Apartment Security: How can I make my particular set of door and windows more secure, on a budget?
March 22, 2007 3:25 PM   Subscribe

Apartment Security: How can I make my particular set of door and windows more secure, on a budget? Details inside re. my existing setup.

The front door of my NYC rental apartment is painted metal and seems to be hollow. Its hinges are attached straight into the plaster wall (no door frame). It has a peephole and one lock: a deadbolt with a latch on the inside and a standard (non-Medeco) keyhole on the outside. This deadbolt was not installed by me; my super claims only I have the key but I should assume otherwise for safety/logic's sake.

Anyone can get into the building, since everyone here lets strangers through the lobby door behind them (I can't change this; it's totally pervasive behavior in a 100+ person building).

My apt's other access points are three metal-frame, double-pane windows -- two regular size and a small one in the bathroom. All three windows share one long fire escape with other apts. All three face a well-lit, busy street; are several floors above street level; and are 5 feet or less from my head when I sleep. The two regular windows have standard latches but nothing else; the bathroom window has the same latch plus horizontal child-safety bars (usually meant to keep kids from falling out the window, but these are rusted enough that they'd take intense effort to unscrew from the window frame). Also, I probably will want to install an air conditioner in one of the windows.

1) When I'm inside the apt, I can latch or block the door such that no key can open it from the outside;
2) The door has an external lock (ideally a Medeco or other non-bumpable kind) to which no one but me could have a key;
3) The windows have something more than latches but less than metal grates/bars.

Should I do these things and/or other things? How should I do them?

If possible, please include your guesses about what the things you recommend might cost -- and whether I could buy & install them without hiring a pro (my friends have good tools including drills and a Dremel with a huge range of bits). Thanks!
posted by sparrows to Home & Garden (12 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: (I realized there are some U.S. centric parts of my description, sorry. So I should note:
- my windows open by sliding up, not by swinging on hinges;
- a Medeco is a special [expensive] kind of lock that can't be easily "bumped" or picked; and
- by "standard" latch I mean a latch that slides closed and prevents the window from easily opening [although latched windows sometimes can get pried open from the outside with a flat blade].)
posted by sparrows at 3:43 PM on March 22, 2007

Best answer: Security is much more complex than simply installing a good lock. Given sufficient time, motivation and resources (experience, money, manpower, etc) any single lock can be foiled. Identify ways you can reduce what is available to a potential intruder and put them all together for a more complete security strategy.

For example, putting drapes in your window will prevent people from seeing your new flatscreen tv (as will keeping a low profile when you move in said tv). An intruder would be less motivated to break into a place in when he/she is not even sure there is anything worth taking. Combine this with some sort of brace or wooden dowel to block the upward movement of your window and even if an intruder does work up sufficient motivation to attack your window he/she will need to spend time they might not have to defeat your window brace; every second that ticks increases the risk of being detected and may help to decrease the intruder's motivation.

posted by BigBwana at 4:58 PM on March 22, 2007

Windows several floors above street level wouldn't be concern, except that the fire escape essentially makes them both accessible to anyone with interest, and makes securing them effectively a violation of the fire code. Any kind of barrier you put on the windows which would be a substantial physical impediment to entry, would also impede your exit in a fire situation. You could do something as simple as drilling and pinning the windows to the frames with dowel pins attached by safety chains, but putting up interior burglar bars probably wouldn't be tolerated by your landlord on floors above street level. Your best bet is probably an alarm system, perhaps backed with a video system to record evidence during any breakin. And, of course, insurance with appropriate deductible on the contents of your apartment.

As for the door, a blind deadbolt on the inside (a deadbolt with a latch operator only on the inside, thus "blind" from the outside) would be reasonable, and is fairly easy to install. A simple barrel bolt on the inside serves the same purpose, is a little easier to install, but not as lovely.
posted by paulsc at 5:43 PM on March 22, 2007

Read your lease carefully before doing absolutely anything!

Ok, somewhere in there should be a paragraph about security, although it may be labeled something like "resident safety". No apartment manager in her right mind uses the S word because it implies she is responsible for your safety and security.

