High-speed internet, outdoor space, an in-unit washer and dryer, and cable TV. Those four amenities top most apartment hunters' must-have lists, according to ForRent.com.
We'd suggest adding one more: safety.
Renters are more likely than homeowners to suffer a home or car break-in thanks to greater anonymity and constant traffic around apartments. However, a building's security, maintenance, and location help predict its individual vulnerability to crime.
Before you sign a lease, SafeWise.com and our claim experts suggest you check out:
- Lighting and video surveillance. Pay close attention to entrances, walkways, hallways, parking lots, stairways, mailboxes, storage areas, and laundry areas – places where intruders might linger. Good lighting combined with 24-hour monitoring discourages would-be burglars or attackers.
- Onsite manager. Look for complexes that have managers who occupy a rental office during the day and perhaps even live onsite themselves. Not only does having an onsite manager improve security, but you'll have an easier time getting help for maintenance concerns in your unit or on the grounds.
- Building entrances. Does the entry door require a key, passcode, or resident buzz-in to access hallways leading to apartments? Also, are fire escapes high enough off the ground that they don't give would-be burglars an easy boost up to your windows or balcony?
- Lock changes. Make sure the landlord replaces door locks with brand new ones – not locks rotated from other vacated units (unless they are rekeyed.) You can't be sure how many extra keys might be floating around, and an intruder can gain access simply by trying a key in every lock until he finds the one it fits.
- Window locks and coverings. Check to see that windows can't be opened from the outside (but can be opened inside in case of an emergency) and that sliding doors have an inside bar lock or pole in the track. Test window blinds to see if they shut tight enough to keep people from peeking in.
- Storage lockers. Onsite lockers can be a thief magnet. Make sure they're secured with strong locks and ample lighting.
- Local crime statistics. What's life like in the neighborhood after dark? Talk to local police, area business owners, or your future landlord. Sometimes, websites like neighborhoodscout.com can show how crime rates compare among same-city neighborhoods (you may need to buy a one-month subscription to get the level of detail you want).
Protect what's yours
Once you've found the perfect new home, safeguard your belongings with renter insurance. About $140 a year covers $30,000 worth of belongings. The policy also covers you for personal liability lawsuits – important not just for the income you earn now, but what you could earn in the future.
If you already have a PEMCO Auto policy and add Renter, you'll get a discount on both policies. Often, the discount is big enough that it's like getting the Renter policy at half price. To get a quote and buy Renter insurance, go to "Get a quote" on pemco.com, contact your local PEMCO agent, or call 1-800-GO-PEMCO.