agree
      • We also have a giant snuggle bug of a pitbull. We love him because he is adorable and only wants playtime and treats. Our side benefit is that people see him and think he is scary. We live in a not so nice neighborhood where a big scary dog comes in handy.

        1 agrees
    • …our ginormous black dog was a champ at protecting me from evil, villainous plastic bags! (why do black dogs get left behind…? he was the most chill dog at the shelter and that's why I noticed him, plus he was black -BONUS!)
      …if you can't have a dog where you live or you're just not able to rescue right now, I've seen those motion-activated alarms that sound like barking dogs.
      I'm also a fan of shotguns…even if my shotgun isn't loaded, the sound of a round being chambered is wicked enough to make most people think twice -we sleep with one next to our bed.
      …these are nice too: http://www.readytodefend.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=3&products_id=26

      • Wow, I want it. I mean, first I want to legally acquire a gun and learn to safely and properly use it and handle it and clean it, and then I want to learn how to shoot really well.
        But then, then I really want one of these. My fat lard cats make terrible deterrents.

        1 agrees
    • We have a ginormous standard poodle named Ringo, all black fur, about ninety pounds and TALL. He's a great 'fake' security device: looks tough, but is the biggest baby ever. Scared of plastic bags and umbrellas, and we think he can hear ghosts because he DOES NOT LIKE TO BE WALKED AT NIGHT. I know a dog isn't the home security device for everyone, but he works like a charm for our family.

      1 agrees
      • I just love how safe I feel knowing that somebody else is in the house who is sure its his job to be alert for danger, even if the "danger" is sometimes up for interpretation.

        1 agrees
    • Black cats, too. So weird.

      Somehow, I didn't even think about dogs as a security device. :)

      3 agree
      • Not only are they good for scaring off potential intruders (as if my dog could be bothered to get up off the couch), but they're great for explaining away all the nighttime house noises that seem SO SCARY when you're by yourself.

        Instead of "that must be a serial killer coming to get me" you think "that must be the dog snoring."

        5 agree
        • That's what's great about our cats too. I used to be much more paranoid until I got used to the sound of them breaking all our pretty things every damn night.

          7 agree
    • I have a 75 pound German shepard-looking dog and though her bark is worse than her bite, she always barks when someone pulls into the driveway, and when I come home she's always barking. Makes me feel better to know that the first thing that anyone would see is Roxy barking and barreling around the corner to "greet" them. Then they would eventually trip and fall over one of three cats. And our dead bolt is nice too. Cats, dogs, and dead bolts FTW!

      3 agree
    • I think dogs are useful for warning you that someone is coming when you are home, but I wouldn't count on your dog to defend your home while you're away (unless you have the kind of neighbors who will investigate any barking).

      A friend of mine recently came home to find that she'd not only been robbed, but her very large dog had vomited all over the house. She eventually figured out that the thief taken dumped a bunch of food from her fridge on the floor to keep the dog distracted while he ransacked the house.

      1 agrees
  3. Renter's insurance, renter's insurance, renter's insurance. Yeah, it may not keep people from stealing your stuff but it will totally help if they do.

    17 agree
  4. When I lived in an apartment, I got a cardboard cutout of George W. Bush (he was cheap and looked real) and put it in my window, but a little farther back so it looked like someone was standing in the window when I wasn't home and the light was shining behind him!

    7 agree
    • That's amazing! Why George Bush? Did you ever forget he was there and get startled? Did you talk to him when you were bored? For some reason I find this fascinating!

      4 agree
  5. The fact that the cops stop at the Wawa on our block fairly often is a great help to us, plus our building has two doors on the street. The first you just open, the second we have a key for, then you go up to where the individual apartment doors are. We have friends across the hall so whenever one of us hears something going on we run to the door and peek out the view hole thing to see what's up.

    1 agrees
  6. We use these door stopper rods that go from the floor up under the handle and adjust to sizes. They have some that sound alarms when the door is pushed, but ours just keeps the door from being kicked in or at least slow them down and give us time to wake up and arm ourselves. They sell them at home improvement stores.

    3 agree
    • My sister just gave me one of these. Mine doesn't have an alarm either, but it makes me feel better having it on the back door that I rarely use. My sister said they work pretty good, she had put it up one night not realizing her boyfriend (who has a key) was coming over and he couldn't get the door open.