What does it say about the kind of modifications you are allowed to make? About the kind of access they must have (if the maintenance guy sees water streaming out under your door, he is going in permission or no!)? I bet it also says something about how you can request reasonable additional security measures (such as your expensive locks) and they will gladly install them (if they have to buy materials, they will bill you and that's only fair). While you are at it, ask the manager how keys are secured in her office. Are they in a locked key cabinet? Is there a master key system? How many people have access to keys? The sad truth is that I have seen cases where the manager's office is the weak link in security.

Blind deadbolts are a good idea, and in Texas they have been required in apartments for over a decade. Charlie-bars or a simple hunk of dowel from Home Depot are a great way to secure windows, and are easily removed in case of emergency.

I personally worked in the apartment industry most of a decade. Do you know how many breakins we had? 2. And one of them, I personally suspect the resident staged it for an insurance settlement. Unless there is something I don't know about your neighborhood, reasonable vigilance and personal security measures are probably sufficient.
posted by ilsa at 6:24 PM on March 22, 2007

Are their any issues with the landlord about modifications??

If so .. you may be interested in using technology to help secure things. I don't normally promote the products of the home automation company i work for... But seeing as though these fit perfectly into your situation .. I will suggest them anyway.

1) Do you have a telephone line? Check out Skylink wireless DIY security systems. There are 3 kits available, ranging from affordable to super secure. or mix and match to just get the parts you need (probably cheaper)
Two of the best features, i think: first.. there is this dialer. the dialer will call any phone number (or a bunch of them) when the alarm goes off, any play a preset message, letting you (or your trusted neighbors or family) know of bad things going on when you arent home. Second great feature.. everything is 100% wireless and portable. Just stick to all to the wall, and you're done. You can take the whole system with you when you move, and your landlord can't say squat about drilling or damage. It works just like the expensive security systems, but no monthly fees and super-easy to expand in the future should you want more security.

2) Do you have a broadband internet connection?
Then check out the Homesight security system. It's a security / home monitoring/ home automation system, less expensive than skylink .. and will give you real-time video feeds from any computer in the world, or your cellphone (or still images over media text messages, or plain text messages describing whats going on at home) . You can schedule lights to turn on/off to look like youre still home, and even put a camera in the hallway to spy on suspicious neighbors ;)

With either of these two systems, you can protect yourself against intruders while either at home or [far] away, and neither of them require a monthly fee of any sort (the homesight free one-year you can use over and over again without a credit card .. lol. Dont tell anyone i told you!!) If youre interested in either of these, use promotion code 10PERCENTLESS (i just made that code for you) and you'll get 10% off everything.

p.s. I would highly suggest you change your door lock (if its okay with your landlord). Bumpable lucks give me the heebyjeebies after seeing a 9 year old bump lucks on a youtube video!!

Hope I've helped!!
posted by Ryaske at 6:26 PM on March 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: "drilling and pinning the windows to the frames with dowel pins attached by safety chains"

I'm not sure what dowel pins are, but when I had vertical sliding wood frame windows, I drilled through in a spot on each side (carefully -- you don't wanna crack the glass!) and slid a large nail in there. Comes out fast if you need to open the thing. You can possibly even do it to hold the window open a couple inches so you can sleep with some fresh air.
posted by Listener at 8:06 PM on March 22, 2007

I'm not sure what dowel pins are, but when I had vertical sliding wood frame windows, I drilled through in a spot on each side (carefully -- you don't wanna crack the glass!) and slid a large nail in there

My last place had sliding windows and nails just like this. I can tell you from experience (when I locked myself out) that it works rather well. You can generally make it pretty discreet too, so it can't be seen from the outside. Security measures a burgler can't see are that much harder for a burgler to disarm. As an additional benefit having the nail pushed in properly stopped the window banging around in the wind.
posted by shelleycat at 9:47 PM on March 22, 2007

Are you worried about being attacked, or are you worried about getting your stuff stolen? Answer this first before deciding what the appropriate action is.

If you're worried about intruders harming you, the key is stopping them from getting in for long enough to call the cops/arm yourself/whatever. For the entrance that means a solid wood door with a peephole, interior hinges (if possible), and an interior deadbolt (a "blind" deadbolt as mentioned above). If you want to get crazy, you can get a security bar for the door as well (attaches to the floor and locks into a slot in the door--think of a 3' metal bar leaning into the door).

