You might not have to hide your wife, but lock your doors.
Apartment security ranked second to affordability as the most important factor when choosing an apartment rental in a 2014 apartments.com nationwide survey And 57 percent of renters said safety and low-crime area were a significant factor in their apartment choice.
So what’s the good news as a potential apartment renter? More burglaries happen at single-family homes than at apartments in Las Vegas, according to Kathy Cassell, a crime prevention specialist with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department.
There were 14,150 burglaries and 7,172 car thefts in the Las Vegas metro area in 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Nationally, about half of burglaries involved forcible entry.
“Apartments have fewer points of entry than single-family residential homes,” she said. “Specifically, apartment dwellers should make sure their entry door, patio doors and windows are secured. Common ways to gain entry into any dwelling is to enter through an unlocked access point, to kick open a door or to break a window. So, upstairs or downstairs, secure your entry points when home and when away.”
The key is research. Use the crime mapping tool at crimemapping.com to research criminal activities in the neighborhood and request to speak to a crime prevention specialist with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department to ask specific questions about the complex you’re considering.
Lights, cameras, no action
A well-light complex is key to keeping crime at bay. Checking the lighting, not just at the entrance to the potential apartment and the parking area, but also all common areas including trails and pathways, the mailbox area, laundry facilities, clubhouse and any shared space. Making sure there aren’t any dark areas for criminals to lie in wait is key to safety.
But also, be sure to visit the complex at different times of the day and different days of the week. The safety at 10 a.m. on a Tuesday might varies greatly from the safety of 11 p.m. Friday.
Also, make sure the address to the complex and the individual apartment are well-light as this is how emergency responders find the location.
Some complexes offer security cameras throughout the area or roving security patrols. Some complexes provide a security officer who will escort residents to cars and respond to calls at the complex. See if there is someone on call 24-hours a day.
If you like it, put a lock on it
Of course, the lock on the entry door is most important, but don’t stop there. Make sure the locks will be changed after the previous tenant moves out, that the lock is a deadbolt and consider a safety chain, which allows the renter to open the door slightly to address someone at the entry without allowing full access to the apartment.
“Ask about included security features, such as secondary locks for doors and windows, and a well-placed, clear peephole,” Cassell advised. “Find out if the front door lock has been reinforced with 3-inch screws in the strike plate.”
Don’t forget to check window locks, especially on the ground floor, and make sure that sliding-glass doors have a reinforced bar lock, as those doors tend to be easier to open.
And, once you move in, make sure to use those locks.
The general maintenance of the complex can give great insight into the potential problems. If it looks like the landscaping needs work and there is a broken window on an apartment, then management probably doesn’t care much about the appearances or the well-being of the residents.
“If an apartment community is managed well, it is normally maintained well, and residents will find a better environment from the start,” Cassell said. “So, a potential renter should pay attention to the screening process and be appreciative of having to provide information that can be verified. Ask questions about apartment criminal activity and how they handle disturbances, problem renters or visitors. The application process means they are checking you out but at the same time, you would be wise to be checking them out, too.”
Cassell said a sign of a good management company is a well-kept complex from front to back. She said to not to stop at the front and admire the curb appeal, go to the back and look for graffiti, damaged walls and even check the dumpster area for cleanliness.
Be a squeaky wheel
Noise is key to safety. Don’t be shy. Get to know your neighbors and don’t rely on gates in the community to keep unwanted guests away.
“Gates can give the impression of access control but are not as effective in reducing or preventing crime as many people think, Cassell said. “Don’t consider a gate a guarantee that the community is safer … but they do limit some vehicle traffic.”
Meanwhile, a security alarm can provide a safety net. Several apartment complexes offer security alarms in the unit and security companies now offer renter-friendly wireless alarms that can easily be transported to a new home.
“With an alarm, you are wanting the audible noise that tells an intruder they have been detected,” Cassell said. “Some renters feel good knowing that besides the locking devices in place, they have an alarm that provides another layer of protection.”
And sometimes, it all boils down to a feeling.
“Pay attention to your gut instincts, the application process, and don’t rent in a hurry,” Cassell said. “If you have time to check out and compare different locations you might be surprised what you find out. If you move in, make an effort to get to know people around you … no matter where you live, it is important and wise to know your neighbor.”