  7. door stop rods, deadbolts, etc…and a weapon for personal protection. my apartment had all the security features in the world but it made me feel no safer when drug dealers moved in next door. got myself a gun at the first available opportunity. almost had to use it when one of them decided to let himself into my apartment in the evening. he heard me rack the slide and took off.

    3 agree
  8. I have 3 hidden guns in the house,3 dogs as well-but they are all deafies so they're not exactly the most effective guard dogs, a deadbolt, and our windows are the old casement style so they crank open and lock from the inside… i feel fairly secure.

  9. I'm with the dog group on this one. Plus they keep you warm at night.

    Also, keep pepper spray somewhere easily accessible. I just moved to a big city and I am super freaked out about walking around in the dark, but my pepper spray makes me feel a bit better.

    2 agree
  10. I lived in a ground floor 4 square apartment in Memphis TN, in a not-so-great part of town. When we moved in the back door had two heavy duty brackets on either side of the door that held a 4×4 plank as a barricade so that it couldn't be kicked in.
    With indifferent permission from my landlord, I also installed those hotel deadbolt locks that allow you to open the door a couple inches while still maintaining some security, as well as installing peep holes.

    Now I live in a safer city, in a nice building, and I have a watchdog. I'm looking into a firearm for my protection as well, since I spend most of my time here alone. Our state has 'make my day' laws, so we have the right to defend ourselves with deadly force inside our homes.

    1 agrees
  11. Layers of protection – automatic lights for a house, living on the top floor in an apartment building, a noise-maker like a dog, a security system, a deadbolt, a tactical flashlight strong enough to temporarily blind, and as a last resort, a weapon and the training and guts to use it correctly. Also have a plan if someone does break in, like a strategic safe-room. Know places that offer cover from gunfire (a couch will not offer protection; a full bookshelf will offer some depending on the angle your attacker is at).

    Keep a phone in the bedroom or safe-room, and if one person leaves the room to scout, lock the door. If they come back and say, for example, "open up, Jill, it's all good," and your name ain't Jill, then it's time to call the cops and pull out a weapon.

    A personal protection course (in fighting or firearms) with role-playing can help a lot, too. They will teach you layers of protection before things get physical, then have you practice on moving targets. Lots of people think that pulling a trigger is all there is to guns, but it's not that easy, especially in the dark, multiple moving targets, the sounds and flashes and smoke and burns, adrenaline pumping, trying to figure out how to load with shaking hands, or why the gun failed, possibly injured or watching a loved one die. Not to mention the courage it takes to kill or be killed. Oh, and shots rarely bring a person down right away (major Hollywood myth). They'll keep coming at you for a while. Take a course in how to deal with all these things, and you'll have that much more confidence if you ever (and hopefully you don't) need it.

    No, I'm not paranoid :) We had a baby and my husband got a strong protective urge and took a personal protection firearms course, so I learned a lot.

    6 agree
  12. I have a 9lb Chihuahua and she's a beast when it comes to anything she thinks is threatening me.

    I live in the country and had the front door blow open during a storm once; she shot over, hackles up, crazy Chihuahua face on (anyone who knows a Chi knows what I mean!) and planted her body square in the door, barking and challenging the thunder. She would take on an elephant if she thought it was gonna get me.

    A little guy or gal can still deter intruders, most burglars want to be out of there as quick as they can with as little hassle as possible, and a crazy amount of noise and flying ball of fur is not sly!

    3 agree
    • Yeah, an angry Chihuahua is a tiny ball of terror. I don't think my dog is even capable of the kind of rage that I've seen in some chihuahuas!

      1 agrees
      • Yes.
        I have two little long-haired boys that I took for walks when I was living in a not-so-nice neighborhood, and one night I was approached a little too quickly just out of my blind-spot and they ran full tilt at the guy with their crazyfaces on.
        He quickly ducked his head, mumbled an apology and took off in the direction he came from.

  13. Add me to the group with dogs! Our corgi, bless her, is a big ol' snuggle with a non-threatening bark. But our beagle/shiba inu mix has a howl that seriously sounds like it's from a much larger monster of a dog, and he's pretty insane about people he doesn't know being in the house, especially when we're not there.

    We lived in an apartment once that had a lot of maintenance problems, and the maintenance man would come over every month or so while we were at work. No lie, apparently Pete hated that man being inside so much that while I was walking him one morning, we saw the maintenance man driving by in his cart and Pete flipped out, planted himself, and started howling at the poor guy (who said that it happens every time he goes into our place).

