There are many important amenities to consider when on an apartment tour. Is the water pressure strong? Are the closets big enough? Is there a nice view? But don't overlook the factors that indicate how safe and secure the unit and building or complex are. An apartment safety checklist can help with that.
Loss and injury can happen anywhere. The burglary rate for renters is nearly twice as high as it is for homeowners. Nearly a third of all residential structure fires occur in multifamily rental units.
“Renters should have the same access to safe, secure, and hazard-free conditions as homeowners. Renters deserve to be just as safe as homeowners," correctly states Rebecca Edwards of Safewise. So, what should you look for while apartment hunting to minimize these risks?
From staying safe from crime to staying safe from injury, there are several security and wellbeing issues you should pay attention to when on an apartment tour. Here's an apartment safety checklist to guide you.
What is the neighborhood's crime history? While the Fair Housing Act keeps your landlord from discussing crime rates with you, local police can give you some details about crime in the neighborhood or complex/building. Also, feel free to talk to some of your potential neighbors about their experiences.
Is the neighborhood secluded or busy? Take a ride or walk through the neighborhood during both day and night to assess how busy the neighborhood is. A neighborhood with people always around can be a deterrent for crime, but conversely, you might be more able to identify people hanging around that don't belong there in a secluded area.
Do exterior gates and fences keep people out? A big gate or a barrier that requires a code may make a complex or building look safe. But watch a while. You might see that the gate never locks behind people, residents arbitrarily hold the door open for people behind them or cars can avoid entering a code by just following another car inside.
Are sidewalks and steps in good condition? Look down as you walk. Do you see a lot of broken concrete or missing pavement tiles on sidewalks or steps? Not only is that a tripping hazard, but it also indicates the complex may not be proactive in fixing security and safety issues.
Are seasonal hazards addressed? If you're hunting in the winter, see if sidewalks and egresses are cleared of snow and ice. If not, you might find yourself with a slip-and-fall injury. In the summer, notice if you find unmowed grass that can attract insects, snakes and other animal dangers.
Is there sufficient exterior lighting? Safety lighting around the block, complex and inside your building is critical. Is the parking lot well lit, even in the corners? Is there lighting around the mailbox, whether it be indoors or out? What about hallways, laundry rooms, storage areas and staircases? If you feel it's too dark, it probably is.
Is the parking lot safe? Where will you be parking your car? If it's in a lot, check the lighting mentioned above, both in the lot and at the door where you'll enter. Are there a number of hazards like landscaping vehicles or unkempt dumpsters? If you must park in the street, is it safe to enter and exit your car? Do you need to walk in an isolated area to get to the front door?
Are there security cameras? Ask the landlord where security cameras are outside. If there aren't any or they don't cover important access areas, ask why the heck not.
Complex and building security
Is the common entranceway secure? Find out who has access to your building. Check to see if doors to the street need a key or code. If there's a lobby, can anyone enter or are they stopped at the door? Same with a garage.
Is there security personnel on-site? See if there's full-time, on-site, professional security. What hours do they work and what are their defined duties? You can even chat him or her up about the building's safety. If there's a vehicle gate, is there a guard restricting access?
Does staff have access to your apartment? Ask about policies on staff access to your unit. Make sure your landlord knows anyone entering your apartment must give 24 hours' notice. Find out if maintenance or landscape personnel are vetted and issued security badges, and where they are permitted to go.
Is your apartment safe while you're away? Talk to the landlord to find out if they'll offer to keep an eye on your place if you go on vacation. See if they can check on your apartment or collect your mail if needed.
Is it a first-floor apartment? First-floor apartments are much easier to break into than higher stories. If you have the option, a second floor or higher is often recommended. If you must be on the first level, are there barriers such as bushes, gates and even bars to deter thieves? Community security cameras are helpful, but be aware of them when you walk by your front window.
Is the front door secure? The front door, whether it exits to a hallway or directly outside, should be thick and strong. It should close fully and securely, and lack space in the doorjamb which would allow someone to pry it open. And make sure there is a usable peephole with a fisheye lens.
Are the door locks sufficient? There should be more than one lock including a knob or primary lock and a deadbolt, as well as a chain. Try out each lock and doorknob and ensure they're secure and tight. The landlord should offer to change the locks upon moving in, which should be new (not recycled). And when you receive your key, never ever put your apartment number on it or the ring.
Are the windows protected? Ensure all windows close fully and properly. If the windows do not have locks, ask the landlord to install them. And your windows should never be able to open from the exterior.
Do you have window treatments? Drapes, shades and blinds aren't just attractive, they're a key to privacy and security. If existing treatments don't keep people outside from looking in, have the landlord replace them.
Is there fire suppression equipment? If the apartment doesn't come with a fire extinguisher, ask your landlord to include one. There should be one per floor and can be kept in the kitchen or laundry area (and make sure you know how to use it!). Check to see if hallway and common area fire extinguishers are where they're supposed to be and up-to-date with inspection.
Are there enough smoke detectors? Determine if smoke detectors are installed in the proper places. This includes one in each bedroom (away from ceiling fans), outside the sleeping area and in the living area, at a minimum. Also, check the stability of the fire escape (and if there even is one!). There should be a carbon monoxide detector in each sleeping area, and a radon detector if your region recommends it.
Are all appliances maintained properly? When assessing the kitchen, inspect every appliance: stovetops, oven, refrigerator, microwave and even water taps and exhaust fans. Everything should be in proper working order, not making funny noises or emitting funny smells and wires should not be frayed. If gas is used for heating or cooking, ensure you can't smell gas. Check all outlets for burn marks.
Do you see signs of mold or infestations? Ask the landlord when the last time a mold check was done. Apartments should be checked for mold every 5 to 10 years. If that's overdue, have a check done before you sign your lease (and if it comes back positive, have it cleaned and removed). Look around for signs of insects or rodents like droppings and teeth-marks, as pests can be a health hazard.
Use this apartment safety checklist on your next apartment tour
Safety always comes first. Ask the questions from this apartment safety checklist the next time you're looking for a new place to live. It's better to find out these potential issues before you move in.
Michael is a Philadelphia-based writer with a variety of interests, including music, TV, politics, travel and sports (Fly Eagles Fly!). His background includes a decade as a programming executive in network television, six years as a marketing executive at a technology company and time at two magazines and two advertising agencies. He also sits on the board of a non-profit law firm that assists veterans with disabilities. His work has been featured in nexxt.com, Ale Street News and Radio TV Interview Report Magazine. Michael is a proud Syracuse grad (Newhouse) who has lived in Kansas, Chicago, Saratoga and beyond.