When looking for a new place to live, you consider many factors (i.e. price, proximity to campus, and laundry facilities). Safety should also be a major factor you think about before renting an apartment/house.
Ask yourself: Does this home and surrounding neighborhood feel safe? It is important to trust your instincts about the general safety of a property, but there are also specific things you can look for to determine how safe a place is from crime and fire.
Before You Sign a Lease…
- Insist the landlord show you the actual apartment/house you will rent, not just a model unit! Then, complete this checklist for the specific unit.
- Get it in writing: if the landlord makes verbal promises regarding things, such as no rent increases, free utilities, and discounted amenities, demand s/he put them in writing.
- Make sure all blanks on the lease are filled in correctly before you sign it, and keep a signed copy of the lease for your records. Also, before you move in fill-out a “Move-In Inventory Form” and take photographs of any damages you record on the form. (This will help you avoid paying unnecessary property damage fees when you move out, so hold-on to the photographs and forms for your records.)
- Remember: when you sign a lease, you’re signing a binding contract. You are responsible for paying the rent until the end of the lease term, and no excuses (i.e., family emergencies, a roommate moving out, or changes in your study plans) release you from this responsibility.
- Is the property in a safe neighborhood?
- To research crime rates of different Austin neighborhoods, go to the Austin Police Department’s Crime Prevention website to look up crime safety facts by zip code, or even apartment complex.
- Are address numbers clearly visible?
- This helps police, fire fighters, and EMS locate your residence in an emergency.
- Are public areas well lit?
- Whether you are standing in the parking lot or outside your front door, adequate lighting allows you to distinguish the facial expressions of someone standing 10 feet away at any time of day.
- Are parking spaces marked with apartment numbers?
- Unmarked parking spaces are best, because the presence/absence of a car is a clear indicator of whether someone is home… A vacant parking space labeled with its corresponding apartment number could lead to potential burglary of an empty home!
- Are shrubs and trees around the property well maintained?
- Overgrown plant life provides a hiding place for potential intruders, so be particularly wary of shaggy shrubs in neighborhoods with high crime rates!
- What is the timeframe for completion of repair work?
- Talk to current residents about their experiences requesting repairs… Remember: many repair issues involve your personal safety, so it is important to live in a residence where management responds to maintenance requests in a timely manner.
- When was the last Fire Marshal Inspection?
- Ask to see a copy of the last inspection, and check what things the property is and is not in compliance with. If the inspection is several years old, do a mini-fire inspection yourself. Hint: Look out for fire hazards, such as dumpsters within 10 feet of the residence, and barbeque grills stored on balconies. Also, check inspection tags on fire extinguishers and sprinkler systems — these tags should show proof of inspections within the last year.
- Does the apartment/house have a working smoke detector?
- For fire safety, your home must have at least one smoke detector and two emergency escape routes! (There should also be a fire extinguisher either inside the apartment/house, or outside within plain view of the front door.)
- Do doors and windows have sturdy locks?
- The front door should have a solid metal or wood core, and a deadbolt. (Good deadbolts have at least a 1" throw; this means, when you lock it the bolt should stick out at least 1" into its receptacle.) In addition, all windows and sliding doors should have secondary locks, such as Charlie Bars or Rail Locks, and there should be set screws installed in the rails of sliding glass doors to prevent removal of the door from its frame.
- Does the front door have a secondary lock that is only accessible from inside the apartment/house?
- This kind of lock helps prevent unauthorized entries by someone with a key while you are at home. If there are no secondary locks like this, ask the landlord whether you can have one installed.
- Does the front door have a peephole/door viewer?
- If yes, make sure that it is operational, and familiarize yourself with visibility and blind spots. If no, ask the landlord to install one, or find out whether you can install one yourself. At the very least, you should be able to view visitors through a window!
- Are locks on the doors changed/re-keyed with each new resident?
- Ask to see documentation of the last time the locks were changed. If they are not changed with each new resident, ask whether there will be a charge to re-key the doors in the future. Also, find out if you can have the locks changed by an independent locksmith.
- Who has access to your apartment/house key other than you?
- Landlords, apartment managers, and maintenance staff often have a spare key to your residence, but it is important that you make sure they securely store this key. In addition, find out the procedures these people follow when entering your home — are they required to give you 24 hours notice before entering, and leave a note once they have been inside? Are these procedures outlined in your lease?
- Does the apartment complex have video surveillance cameras in common areas?
- Are these cameras monitored by a security guard at all times, or is the footage simply recorded and viewed at a later date?
- Does the apartment/house have its own security alarm system?
- If the residence has an alarm system, find out whether the alarm reports to the main office, an alarm monitoring company, or the police department. If there is no alarm, ask whether your lease would allow you to have a security alarm system installed.