    I feel pretty safe with Pete around. :D

  14. We have a dog too, who would drown any intruder in kisses.

    We also have an Umbrella Cockatoo. If you walk in the house in the middle of the night he'll go "Hello", and its kind of creepy. Plus if you upset him he is REALLY loud. Nothing like a loud squaking bird who can bite your nose off to chase off the bad guys. Good thing he really is a teddy bird.

    Plus Hubby is working on getting a fire arm. That doesn't even include the 2 baseball bats that are hidden but easy to get to, and the 2 katanas… Hubby is kind of paranoid.

    2 agree
    • The part about your cockatoo is hilarious! I had a lab/cocker spaniel/probably-several-other-breeds mix growing up–sweetest dog imaginable, but she had a really deep bark that would scare all of my friends. We always joked that if someone had come to rob the house, she would have probably let them in and helped them gather all of the valuables.

  15. When I lived in the not so good side of town we always had big loud dogs. I kept the kitchen and living room lights on, but the thing that gave me the most comfort in the night was the bat beside my bed. I don't know and don't have a gun, so I figured it was the best alternative.

    • …an aluminium or solid wood baseball bat can do some serious damage. Good for you jayné!

  16. My door stopper rod makes me feel better. That way at least if I'm inside I'm physically protected, in the sense that if a breaker-inner got through the lock, the rod would hold the door so I would wake up.

    I also leave a light bulb (energy efficient) on in the living room if I'm gone overnight.

  17. Our apartment has individual chain locks on the bedroom doors. They may not keep us safe for a more serious confrontation, but it's enough to give us some extra seconds to arm ourselves.

    Gotta say this for whoever would dare to break in at our place: I'd think the person that got spray adhesive to the face would have it worse than someone with a knife wound. Not to mention the other chemicals traditional artists have at their disposal.

    Another advantage is that we live on the second floor, but I think our most important asset is having a decent relationship with the other three apartments. We all make sure to keep the front door locked- sometimes we do this too well- and we all keep an ear out for any trouble even if it's down the street.

    2 agree
  18. Automatic timers on lights – and change the "on" and "off" times periodically to keep people guessing.

    During the day, you can leave a radio tuned to a talk station and in the room furthest from the main entrance. An intruder may assume you're home and having a conversation.

    NEVER, EVER rent an apartment that doesn't have a peephole (or a window that will allow you to see who is on the front porch)! And don't feel obligated to open the door to anyone you don't recognize. An old friend of my mom's works for the LAPD and says apartment dwellers, especially women living alone, should call the property manager if a repair person shows up unexpectedly – some criminals gain entry by posing as a plumber, electrician, or even the police!

    If you can't get a top-floor apartment, try looking for one way in the back. My old apartment was in the very back of an older building, accessible by a walled-in staircase that most people did not even notice. The same day I applied for that apartment, I also looked at one situated above a detached garage behind another old building – again, with a non-obvious entrance. Pity it was too small for me, as virtually no one would have noticed I was even there. Alternately, apartments visible from the street may not attract unwanted visitors – it's too easy for someone to see them. I also had a ground-floor unit that opened onto a very busy street and no one ever bothered me there.

    I recommend reading Jack Maclean's "Secrets of a Superthief" if you can find a copy. Maclean was an extremely successful burglar, and while many of his tips aren't suitable for renters, he includes advice anyone can follow, such as putting up signs that may deter an intruder and suggestions on hiding places.

    Make sure your valuables are insured, keep an inventory with serial numbers on file in case of theft, and hide them in several unusual places. That means skip the sock drawer and hide cash inside a Thermos in the kitchen, grandma's watch inside a potted plant, etc.

    Mail theft can happen anywhere – and those locked apartment mailboxes are NOT theft-proof by a long shot. Your neighbors, especially in an iffy area, may break in looking for checks, credit card offers, or cards with cash in them. Parcels left on a doorstep are even more vulnerable. After a vicious battle with my local post office over a letter carrier who harassed and stole from me, I stopped accepting mail at home. I switched to online bill paying, and had parcels and Netflix envelopes sent to my work address instead. (Some burglars pose as delivery people, so if you don't have anything sent to your apartment and someone turns up at your door in a FedEx uniform, you'll know he/she is up to no good!)

