The house I am renting has an alarm system, how do I make it work?
July 11, 2014 8:04 AM   Subscribe

My SO and I are renting a house. Since moving in we have noticed that the house has an alarm system. However, the control panel does not turn on and none of the buttons do anything. We've spoken to our landlord (who lived in the house for 4+ years) and he said that he never used to alarm and doesn't know how it works. Nothing on the alarm system says which company managed the alarm (ADT, etc..). Who can I call to get to setup the alarm (but not install a new alarm system, since I am only renting)?
posted by Spurious to Home & Garden (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The system probably isn't powered. Search in your basement, crawlspace, or a closet for an unplugged power brick. Or if the alarm was hard-wired, check your breaker box for a circuit breaker that's turned off.

If you can get it powered on, the screen may show the manufacturer's name or logo at power-on.
posted by trivia genius at 8:09 AM on July 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Most alarm systems are pretty straight-forward and most alarm companies will work with what you have in place.

Call around to get the best deal, and they'll come out and make it work for you. If you can see a brand name on the device, you can ask them if they'll wire it up for you.

You want a month-to-month agreement, not a 36-month agreement and you need to be firm about it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:14 AM on July 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

Fake alarm boxes exist, so when potential burglars look through your front window and see the number pad, they go burgle somewhere else. Hopefully this is not what you have, but you should know that it's a possibility.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 8:21 AM on July 11, 2014

Any alarm company will be able to get you running and supply you with service. Your biggest issue will probably be that the existing system is hardwired into a landline and will need to have a cellular adapter installed.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:32 AM on July 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also, be prepared that in many parts of the country alarm companies insist on a multiyear contract, which might make this undertaking not worth your while. Frustrating, but you can only pick from available options. Even in that case, if you can power the thing, at least you can get the deterrent value...
posted by acm at 8:32 AM on July 11, 2014

Your biggest issue will probably be that the existing system is hardwired into a landline and will need to have a cellular adapter installed.

There may be options depending on the company and location. Mine basically said "You can get a land line installed and then the "alarm calls us" option is free or you can rent a pager from us which costs $5/month" (or something) So think ahead on that about which options may be useful for you and which may not.
posted by jessamyn at 8:36 AM on July 11, 2014

Check your local laws for alarm permit rules. Many cities require purchase of a yearly permit (which is most often not transferrable to a new address) for the alarm company to be able to notify the police in case of alarm.

But seconding the advice that alarm companies will try to work with what you have. Bigger outfits like ADT or your cable/internet provider will most likely try to upsell you on a system, so a local outfit might be a better bet for utilizing the existing hardware/wiring.
posted by Invisible Green Time-Lapse Peloton at 8:37 AM on July 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

On the very off chance that this is a old blue house on a corner in the Fremont area in Seattle...

We lived in such a house and attempted to install a system that would notify our cell phones. It did not work, and we could not figure it out. The manual was truly an amazing failure of translation.

If for some reason the people who bought our house have rented this house to you, that is why it does not work and has no company name on it. Um.
posted by AllieTessKipp at 9:31 AM on July 11, 2014

The vast majority of installed alarm systems do not have callers attached, and in those that do have them the the alarm should work even if they're unconnected. You can call any installer in the yellow pages to have a looksee and tell you what would be involved in firing the system up. Burglar alarms are not complicated.
posted by rhizome at 10:12 AM on July 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

You can probably get the thing working yourself if you can get it powered up. The thing with buttons is a keypad. The actual control panel is somewhere else, probably in a metal box mounted on a wall in a closet or in the basement, likely near an electrical outlet unless it is original to the house. That will almost certainly have the manufacturer's name and possibly even a model number on it or in it. You can identify the manufacturer from the keypad by comparing to pictures online (link a pic here and maybe someone can ID it) or inspect it more closely for a label on one of the edges, but most manufacturers make several different kinds of systems with wildly varying capabilities that use a common keypad. With the model number of the actual panel, you can search the Internets for the installation and programming manuals.

I found invaluable when trying to figure out how to adjust some settings on the DSC system we've got in our house.
posted by wierdo at 11:21 PM on July 11, 2014

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