Burglarproofing for renters?
November 16, 2010 9:27 AM   Subscribe

What are the most cost-effective ways to burglar-proof a rented apartment?

We live in a first-floor apartment on a quiet street. A couple weeks ago someone broke into our place while we were out. I'm not eager for it to happen again.

So we've been looking into ways to deter break-ins, as well as ways to increase the likelihood of tracking down our stuff if it gets stolen. I'm investigating renters' insurance. Having lights with timers seems to be a good strategy. We've braced all the windows with pieces of wood so they're near-impossible to open from the outside. We considered getting window-mounted alarms, but if we put them on every window the cost adds up quickly. Our landlord is going to install outside motion-detector lights in the near future, but hasn't yet.

Other than that, what are the easiest, cheapest, and most effective things we can do to beef up security and make our place unattractive to burglars? We're not broke, but cost is a factor. And since we're renting and will likely move in the next year or two, we can't do anything permanent.

Answers that may sound super-obvious are fine with me, in case I haven't thought of them yet. Thanks!
posted by Metroid Baby to Home & Garden (24 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
As a very long time renter, the best money I spend every month is my renter's insurance.
posted by Zophi at 9:31 AM on November 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

this may be a bit too pricey, but I have been researching IP cameras recently, and a lot of them come with a remote viewing or monitoring service that can email you when it detects motion. If you get really fancy you can even watch your cameras from your phone.

Renters insurance isn't very expensive (mine was about $20 a month)

The only other thing i can think of is getting a dog.
posted by alextprice at 9:32 AM on November 16, 2010

Don't leave valuables in view.

Deadbolt on all doors.

Don't leave the doors unlocked when you leave. (Probably super-SUPER-obvious, but you'd be surprised.)

Consider a safe-deposit box for valuables and important papers that you don't need regular access to.

Use a video camera to go through your place, inventorying all important items. (Also useful for getting your security deposit back later on.)

Put the TV on a timer also.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 9:37 AM on November 16, 2010

Does your bathroom have a window? Leave a light on in the bathroom. It's the only room in the house in which someone could conceivably be awake at any hour for any length of time.

Career criminals see a bathroom light and will just move on. Crackheads won't care.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:50 AM on November 16, 2010

Get to know your neighbors!

Make sure there aren't a lot of bushes or trees obscuring convenient break-in points.

I've heard that if you leave out "decoy" items in weak hiding places, the quick-in-quick-out sort of thief might think that's all there is. I "hide" an amount of cash I could stand to part with in a bureau drawer, and leave out an old laptop that looks intact, but has been vampired of parts.

Sometimes I also leave a radio on.

Also, thirding renter's insurance, for theft, fire, flood, etc. That certainly paid for itself many times over.
posted by bunji at 9:54 AM on November 16, 2010

I know about this because we have a junkie neighbor who (allegedly!) knows how to use a bump key and sneak valuables out of the neighbors homes...

For inexpensive + effective + easy to install, try this. And maybe these.
posted by jbenben at 9:56 AM on November 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Get insurance. It is cheep - usually like $10-$20 a month.

Leave lights on when you go out for extended periods.

Get to know your neighbors, as they will let you know if they see anything suspicious going on, and can help with identification if you are robbed.

Get a dog. It doesn't need to be big, but it should bark when strangers enter. No robber wants to bother robbing an apartment if he thinks it might wake the entire building.
posted by I_am_jesus at 10:07 AM on November 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you have a sliding glass door leading to patio or porch, put a strong wooden dowel rod in the door's track (make sure the rod is about equal length as the door track). The dowel rod will prevent the door from being opened from the outside (if someone tries to slide the door open, the dowel rod will jam up against the edge of the door frame). I did this after management refused to fix a crappy lock on my sliding door after an inadvertent break-in.
posted by mesha steele at 10:14 AM on November 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Gah, I just saw you mentioned doing that in the question, sorry.
posted by mesha steele at 10:15 AM on November 16, 2010

While were on the subject of sliding glass door or windows -it's good to put a couple of short screws into the top frame that will keep thieves from just lifting the door up, out of it's bottom track.
posted by bonobothegreat at 10:20 AM on November 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

...I would also suggest glueing fake security company stickers in the windows.
posted by bonobothegreat at 10:22 AM on November 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

A door jam like this could slow down someone trying to kick in a door or pick/bump the lock. Obviously you can't set it when you leave but it could be helpful if you have a back door or just use it when you are home.
posted by ChrisHartley at 10:27 AM on November 16, 2010

Some things that come to mind include:

- Renters Insurance.
- Install a double-cylinder deadbolt in any exterior doors with windows. This deadbolt requires a key on both sides (interior & exterior) so if a thief is able to smash the window, they won't be able to reach in and open the door from the inside. (Be aware that this may conflict with fire code.)
- Window pins (if you have double-hungs) are very effective.
- Consider installing curtains/blinds that aren't see-through.
- Obtaining & hanging a "beware of dog" sign.
- Getting a dog, if you can. Large breeds tend to have intimidating barks - bullmastiffs are usually great low-energy apartment dogs (so long as you give them a nice daily walk or two) with a very scary bark. If I'm a burglar and I look in a window and see that head looking back, I'm definitely walking past. Be forewarned, they do slobber.
- If you have a mail slot, board it up.
- Do you have the ability to plant thorny, uncomfortable shrubs beneath your windows? If so, do it. The more painful to navigate, the better.