    I also keep at least one item in each room that can double as a weapon in a pinch. Bathroom? Haircutting scissors. Kitchen? Knives and lots of heavy cast-iron cookware. Living room? Solid-body electric guitar. Bedroom? Croquet mallets (I don't have a garage).

    If you have a car parked on the street, NEVER leave valuables in it. I lived in a "good" neighborhood that was plagued by multiple car break-ins every week – the thieves were usually teens on drugs or desperate homeless people looking for CDs, iPods, etc. to hock.

    If you ever need to take personal safety to the next level – i.e. hiding from a stalker – read "How to Be Invisible" by J.J. Luna and "How to Disappear" by Frank M. Ahearn.

    6 agree
  19. We always used to keep a field hockey stick behind the door. It was there till I moved away from home (And i wouldn't be surprised it it's still there. My moms a creature of habit). its just nice to know that in case of something/someone bad coming in, there's a weapon of sorts right there.
    We also had those sticky alarms on all windows. And my mom went in to every window that was on the main floor and basement and put in an additional simple screw lock- basically locks the window into place with a screw and bolt. It's super simple, but when its done up, the window can't be opened from either side. I felt way safe with those on all our windows.
    We have a phone in every room, and our balcony also has a lock. We got a brand new apartment, and even though we're on the second floor, I told the manager we wouldn't be moving in until there was a lock put on that balcony door. He did it, and I feel so much better because of it.

  20. We have the kind of locks on our doors where you need a key to unlock the door from the inside of the house as well as the outside.

    Our house still got broken into (the thieves broke our bedroom window) but the fact that they couldn't open any doors even after getting inside the house limited what they could steal. We only lost objects small enough to through the window. I think having to climb in and out of the window slowed them down to the point that they had to leave before they were finished. Our Xbox was completely unplugged from the TV but left on the floor, so it looks like the thieves had to leave before they were done.

  21. –As I'm allergic, and don't love things that are more likely to attack the scary garbage disposal than someone breaking in, I can still utilize the neighbor's dog. (I checked with his mommies beforehand.) Keep a dog whistle by the door.

    –A note for anyone with "non-lethal" weapons (display swords, pepperspray, tazers, etc.)– those things are still very dangerous when in the wrong hands. If there is even the most remote possibility of your friend's kid, dog, or mom with dementia coming into your apartment, keep that stuff under lock.

    –Also, if you've never held a gun or knife to a person intending to use lethal force, you have NO idea how you'll react. I'm strong, bright, and remarkably cool-headed, but I still just started sobbing when I really should have been stabbing.

    –Robbers aren't zombies. A crack or two with a baseball bat (or, in my case, a hurley), and they'll be down for a while.

  22. Forgot something…

    If you have a motor vehicle and must leave it with a mechanic or valet, ONLY GIVE HIM THE IGNITION KEY, and do not list your home address on the work order. There have been several cases of mechanics copying house keys, going to the address on the work order or registration card, and robbing or assaulting the occupant.

    Obviously, it wouldn't hurt to register the vehicle under a work address or P.O. box either.

    By the way, I don't use my driver's license for ID (unless required to do so by law) for a similar reason. I have been thoroughly creeped out by a few store clerks and club bouncers, and my license displays my current address. I use my passport instead – no address listed, and potential stalkers may assume I'm just passing through town. Potential assailants will have a much harder time harming you if they can't find you in the first place.

    3 agree
  23. Didn't read through *all* of the comments, so I'm not sure if anyone has already touched on this, but a few words of warning for those considering dogs as fuzzy, loveable security devices.
    1) Not all apartments accept dogs, particularly large dogs, or charge incredible pet deposits. This has been a huge factor in keeping me to having only a cat – I expect to be moving around semi-regularly over the next few years, and don't want to have more trouble with it than I already will.
    2) Some places won't allow "dangerous" breeds – something about liability or insurance or both, I think. From what I recall while going over different leases, that includes German shepherds, pit bulls, rottweilers, and more.

    • Very true. I live in lawsuit-friendly Southern California, where you can pretty much forget about renting in a safe neighborhood if you have a dog – and if you have a big dog or "bully breed", forget it! When I managed apartments, the property owner couldn't get an insurance policy that would allow tenants to have dogs – not even small ones. The potential payouts from a dog-bite lawsuit are a big deterrent to insurers, and insurance is a must. Hence the anti-dog policies. I even had to turn down an applicant with a Chihuahua because the insurance company wouldn't budge.

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