For the windows, this means beefier window locks and window rods (the "dowels" people are talking about). These are long wooden sticks that you place on top of the lower pane that wedge in and prevent someone from sliding the window open. Nails in the side would be a definite fire hazard.

Finally, to prevent windows from being shattered, get security film over the glass (like 3M Scotchshield). The windows will look completely normal from the outside, but can withstand an attack with a crowbar.

If, on the other hand, you're just worried about getting your stuff stolen, by far the cheapest and easiest solution (and the one that will least-likely invalidate your lease) is to get rental insurance. You can get insurance from Geico for a couple hundred dollars a year to cover something like $50,000 (seat-of-the-pants estimate) of stuff. It's a no-brainer.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:35 PM on March 22, 2007 [2 favorites]

Personally I'd start with the low-tech solutions and work up from there. A few pieces of wood can keep the windows from sliding up, and will also (cut to a different length, obviously) serve to "lock" the window from being slid further open when you have an air conditioner in the window. (Not sure about pushing the A/C in or pulling it out, though.) But that's where I'd start. Just block the windows -- no drilling required.

After that, I'd talk to the landlord about somehow reinforcing the door. If it's really just screwed into the plaster, if anyone ever gets even mildly annoyed at you, they can probably just kick it and rip the screws out. It would be nice to get that fixed. If not, a blind deadbolt might be the only option (but it's really just a speed bump).

Other things you might think of are just entry alarms / notifiers. They sell a kit at Radioshack that comes with a bunch of wireless window sensors, a few door sensors, and a motion detector, which (depending on how you set it) can cause a 'ding' or an alarm to let you know something has been opened. May also have an autodialer if you have a landline. It's not really a deterrent, just buying you a few extra seconds to get to your nearest exit/cellphone/kitchen knife/mace/baseball bat/firearm.

Personally I would look at all your security measures from the standpoint of protecting you, when you're in the apartment. Get insurance for your stuff; unless the landlord is willing to do some heavy renovations, you're not going to deter many thieves if they really want to get your stuff when you're not around.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:53 AM on March 23, 2007

Oh yeah, unless you can replace everything you own for $500, get renter's insurance! The nice fellow who sold you your auto insurance will probably be happy to help you with that, and he may even give you a discount for having multiple policies with the same company.
posted by ilsa at 8:38 AM on March 23, 2007

I'll be watching this with interest as I was thinking of posting a similar question about my windows in my Brooklyn rental apartment. Here's my 2 cents--

ALWAYS replace your lock as soon as you move into a new apartment. You should never assume you have the only key. In my current apartment, someone unlocked the door and left it open (while we were painting, before we moved in)--despite the fact that both the super and previous tenant said no one else had keys. Clearly that was not the case. Replacing a lock is pretty simple--just figure out the size of your lock and head to the nearest hardware store. They can be a little bit finicky to install, but it shouldn't take more than an hour. You want to replace the tumbler at minimum (I think that is what it is called--the part you put the key in in the doorknob). Get the highest security lock you can, the money is worth it.

My super recommended the window alarms so we can leave our windows open in the summer while we're home (we live on the second floor, in a place accessible by a fire escape in the back of the building). He also suggested the 2x4 in the frame as suggested above.

Renter's insurance is so worth it. I have something like $20,000 worth of coverage (whatever the minimum is) for $15/month, through Liberty Mutual. It also covers fires, accidental damage, loss when traveling, etc. They offer 10-15% discounts to alums of many city universities, so it's worth asking if you went to college here in NYC.
posted by min at 9:36 AM on March 23, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for all the great responses! I don't have renter's insurance because I have very little stuff & my few valuables all have good (location-independent) insurance on a per item basis. My lease says nothing about modifications to locks, doors or windows, but I'll still ask before I do anything.

I'll certainly at least change to a new deadbolt (Medeco if I can afford it) and do the window-bracing with dowels. I'm most concerned about burglary when I'm not home; I'm less concerned about when I'm at home, especially because I'm actually awake for most of each night (I work at home at night).

Thanks again -- this will be a great reference thread.
posted by sparrows at 7:39 PM on March 23, 2007

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