Part of me wants to set up some kind of a Rube-Goldberg deterrent before you leave the home every day, but I'm drawing a blank at the moment.
posted by muirne81 at 10:43 AM on November 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

p.s. Bullmastiffs look & sound intimidating, but make great family pets. Every dog is different, but on the whole I'd describe the breed as big lovable walruses.
posted by muirne81 at 10:45 AM on November 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Renter's insurance, knowing your neighbors, and a dog (or maybe recordings of a dog barking hooked up to a motion activated devices by doors and windows).
posted by WeekendJen at 10:54 AM on November 16, 2010

I have a motion detector alarm like this in my storage shed. It's ridiculously loud. The only problem is that the batteries need to be changed 2-3 times per year, and I don't always remember.
posted by coolguymichael at 11:12 AM on November 16, 2010

Something I once heard suggested for an elderly single lady living on her own: if you're looking for cheap, go to the thrift store and buy the biggest, dirtiest work boots you can find. Stick them on your patio (if you have one) or anywhere visible near a sliding door. Sounds silly, but coupled with a light timer or the radio on and it's worth making someone think twice about someone (big and scary) being inside.

As for your stuff, do you have an engraver? If you've a local police station nearby, they might have one you could borrow. Engrave your nice stuff with something unique - a string of random numbers, for example - in a covered area not particularly visible. Photograph the item at different angles and keep the photos somewhere safe. If your stuff does get stolen and it does end up for sale somewhere online, the engraving/photo combination's going to help you get your stuff back.

Nthing a loud, loud motion alarm or loud window alarms. Dealextreme.com sells really cheap alarms for a few USD if you're looking to save on cost, though you might have to use some duct tape to get them up where you want them.
posted by zennish at 11:26 AM on November 16, 2010

I am not sure that insurance, engravers, security systems or cameras really do that much. People can still get in and steal your stuff. Insurance and engraving is unlikely to get it back. Depending on where you are, even if the alarm starts going off a minute or so after someone breaks in, the burglar may still have a few minutes to grab a few things. Where I am, the police aren't going to act too strongly based on a few pictures of burglars, even if they are good, and they usually aren't good enough to do much good.

You want to prevent someone from getting in. Assess your weak points. Windows are obvious - but doors are often weak. Good locks are important, but even the good ones are pretty easy to pick by someone knowledgeable. However, most burglars don't pick locks - they use brute force. A good steel door, without windows, and a good, strong door frame, and an anti-pry plate will go a long way.

Of course, it may be hard to do some of this in a rental, but it may be worth it to you to pay your landlord or pay the damages. Getting burglarized is terrible - I have known friends and neighbors it has happened to, and there is not way to get heirlooms or piece of mind back.
posted by iknowizbirfmark at 11:45 AM on November 16, 2010

Its not very charitable, but look at your street as a whole. Is there something that you can do to make your place less attractive to break into than a neighbours?
posted by jjderooy at 1:39 PM on November 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

You might find something useful in this amusing Lunchbreath flickr stream.
posted by bonobothegreat at 2:03 PM on November 16, 2010

What time of day did it happen? If you can, change your coming and going patterns. If it happened during a work day, can you work from home a full or half day sometimes? This assumes that having someone it the apartment would deter a would be thief.

If your landlord is dragging ass in getting the motion-detector lights installed, look at moving to an upper floor in a new place.
posted by tenaciousd at 7:10 PM on November 16, 2010

this gadget seems more creative/effective than a regular old light timer, or used in addition to:
posted by dahliachewswell at 8:50 PM on November 16, 2010

The only drawback to keeping valuables in a safety deposit box is that there are certain items that you would want to have easy access to on a daily basis without having to go to your bank to get them out of your safety deposit box. If you go to a large office supply store, you can find a variety of small and affordable strongboxes that are designed for offices, but which can also be used at home. I like the kind that can be bolted (from the inside) to the floor, the wall, or to some heavy piece of furniture, because if that precaution is not taken, a thief may well want to just take the whole strongbox, even though it will still be very difficult for him to open it. As a renter, you probably won't want to attach the strongbox to the room itself, but if you have a heavy table of some kind, that would do. This is a precaution that I personally do use, so I am sincere in my recommendation.
posted by grizzled at 7:11 AM on November 17, 2010

Where I live, it's well known one of the best things you can do is have a car parked in your driveway at all times. Not that you'd ever get a car just for this purpose, but it does deter people trying to break in. A bunch of my friends live in a sketchy but hip area and have taken to keeping a junker around just to make it look like someone is home at all times. Occasionally there'd be signs of someone trying to break into our place in the past (the worst was once when someone did get in, bizarrely ignored all the very expensive music equipment including portable stuff like pedals my now-husband has, and only attempted to take a roommate's gigantic jug of loose change and a cheap boombox...they abandoned everything though when they realized the doors were locked so that you needed a key so they'd have to go out the window at a height); now that I work from home and a car is always parked we haven't had problems. (BTW, that one earlier would-be burglar came in despite the fact my roommate's very intimidating barky dog was home...I think people overemphasize the dog thing. I don't think that "deters burglars" alone is a very good reason to commit to being responsible for a dog's life for the next 10+ years, but that's just me.)

Nthing renter's insurance.
posted by ifjuly at 10:27 AM on November 17, 2010

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